Take care of yourself and see the benefits in healthy aging
"If I'd known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself."
That quote is from musician, Eubie Blake, as he celebrated his 100th birthday. Reaching a ripe, old age is a goal many of us share. But it's not just more years we want. We also want a good quality of life during those years. Having a long, healthy life can take work on our part. And no matter how old you are, the steps you take starting today can make a big difference.
The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging says that the aging process depends on two things: our genes, or what we inherit from our families, and our environment. We can't do much about our genes. But we can make healthy choices when it comes to our lifestyle and the environment we make for ourselves. And those choices can make a big difference in how we age.
September is National Healthy Aging Month. With that in mind, here is information that can help you age in a healthier way.
Four habits that lead to a longer life.
The results of a major study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, were reported in August 2011. They offer proof that healthy living really does translate into a longer life. As CDC Director Thomas R. Reiden, MD, MPH, summed up the findings, "If you want to lead a longer life and feel better, you should adopt healthy behaviors," he said. The healthy behaviors, or habits, covered in the test were:
- Not smoking
- Getting regular physical activity
- Eating healthy
- Avoiding too much alcohol
Each of the four healthy habits, by itself, offers some protection. And of all four, not smoking is the one that provided the most protection from dying. But the biggest benefit comes when people do all four. In the study, the CDC found that people who practiced all four healthy habits were:
- 66 percent less likely to die early from cancer.
- 65 percent less likely to die early from diseases such as heart attack and stroke.
- 57 percent less likely to die early from other causes when compared to people who had none of the healthy habits.
Those facts alone should be enough to inspire most people to change their lifestyles.
Four more habits that can help
The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging adds four more habits that help lead to a longer, healthier life. They include:
- Getting enough rest
- Coping with stress
- Having a positive outlook
- Making fruits and vegetables a bigger part of your diet
Coping with stress is now known to be very important to healthy aging. Uncontrolled stress has been proven to be a factor in early aging.
A closer look at stress and aging
Have you noticed that when they leave office, presidents seem to have aged faster than the rest of us? For years, people have believed that stress plays a role in aging. Now, a study has proven that stress really does speed the process. Long-term emotional strain can make people get sick and grow old before their time.
As reported on CBS News, stress reaches all the way down to your cells. Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, or UCSF, was a partner in the study that proved it. As she said, "To find something that goes to the heart of how cells age and find it so consistently related to stress … that's the thing that's so new and intriguing here."
An article by Rob Stein on washingtonpost.com, "Study Is First To Confirm that Stress Speeds Aging," explains the link. In the study, scientists looked at parts of human cells called telomeres. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get a tiny bit shorter. As cells age, the telomeres get so short that cells can no longer divide, and they die.
As more cells reach the end of their telomeres and die, it leads to the effects of aging. Muscles get weak. Skin wrinkles. Sight and hearing fade. Organs fail.
A chemical in the body called telomerase helps rebuild the telomeres. But, the body makes less as it ages. In time, it can no longer keep up. In the study, scientists looked at the telomeres and telomerase of people who were not coping well with stress. They found that stress appears to affect telomeres and speed aging.
Elissa Epel, PhD, helped lead the study at UCSF. As she said, "The findings emphasize the importance of managing life stress, to take it seriously if one feels stressed, to give your body a break, and make life changes that promote well-being."
What should you do if you're feeling stressed? Don't ignore it. Try to make a change in the situation that is causing the stress. If you can't, then take action to cope. Learn to meditate. Get more exercise. Do yoga or other stress-lowering activities. Talk with your doctor to get more ideas.
Tips for healthy grocery shopping
A healthy diet is another big part of healthy aging. Here are some tips on how to find healthy foods when you go to the grocery.
Registered Dietitian, Elizabeth Ward, offers these shopping tips in a WebMD article by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, called "10 Tips for Healthy Grocery Shopping."
- Produce – Spend most of your time in the produce section. Choose a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Breads and pasta – Choose the least processed items that are made from whole grains.
- Meats, fish, and poultry – The American Heart Association says you should eat two servings of fish a week. It shouldn't be fried. Ward suggests salmon. Choose lean cuts of meat and poultry without skin.
- Dairy – This is a great source of calcium and vitamin D. Choose low-fat and nonfat options to help you get three servings a day. If you enjoy higher-fat cheeses, keep portions small.
- Frozen foods – Frozen fruits and vegetables without sauce are a good way to fill the produce gap in winter. Some of Ward's other frozen choices are whole-grain waffles, portion-controlled bagels, 100 percent juice, and plain cheese pizza.
- Canned and dried foods – Keep a variety of canned veggies, fruits and beans on hand. Choose vegetables without added salt, and fruit packed in juice when you can. Keep tuna packed in water, low-fat soups, nut butters, olive and canola oils, and vinegar on hand.
Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, at New York University offers these handy tips:
- When you shop, spend the most time around the edges of the store. Stay away from the center aisles where junk foods are kept.
- Choose foods with as little processing and as few additives as you can. You can add sugar or salt if you want.
- Stay clear of foods with cartoons on the label that are aimed at children.
- Stay away from foods with more than five ingredients, artificial ingredients or ingredients you can't pronounce.
Help children build healthy habits from the start.
It's never too late to begin practicing healthy habits. Starting today is a smart idea no matter what your age. But it makes sense that the earlier we start, the better. So we need to help our children make healthy choices, too.
When you're young, the last thing on your mind is aging. So children need extra encouragement. The article "September is National Healthy Aging Month," on scienceandhealthnews.com, presents a very good idea. When you're trying to get your children to go outside and be active, go out and play with them. Get involved in a fun activity. Or, if you want to help them eat healthy foods, make sure you set them a good example for them.
Being a role model for healthy aging can help you and your children live longer, healthier lives.