Let’s face it – we are all getting older each and every day. Accepting this might actually be the first step in healthy aging – along with remembering to be grateful for every day we are still here enjoying life. But how best to take care of our body and mind as we age? It’s an area that gets huge amounts of attention in research but most of it goes into treating serious diseases – but personally I am a firm believer in prevention rather than cure, so this week I am going to look at some ways of staying healthy as we age. It’s never too late to start taking care of your body and your mind.
1. Staying active – yep – the use it or lose it motto really does ring true here! Physical activity is not only going to maintain muscle mass and strength (which is a strong predictor of how well you age), it will also have a positive impact on skeletal health, promoting the deposition of bone tissue and also promotes the production of a brain chemical called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic factor – which helps support neural pathways in the brain and improved memory. The best types of exercise to be doing, are the ones that a) bring you great joy, b) require some coordination and c) provide some resistance (make your muscles stronger). Dancing classes, sea swimming and joining your local Parkrun are all good ideas – I’ve recently started doing the Glengarriff Parkrun and I absolutely love it (once it’s done) and I can see it’s a great way to connect with the community, as well as a good way of getting a run in. The volunteers are very encouraging and don’t be put off by the name – you don’t need to actually run if you don’t want to, lots of people walk the course.
2. Keeping the mind challenged – once again, we all need to use it or lose it. As with your body, you need to regular exercise and challenge your mind. For some this means keeping on at work, or maintaining a part-time volunteer position, for others it is engaging in trivia nights or card games, or a daily sudoku or crossword puzzle. Reading complex books is another good hobby – as is learning a new language, so I’m told!
3. Eating for healthy aging – A healthy diet is important at all stages of life and not just for growing children. There is lots of research on how what you eat will affect your health in later years. Consuming a low inflammation and high antioxidant diet will protect your body from cardiovascular, neurovascular diseases and support your bone and muscle structure too. This topic really requires a books-worth of information, but some basic tips are:
• A high antioxidant diet including (for example) fresh blueberries, green tea, ginger, turmeric, garlic, dark chocolate (yep!), broccoli – consume these foods on a regular basis to protect your cells from the oxidative processes of aging. A mere 80g a day of Blueberries has been shown to delay cognitive decline – pretty impressive for a small tasty berry!
• Eat a mostly plant based diet – this means mostly unprocessed fruits and vegetables (preferably organically grown to avoid unnecessary chemicals in your diet), smaller amounts of animal protein, regular fish consumption, legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas), raw, unsalted nuts and seeds, unprocessed whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and barley and good fats including olive oil, coconut oil and pumpkin seed oil.
• If you experience joint pain you might consider supporting your joint health with regular bone broth consumption or by supplementing with a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement. Some people also find their joints improve when they increase their Turmeric consumption – you can make a hot turmeric and ginger tea or take a capsule depending on your situation. Fish Oils (and oily fish) are also beneficial for joint health.
• Look after your gut and digestive health by including fermented foods such as organic cow’s/sheep’s/goat’s milk yoghurt, coconut yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kefir. Apple Cider Vinegar is also excellent for digestive health and reducing the acidity that contributes to gout. If you find these products hard to eat, try taking the Advanced Adult’s Blend Probiotic by Udo’s Choice – it’s an excellent product for adults over 55 years.
4. Maintaining strong social connections – Staying connected with your friends, family and within your community is widely recognised as a strong predictor of healthy aging. If you don’t have heaps of friends, join a walking group (or a ParkRun!) or volunteer at your local charity shop. Just being around other people and feeling a sense of being needed is very powerful medicine and has been shown to be one of the key ingredients to healthy aging.
5. Get plenty of sunshine – we are often advised to avoid the sunshine because of the damage that can occur to our skin. While we do not want to burn our skin and cause damage, we do need to be careful not to take this to far in the opposite direction also and avoid the sun completely. A large study involving 30 000 Swedish women found that mortality rates for sun-avoiders was about two times higher than for those with the most sun exposure – that’s a huge increased risk for those who shelter from the sun. We need sunshine to make vitamin D, which is essential for calcium absorption and deposition in the skeleton, muscle strength, immune system regulation and hormone production. In Ireland we see so little sunshine that I think there is a strong argument for making the most of it when we get the chance. I would also suggest supplementing with Vitamin D every day (even during the summer unless we get that promised long heatwave!) Many people are having blood tests for Vitamin D in Ireland these days and the results are often very worryingly low. If you are concerned you can ask your GP the next time you see them for a test. In Organico we would suggest all adults take the 3000iu Spray by Better You.
6. Make sure you are getting enough Magnesium. So much research has focused on this longevity promoting nutrient that it’s become known as the mineral of youth! Involved in over 300 different enzyme reactions, magnesium plays a critical role in energy production, and also crucially in terms of ageing, it helps to relax smooth muscle, helping to take pressure off the heart and improve blood flow around the body. It also helps you relax and get a good night’s sleep, and can be a miracle worker when it comes to restless legs and muscle spasms. Since vegetables seem to be deficient in minerals in recent years, supplementation seems necessary. Consult your local Health Food Shop to know which product is best for you – we are currently finding excellent results with the Wild Nutrition Food Grown Magnesium; it’s very well-absorbed and gentle on the stomach.
Your local Health Food shop can be a great source of support, as you approach older age. Many of the staff in Health Food Shops are well trained and experienced in advising on the health issues experienced by older people. They also have some excellent Nutritional Hotlies they can contact if the health query is more complicated.