When I began researching and reading in preparation for writing this blog, the news I stumbled across on aging was all rather sad. My textbooks describe the aging process as senescence – ‘the deteriorative changes with time during postmaturational life that underlie increasing vulnerability to challenges, thereby decreasing the ability of the organism to survive’. It then goes on to detail the changes that happen to our cardiovascular health, immune system, hormones, digestive system, bone health and so on.
This led me to ask the question do we need to accept these changes as normal or is there a way we can ensure better health and wind back the clock on aging.
Listed below are my top tips for healthy aging:
Consume a diet rich in antioxidants
Antioxidants are substances that have been found to prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals (waste substances produced by cells as the body processes food and reacts to the environment).
Vitamins such as A, C and E and minerals like selenium and manganese are important antioxidants found in the foods we eat. Carotenoids, flavonoids, flavones, catechins, polyphenols, and phytoestrogens are compounds contained within fruits and vegetables that also have an antioxidant affect in the body. Consuming a diet that is rich in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables helps to increase antioxidant levels in the body. Different coloured fruits and vegetables contain different antioxidants so eating a variety is important (see table below for more information regarding the various antioxidants and the foods they are found in).
Purple foods are the often-forgotten foods, but they are the real antioxidant powerhouses. Foods such as blueberries, blackberries, purple cabbage, purple sweet potato and beetroot contain anthocyanins which have been linked to improved cardiovascular and brain health and healthy aging.
Aim for 2 serves fruit and 5-7 serves of vegetables daily.
|White Foods||Yellow and orange||Red||Blue purple||Greens|
|Contain allylic sulphides or alliums to prevent against carcinogens and can help lower cholesterol.||Contain carotenoids beta and alpha carotene for healthy heart, vision, and immune system||Contain carotenoids, lycopene’s, polyphenols and anthocyanins to prevent cancer and improve cardiovascular health||Contains anthocyanins to improve memory, health aging and urinary tract health||Provide carotenoids called zeaxanthin and lutein for good vision and prevention of age-related macular degeneration|
Potatoes (white fleshed)
Potato (purple fleshed)
Sugar snap peas
Protect DNA by consuming Omega 3 Essential Fatty acids
Telomeres, cap-like features at the ends of chromosomes that help protect cells when they divide become shorter overtime due to ongoing cell division. Telomere length appears to be an indication of age and general health. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce this shortening by reducing oxidative stress and reducing inflammation in the body.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids also have the potential to lower risks for coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. They have been found to have beneficial effects on cholesterol and hormone levels as well as having a moisturising and hydrating action on the skin improving the look of skin and soothing dry itchy skin conditions such as eczema.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids are found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, oysters, fish oil, chia and flaxseeds, walnuts.
Manage stress with B vitamins
Deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to neurocognitive disorders, reduced energy, immune dysfunction, and inflammatory conditions. In aging populations B vitamin deficiency has been linked to cardiovascular disorders, cognitive dysfunction, osteoporosis, and an increased risk of developing degenerative diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease, cognitive diseases, and osteoporosis.
Stress, alcohol, and certain medications such as the oral contraceptive pill deplete B vitamins leaving many people with an increased need for these important vitamins.
Niacin, also known as Vitamin B3 helps to increase the skin’s ability to retain moisture which helps it to not only look healthier, but helps you stay healthier by providing a strong, unbroken barrier against viruses, bacteria and other antigens. Latest research by the Cancer Council has also shown that vitamin B3 may help reduce the risk on non-melanoma skin cancers.
Food sources of B Vitamins include wholegrains, leafy green vegetables, avocados, nuts and seeds (such as sunflower seeds), eggs, legumes, nutritional yeast are good dietary sources of B vitamins.
Managing stress with meditation, exercise, journaling, and time out will also help slow the depletion of B vitamin levels.
Ensure adequate hydration with water
Someone once asked me what the difference between a sultana and a grape was. The simple answer – hydration. If you want your skin to stay plump and hydrated, ensuring adequate hydration is important. The skin contains 30% water which contributes to plumpness, elasticity, and resilience. Water intake can improve skin thickness and density.
What about the rest of our body? When are our hydration levels drop by just 2% so can our physical and cognitive performance resulting in disruptions to our mood and concentration, alertness, short-term memory and endurance resulting in increased fatigue, increased perceived effort and reduced motivation. Hydration also affects our gastrointestinal function leading to constipation and can increase our blood pressure and affect our blood volume.
Aim for 2 litres of water daily.
Of course, there are many other factors that we can consider; exercise, our environment, genetics, our mental outlook and our support networks all play a role in how we age and how we perceive aging and their impact cannot be overlooked or understated.
To find out how well your ageing try taking the healthy aging quiz (https://www.nari.net.au/resources/public/healthy-ageing-quiz-testing) from the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI).