How to look and feel younger
When one thinks of fighting back against the aging process it is usually Botox or facelifts that come to mind. These might offer a degree of improvement, but aging well is about more than just outward appearance. It is about being healthy and strong well into one’s later years. What is the point of looking 60 when you are 80 if you are too frail to walk unassisted or are suffering from a disease like cancer, diabetes or Alzheimer’s? Dr Sara Gottfried in her new book, Younger, details factors in our diet, lifestyle and environment that accelerate the aging process and offers practical ways to combat them. She explains that the goal is to extend ‘healthspan’ as opposed to lifespan. Healthspan is time spent living disease-free and healthy, so that you can fully enjoy life no matter what your age.
Bad genes are often cited as the reason why some people end up old and sick before their time, but Dr Gottfried explains that the scientific reality is that 90 percent of the signs of aging and disease are caused by lifestyle choices, not genes. We therefore have an enormous amount of influence over how many years of good health we enjoy and the rate at which we age. The good news is that it is never too late to change course and slow down the hands of time.
Dr Gottfried has coined the term “inflammaging” to highlight the fact that it is inflammation in your body that causes accelerated aging (and disease). The quickest ways to age are to gain weight, lose muscle mass, mess up your blood sugar, fail to get enough sleep, neglect to exercise your brain, wreck your gut flora with antibiotics and a bad diet, sit a lot, manage stress badly and eat inflammatory foods like sugar, gluten and dairy. Even taking medications like anti-anxiety pills can significantly raise your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Now we know what leads to a shortened healthspan, what can we do it about?
When you eat nutrient dense food your immune system is stronger, you improve brain function, lose excess weight and your energy levels increase. Dr Gottfried recommends a predominantly plant-based diet with moderate amounts of animal protein as an accompaniment. The goal should be to consume between 450 to 900 grams of vegetables per day, which helps to reduce blood sugar and insulin resistance. Inflammatory foods such as dairy, gluten, sugar, grains, caffeine and alcohol should be avoided or kept to an absolute minimum. Healthy fats like coconut oil are encouraged. She stresses that trans fats and seed oils must be eliminated due to the damage they do to the human body. Good oral hygiene is also crucial. Bad bugs in your mouth are correlated with inflammation (gingivitis), cavities and premature aging. Flossing twice a day and brushing three times a day are recommended.
Sleep is essential for slowing down the aging process. It is during sleep that human growth hormone does its repair work in the body. Quality sleep can reset hormones; strengthen the immune system and aid weight loss. As the quality of sleep improves, you will notice less inflammation and stiffness. On the flipside, poor sleep ruins blood sugar control and raises levels of stress hormones. Try to get to bed before 10 pm and aim for between 7 and 8.5 hours of sleep every night. Keep your bedroom dark and free from electronics when you sleep. If you struggle to fall asleep, eat healthy carbs like sweet potato at dinner to aid the release of serotonin and melatonin which facilitates sleep. Test for and correct any vitamin D deficiency you may have.
Sitting is the new smoking. It leads to weak bones, loss of muscle mass, poor circulation and an overall increased risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Fortunately, exercise can partially mitigate the damage. Exercise burns away tension, builds muscle, conditions the heart, improves lung function and produces the feel good hormones known as endorphins. Sleep and exercise are also your two best weapons against Alzheimer’s disease. Choose an exercise regime that you enjoy so you will stick to it. Burst (HIIT) training is great for improving insulin sensitivity and strength-training builds muscle mass, which keep your metabolism operating efficiently. Try and incorporate both. Schedule sufficient time for recovery to keep your hormones healthy and in balance.
Tension and tightness in the body lead to stiff joints and muscles. This situation ultimately reduces mobility. There are, therefore, benefits in learning some stretching techniques that provide adequate release. This will not only improve injury recovery time but clears stress from your body and increases range of motion. Incorporate frequent stretches in your daily routine, especially if you spend a significant part of the day sitting in front of a computer. Good options for release are Yoga, Pilates, foam rolling, stretching and massage. Make a plan to stretch daily for at least 10 minutes. Magnesium can help your muscles to relax. Since most people are magnesium deficient, it is worth taking a magnesium supplement.
You are exposed to toxins on a daily basis. These accumulate in your cells and age you prematurely. Synthetic skin care products, pesticides, mould and pollution can all damage your DNA. Detoxing and decontaminating is therefore crucial. Use only natural skin care products that are free from parabens and phthalates to reduce your toxin load. Eliminate all chemical cleaning agents from the house. Since your liver’s job is to filter and purify the blood (mainly when you are sleeping), make sure you get 8 hours shut-eye every night and don’t over burden your liver with alcohol. Cruciferous veggies like broccoli do an excellent job of cleaning up your gut and strengthening your immune system. Avoid plastic water bottles and store leftovers in glass or ceramic containers. Before taking synthetic HRT or birth control pills please consider the fact that they can raise your risk of breast cancer. You may want to seek more natural alternatives.
Poorly managed stress shortens our healthspan. Our flight or fight response is not designed to be constantly switched on. To combat this we need to schedule regular downtime to relax and recharge. If we don’t, blood sugar and cortisol rises which accelerates the aging process. Stressed out individuals often look haggard, suffer from allergies and tend to die early from heart disease. Prayer, meditation, Yoga, mindfulness and breathing exercises are all great modalities for dealing with stress more effectively.
When you stop engaging in stimulating activities such as crossword puzzles, games, baking, gardening or staying up on current events, your brain function will start to suffer. Research has shown that people with ties to social groups, or who enjoy regular visits and phone calls from family are less likely to experience cognitive decline. The best way to preserve and improve your brain function is to sleep more, exercise regularly, engage in social activities and eat a healthy diet that keeps your blood sugar stable and your gut flora in balance. Make a point of eliminating negative self-talk as this can lead to neuroticism which achieves little other than to increase your risk of poor health.
“We all age and die, but the difference in the rate of aging and quality of life has to do with your choices – the epigenetic changes within your power” – Dr Sara Gottfried.
The book Younger by Dr Sara Gottfried.
Article written by Nicky Perks for Lose It magazine (Volume 20)