These days, more and more of us have a chance of achieving a ripe old age. According to recent census data, reported by the AP, America’s centenarians has roughly doubled in the past 20 years to around 72,000. It is expected to at least double again by 2020, perhaps even increase seven-fold. In old age, many of us are likely to deal with debilitating health problems such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis. But these healthy problems don’t have to be inevitable. A growing body of research points out that it’s never too late to make lifestyle changes that increase your chances of living a long and healthy life. Here’s the latest on how to turn back the clock:
1. Lift weights
Scientists once believed that nothing could be done about the withering of muscles associated with aging. Then, in 1990, a study was published by the August Krogh Institute in Denmark that indicated there was one group of aging athletes who maintained the strength of men half their age: weight lifters. Studies from Tufts University in Boston, Mass., confirmed that muscle and bone loss could be stopped and even reversed through weight training. After lifting weights twice a week for a year, a group of postmenopausal women in their 50s and 60s made gains in bone density, and their scores on strength tests soared to levels more typical of women in their late 30s.
2. Go for a walk
Even if you’re 50 and have never taken part in a physical activity, a brisk half-hour walk three times a week can “basically reverse your physiological age by about ten years,” says Gareth Jones, director of the Canadian Center for Activity and Aging in London, Ont. His source? A three-year study of 220 retirement-age men in which half didn’t exercise and the other half walked briskly for 30 minutes three times a week. After a year, the exercise group showed a 12 percent increase in aerobic power and a ten percent increase in strength and hip flexibility—equivalent to what they would have lost over a decade had they not exercised at all.
3. Take a good look at your neighborhood
David Berrigan, a cancer-prevention specialist at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, has discovered that people who live in houses that are at least 27 years old are about 50 percent more likely than people who live in newer houses to walk over one about one mile some 20 times a month. The reason? Older houses tend to be located in older neighborhoods that incorporate a mix of homes, workplaces and shops, as well as denser, more-interconnected networks of streets. “That means people walk places,” he says. In many newer neighborhoods, destinations are simply too far away, so they hop in the car.
4. Quit smoking!
If you quit smoking by age 30, your survival rate can rival that of lifelong nonsmokers, according to a report in the British Medical Journal. Quit by 50 and you have half the risk continuing smokers have of dying in the next 15 years. Even if you’ve already developed a smoking-related health condition, you’ll benefit. “People who quit smoking after having a heart attack reduce their chances of having another by about 30 percent,” says Neville Suskin, MD, a cardiologist at the London Health Sciences Center in Ontario.
5. Be a nutritional all-star
If you’re looking to turn back the clock on your body, Shanthi Johnson, associate professor of nutrition at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., advises eating a broadly based diet that packs a nutritional punch:
• Dark-green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, rapini and Swiss chard (calcium, iron, folate and beta-carotene).
• Sweet potatoes (folate, beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, and fiber).
• Blueberries and other dark berries (vitamin C, iron and fiber).
• Yogurt (calcium, protein and phosphorus).
• Beans (iron and a high-fiber form of protein).
• Whole grains (higher in fiber than white bread, with more B vitamins, vitamin E, selenium and zinc).
• Nuts (according to a recent study from Penn State University in University Park, Penn., eating them more than five times a week could cut death rates from heart disease by 25 to 39 percent).
• Salmon, tuna and other cold-water fish (omega-3 fatty acids).
6. Take it easy on the fat
Research indicates that a low-fat diet can protect your ability to learn and remember. Carol Greenwood, nutritionist and researcher with the Kunin-Lunenfeld Applied Research Unit in Toronto, discovered that when lab rats ate a high-fat diet, they showed severe impairment on learning and memory tasks—a finding that has since been proven for humans as well.
7. Don’t get too much sleep
While too little sleep can leave you exhausted, too much isn’t healthy either, according to University of California, San Diego, researchers. They followed more than a million Americans for six years and discovered that people who snoozed eight hours a night had up to 13 percent increased mortality over those who slept seven hours, while those who slept four hours had a risk of death that was as much as 17 percent higher.
8. Challenge your mind
Stimulating mental activities, such as learning a foreign language, reading a challenging book, playing bridge or attending a lecture may keep you mentally alert as you age, says Angela Troyer, a psychologist specializing in aging and memory at the Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care in Toronto. “People who do more of these things in older adulthood tend to develop dementia at a lower rate.”
9. Take up an instrument
Musical training fundamentally changes the development of children’s brains, according to neuroscientist Christo Pantev. But he believes aging adults can benefit from taking up (or returning to) an instrument, or at least listening to their favorite tunes. The reason? Intense musical training forces the brain to recruit additional resources, working against some dementing processes.
10. Go to church
At last count, nearly 1,000 studies indicated that those who went to church, synagogue or mosque were healthier than their non-attending counterparts—and tended to live longer by seven years, according to one study.
While Jeff Levin, an epidemiologist and author of God, Faith, and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection, contends that some positive health effects extend from the restrictions religious groups may place on smoking, drinking and premarital or extramarital sex, the numbers hold up even when those factors are taken into account.
Levin believes that church provides a social network that supports the aging and ill, and is a source of comfort when you’re down.
11. Help someone else
Neena Chappell, social gerontologist with the University of Victoria’s Centre on Aging in British Columbia, says several dozen studies show that people who devote time to community efforts are happier and healthier in later years. “There are probably a couple of things going on,” she says. “One is that you’re making friends and have a social circle; the other is the psychological benefit of feeling useful and needed.”
12. Adopt a pet
Seniors who own pets are less likely to be depressed than those who don’t, according to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Cindy Adams, a professor and specialist in the human-animal bond at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, believes positive effects stem from the fact that pets force us to focus on something other than ourselves. “It takes our minds off our own aches and pains,” she says.
13. Look for the silver lining
One quality most centenarians share, according to the large-scale New England Centenarian Study, is an ability to not dwell on difficulties. Stress provokes a physiological response that’s hard on the body, says Hymie Anisman, professor of neuroscience at Carleton University in Ottawa. Your body pumps out adrenaline and cortisol, which are meant to help you cope with danger in the short term but which can damage your immune system, heart and brain when you’re constantly keyed up.
14. Spend time with your friends
If you can’t stand to jog and refuse to swear off chips and dip, here’s good news: A poker game with your pals may be equally beneficial. When Thomas Glass, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, tracked participation by almost 3,000 people aged 65 and up in a range of activities over 13 years, he found that social engagements may add as much to your life span as healthy measures such as cutting cholesterol or lowering blood pressure.
From Reader’s Digest Canada