15 Things You Didn’t Know Could Literally Slow Down Aging
The fountain of youth just isn’t a myth: You can actually delay the aging process with these lifestyle choices.
Age is just a number
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You may not be able to turn back time, but you can alter the effects of time on your body. It really is possible to slow physical and mental aging: Research has shown that people the same chronological age may have a different “biological age.” In one Duke University study, nearly 1,000 participants of the same age were examined for cognitive abilities, cardiovascular health, and other markers of fitness at three different ages: 26, 32, and 38. The researchers plotted the slope of each individual’s biomarkers and discovered that they didn’t all decline at the same rate. Some, in fact, had no slope at all, meaning they weren’t aging! At 38 years old, these volunteers had biological ages that ranged anywhere from younger than 30 to nearly 60 years old.
What this means for you is that factors other than genetics can influence the rate you’ll age, the study authors said on Duke’s website. Many of these are within your control, so read on to find out how to slow your pace of aging. Also, don’t fall for 8 aging myths everyone needs to stop believing.
These senior athletes are living proof that age should never hold you back when it comes to physical activity. And in fact, the best way to slow down aging is to stay in great shape. One recent study showed that older people who exercised regularly throughout their lives had the muscle mass, cholesterol levels, and even immune system function of much younger people. Not surprisingly, exercise leads to healthy weight loss—and encourages fat loss (as opposed to muscle); this also helps control blood sugar to prevent diabetes. “Aerobic exercise—any physical activity that raises your breathing and heartbeat—improves heart health,” says Benjamin Epstein, MD, a Family Medicine specialist with Piedmont Physicians. “Balance and strength training exercises maintain bone strength, decrease arthritis pain, and decrease the risk of falling.” Exercise has mental benefits as well. “Physical activity can decrease depression and anxiety, and can help cognitive function to keep one’s mind sharp,” Dr. Epstein says. Staying strong, steady on your feet, and limber can also help preserve your ability to live independently longer, he says. Aim for a goal of 30 minutes of aerobic activity five days a week, with 10 minutes of strength and balance training two days a week, he says.
Experts agree the best diet for preventing age-related damage and disease starts with whole, natural foods. “A healthy diet includes fewer processed foods without added sugars, fats, and salt,” Dr. Epstein says. Avoiding unhealthy sugar and fats can help prevent inflammation, diabetes, and heart disease. Among the foods anti-aging experts eat every day—here’s a list—he recommends “whole grains, such as whole wheat and brown rice; lean meats and fish, poultry, and eggs; beans, peas, and legumes; and five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.” Studies reveal that eating whole foods boosts your body’s supply of nutrients that keep cells healthy, reduce inflammation, and reduce the risk of major chronic diseases associated with age.
Other research has found that proper nutrients also help keep the brain functioning better longer. “Like so many aspects of our body, what we eat also affects the mind,” says Jyotir Jani, MD, primary care physician with Piedmont Healthcare. “Eating food that is natural, home-cooked with love, and limiting red meat help keep the brain sharper.”
Eating more plants
Adding more plant foods to her diet is one of Christie Brinkley’s age-defying secrets to make 65 look like 34—here are the rest. “Following a plant-based diet—or one that emphasizes foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—can support healthy aging by providing important nutrients to brain and body health,” says Abby Sauer, MPH, RD, a registered dietitian with Abbott. “However, plant-based doesn’t have to mean plant-exclusive. Other foods like eggs, low or reduced-fat dairy, and seafood can also contribute important nutrients.” The Mediterranean diet, which includes some animal products, is a great example of a plant-based diet, she says. “Research suggests it may lead to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, and a lower risk of heart disease and other health conditions.”
Getting enough protein
But eating mostly plants shouldn’t mean missing out on protein—studies show protein is especially important in maintaining muscle mass as we age. “People over the age of 40 may lose up to 8 percent of their muscle mass per decade, and the rate of decline may double after the age of 70,” Sauer says. “Yet a recently published study from researchers at Abbott and The Ohio State University found that more than one in three American over 50 aren’t getting the recommended amount of protein.” She recommends adults snack on protein sources like nuts, Greek yogurt, or string cheese. Also: “Add protein-toppers to meals, such as hummus to a turkey sandwich, diced chicken to pasta, or beans to salad, and aim to eat 25 to 30 grams of protein at every meal,” she says.
Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” helps keep your bones strong, and it may also help protect against age-related conditions like heart disease and cancer. According to one study in over 2,000 women, those with higher vitamin D levels also had longer telomeres, the caps on the ends of DNA cells that determine a cell’s lifespan. Another study found that older adults with low vitamin D levels had a harder time with everyday tasks like walking up stairs, dressing, and even cutting their toenails. “Getting 15 to 30 minutes of sun exposure a day should be adequate for vitamin D production,” says Dr. Jani. “Of course, that is not through sunbathing but by being outside with normal clothing.” You can also get vitamin D in foods, such as fatty fish like salmon, egg yolks, and fortified foods including cereals.
Protecting your skin from the sun
Getting vitamin D outside is a double-edged sword because the sun can cause skin damage, wrinkles, and increase the risk for skin cancer—all of which promotes internal and external aging. And while everyone knows a sunburn is harmful, people tend to be surprised to find that even getting a tan will damage skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), you can guard against premature skin aging by covering up with clothing, wearing a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen, and seeking shade. In addition, the AAD recommends washing your face twice a day and applying moisturizer to keep your skin young. Here’s how to figure out if your face aging faster than you are.
Although research in this area is still in its infancy, it suggests that the environmental toxins we’re exposed to may age us faster. Researchers call these toxins “gerontogens.” Some examples of gerontogens are arsenic in groundwater and benzene from car exhaust and industrial emissions. Other research suggests BPA, a chemical found in some plastics, may accelerate the aging process, which is why it may be wise to stick to using BPA-free plastic. Cigarette smoke is clearly a gerontogen given all the research demonstrating how it can age the face and body. “Smoking cessation is the single most important action that an individual can take regardless of age,” Dr. Jani says. “Smoking literally causes internal damage to your genetic code, as well as blood vessels and multiple organ systems.” If you need help stopping, check out the 23 best ways to quit smoking.
As you get older, your kidneys will work less efficiently, you may not be as sensitive to thirst signals, and you may take medications that lower your body’s fluids—altogether, this helps explain why the elderly are more prone to dehydration. In a vicious cycle, dehydration derails the normal function of vital systems in your body and even cause dementia-like confusion. Because of these risks, “it’s especially important to stay hydrated as we age,” Sauer says. “Water is critical as it makes up about 60 percent of adults’ body weight, and our bodies need water for important functions such as regulating body temperature, maintaining healthy skin and joints, digesting food, and removing waste.” To keep these systems working better longer, drink even if you aren’t thirsty, and consume foods with high water content, such as fruits, vegetables, and soups, she says. Not drinking enough water is just one of the 22 habits that are making you age faster.
Maintaining your teeth
It’s starting to look like there’s a connection between a healthy mouth and healthy aging: Research has shown poor dental health is linked to age-related problems such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes, possibly because bacteria from oral infections may get into the blood and increase inflammation in other parts of the body. In addition, recent studies indicate that gum disease may be linked to a higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Although these connections are still under study, it’s worth keeping your chompers healthy and possibly preventing these age-related diseases with good dental habits: this is exactly how long you need to brush your teeth.