Whether we care to admit or not, preserving youth is something most of us beyond the age of 25 are interested in. And, if you’ve seen what a lifetime of hard living looked like on your grandparents, you’ve probably considered doing things a little differently than they did. Yes, genetics do play a significant role in how well or poorly you age, but how those genes express themselves in the body is very much affected by your lifestyle. Positive lifestyle changes can make a huge difference, especially when it comes to the chronic diseases we fear most – heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, even cancer. If you want to increase your “healthspan” – the number of healthy years you can enjoy – step away from the Botox needle and towards these highly effective youth-preservers, to stay young on the inside, where it really counts:
1) Focus on the edible youth-sustainers.
When you look at the behaviors that are either youth-sustaining or youth-draining, what you eat tops the list. The right foods truly are nature’s medicine. Fresh, organic or farmer’s market produce and proteins are the way to go if you plan on feeling and looking well for as long as possible. They’ll top off your tank with antioxidants, polyphenols and hundreds of nutrients that do nothing but a world of good for your body. Think energy, vibrance, healthy skin, shiny hair, the works. A diet laced with Big Macs, bangers and beer won’t cut it. To eat healthy, organic foods more often without breaking the bank, here are my pro tips.
2) Nix the #1 youth-drainer.
What’s at the top of the youth-draining food chain? It’s sugar. Eliminate it along with honey and agave too. The sweet stuff is a slow, insidious, addictive killer that weakens the immune system and fuels the development of the dreaded “diseases of aging.” In effect, sugar rots you from the inside out, damaging cell membranes and creating deposits that sit like rust on your organs. Got wrinkles? That’s the sugar-born ‘rust’ making itself known on your largest organ, the skin.
The easiest way to deal with the downsides of sugar? Ditch it – starting with the obvious sources like cereal, cookies, candy, soda, fruit juice. Craving something sweet? Then snack on a small portion of low-sugar berries and if you like, top them with little cinnamon and a small scoop of flax or chia seeds to help slow the absorption of sugar and minimize blood sugar spikes and crashes. Here are 8 tips to help you radically cut back on sugar.
3) Ditch the foods that beat up your body.
Coming in a close second in the rapid-aging category: processed foods, of course, including fast foods. They’re lousy for your body for a couple of reasons. For starters, virtually all processed foods are made with loads of man-made ingredients, whose long-term effects are either highly suspect, seriously detrimental to your health or even carcinogenic. Chemical additives, artificial colors, artificial flavorings, fillers, vegetable oils, preservatives and way too much sodium abound. If that weren’t concerning enough, we don’t know the full extent of the damage they may inflict over the long-haul – but I guarantee you vibrant health isn’t one of the outcomes.
What we do understand is the link between processed food consumption and the increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Unprocessed whole foods? It’s literally all good. No cheap, pesticide-laden, factory-farmed, genetically modified ingredients to worry about. No hidden sugars that only a food scientist would recognize (like disaccharides, galactose, hexitol, inversol, pentose, sucanat, etc.). No downsides, no problem.
4) Embrace the essential anti-aging behavior that involves your pillow.
Time spent sleeping is anything but wasted. Deep, restful, restorative sleep – particularly REM sleep, when dreaming happens – is a major part of the anti-aging equation – and a total must for youth preservation. Much of what people think of as the signs of aging – aches, pains, low energy – is the body’s way of telling you, it needs more (and better) rest.
Though it may not seem like all that much is happening after you turn in for the night, that’s actually the body’s time to recover. Sleep keeps all your cells, muscles and organs youthful by promoting autophagy, the overnight cellular recycling program run by your glymphatic system. Instead of tossing out the diseased or sub-par cells, the body strips out the salvageable parts and recycles them to use for energy and to create new cells. Pretty cool, eh?
So, when you make a habit of shortchanging yourself on sleep, the glymphatic system can’t do its job. No time to ‘take out the garbage.’ Cellular trash builds up in the brain, leaving you feeling foggy and out of it. Give your body the down time it needs to get the cleaning job done and you’re helping to help slow the development of neurological decline and disease. To brush up on your sleep skills starting tonight, here are 9 ways to do it.
5) Don’t just stand (or sit) there.
A lack of movement is the express track to aging badly, so the time to move is now, and don’t stop! Over the past two pandemic years, fitness has taken something of a backseat. Now’s the time to get physical again. No need to sign up for boot camp tomorrow (unless that’s your thing), but do get back into a regular and frequent movement groove. It’s about moving as much as you can every single day, all day long, during regular everyday life vs. the one-and-done gym session wedged between a day at the desk and a night on the couch.
Be active every chance you get. As you age, pushing beyond 40 or so, it’s OK for exercise to be less about heavy exertion and pushing to physical extremes and a lot more about movement, motion and mobility. Avoiding injury (as in, if it hurts, don’t do it), keeping the joints lubricated and the muscles flexible and ready to fire is the key to physically aging well.
Besides keeping the body and mind vital and sharp, physical activity fends off stress and depression, improves circulation, promotes higher-quality sleep, builds immune resilience, and reduces the risk of chronic diseases. So, how about a nice long walk after dinner?
6) Decelerate the aging process every day.
Gifting your mind and body with frequent time-outs is essential to slowing the aging process, and while a week by the sea isn’t always feasible, a relaxing break – in the form of a meditation practice – always is. Time spent in meditation helps slow the aging of the brain and lowers blood pressure. It also lengthens your telomeres, the protective end caps on your DNA strands, which a lot to do with how well you age (i.e., the longer they are, more youthful you’ll be).
To tap into meditation’s anti-aging benefits – not to mention it’s better concentration, mood and sleep benefits – all that’s needed is a quiet spot, plus 10 -20 minutes a day. What do to if you’re not a “sitter,”? Then engage in a peaceful practice that suits you: something quiet and calming that you enjoy, unplugged, without interruption, like knitting, coloring, walking in the woods, and so on.
7) Phase out the toxins that age you.
When it comes to slowing the aging process, never hurts to look at purging toxins in your life – be they chemical physical or emotional. If you’re still smoking or just like to sneak one in from time to time, I urge you to stop. Cigarettes, in any amount, bring with them increased risk of heart disease, lung cancer, cataracts and a litany of other life-altering conditions. Just say no.
Same holds true for alcohol use – it does you no favors. A glass of wine once or twice a week to accompany a special meal is one thing, but more than that and you’re on the way to overconsumption, compromising your health. Your organs will suffer, as will your face (the stuff is lousy for your skin) and over time, you brain function will take a hit too, thanks to alcohol’s ability to actually shrink your grey matter.
Another rapid ager you can do without? The toxic people and unhealthy relationships in your life. The stress they add to your life can take a tremendous toll, so work on finding (if possible) a gentle way to phase those ‘toxins’ out – is an essential step to take to preserve your health now and in the future.
8) Age less with a serious case of the giggles.
One more anti-aging behavior I highly recommend: a case of the giggles, at least once a day. Laughter helps boost the immune system, increasing T-cell activity, those “killer cells” that help our bodies fight viruses and tumors. It also helps lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, decreases pain and can also help stabilize blood sugar – all good things no matter where you are on the aging journey.