Many of us are looking for ways to stay young and although you can’t stop the clock, you can fight the signs of aging and the aging process with a few wise moves. The following 10 tips will help you to look and feel younger for longer.
1. Use your brain
Although the brain isn’t a muscle, the old ‘use it or lose it’ adage still applies. Brain scans show that when people use their brains in unaccustomed ways, more blood flows into different areas of the brain, and new neural pathways form. In a study in the journal Nature in 2004, young people were taught how to juggle. After three months, MRI scans showed enlargement of the grey matter in their brains — the part responsible for higher mental functions.
When the participants in the study stopped juggling, their brains shrank again, suggesting that we need to keep our brains engaged to maintain mental agility and function. So, whether it’s a crossword puzzle, Sudoku or a university degree, trying giving your brain a challenge every day and you’ll be more likely to keep your marbles! Also, another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that more frequent participation in mentally stimulating activities can lead to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Be sociable
According to US government research, social isolation is a predictor of declining mental function in older age. Experts believe this may be down to not using a wide variety of communication skills. Research shows that people who are part of a group — whether it’s a church or a book club — are healthier than solitary people when they are older, and that the wider the range of relationships (family, friends, work and so on) a person has, the less cognitive decline they will experience with aging.
So, as well as tackling the crossword puzzle on your lonesome, make time in your life for shared activities — and ensure you spend time with as wide a range of people as possible.
3. Exercise more
Many of the depressing changes once attributed to chronological aging — such as fat gain, loss of muscle, and poor posture — are now believed to be due to plain old inactivity. For example, a Fels Longitudinal Study — which investigated aging, body composition and lifestyle — found that women who do the vigorous physical activity such as running, cycling or swimming several times a week weigh up to 11.8kg (26lb) less than sedentary women, and have significantly less body fat.
If you are more concerned about your heart health than your dress size, though, then doing less intense activities such as walking will help to protect your vital organ. Maintaining as active a lifestyle as you can is good advice for anyone trying to hold back the years.
4. Eat oily fish
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and tuna are the best source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have been found to protect against cardiovascular disease (particularly in combination with statins), type II diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Also, Omega-3 is believed to help the skin stay elastic and hydrated, which means wrinkles are less likely to appear — and which is why salmon is the base of the famous anti-aging Perricone Plan. But the benefits of omega-3 aren’t just skin deep!
Research by Rush University in Chicago in 2005 found that eating oily fish can slow the mental decline associated with aging. The results showed that eating oily fish at least once a week can slow the rate of cognitive decline by 10 to 13 percent per year.
5. Increase your intake of antioxidants
As we age, levels of harmful free radical levels rise, while the body’s production of antioxidants — the compounds which can ‘mop up’ free radicals — declines. According to studies at the Human Nutrition Research Centre on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, antioxidant-rich foods may slow aging processes in the body and brain. Researchers found that foods such as blueberries and spinach could increase the antioxidant power of human blood by 10 to 25 percent — so try eating more of these.
The antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E play a major role in protecting the body against free radicals, so aim not only to get your five-a-day, but also ensure that you take in a wide variety of fruit and veg, especially those of strong color. Vitamin A, in particular, helps to keep the skin strong and healthy, which we get in our diet from foods rich in beta-carotene. Carrots are the obvious choice — but sweet potato, swede, pumpkin, and melon are also good sources.
6. Have more sex
It’s official: getting active between the sheets can help keep you youthful. Sex enhances emotional intimacy, relaxes us, decreases stress, and makes us feel great. A study conducted by Psychology Today magazine found that the more active and satisfying a person’s sex life is, the fitter and healthier they tend to be. For example, athletes who were still competing in sport in their sixties had sex lives comparable to those 20 years younger. And it wasn’t just big talk — the researchers interviewed their spouses for verification!
Also, in his book Real Age, Michael Roizen reported that women who are unsatisfied with the quality or quantity of their sexual relationships have a life expectancy half a year less than is average for their age, while women who are satisfied with both the quality and quantity have a life expectancy one and a half years longer than average. For men, having fewer than five orgasms a year shortens life expectancy by two and a half years, while a man having more than 300 orgasms a year will add three years to his life expectancy.
7. Eat less
You probably won’t be overjoyed to hear this, but recent research found that reducing calorie intake has a remarkable effect on the risk of developing diseases and conditions associated with aging — including diabetes, clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes — and can also prolong your life! The study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis put 25 volunteers aged 41 to 65 on a daily intake of between 1400 and 2000 calories for over six years. Heart function, blood pressure and inflammatory markers were compared against 25 control subjects, who had a calorie intake of between 2000 to 3000 calories — which is typical of the normal Western diet.
Heart muscle elasticity, blood pressure and inflammatory markers (including cancer-related ones) were all significantly healthier in the low-calorie group. But don’t think you can get away with a meal replacement drink, as the diet, though low in calories, was highly nutritious — rich in olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, fish and fruit.
8. Believe in yourself
As well as being physically, mentally and socially active, people who reach old age have a high level of what’s called ‘self efficacy’. Self efficacy is a blend of self belief and confidence, and studies show that it is a major distinguishing trait in centenarians. Researchers reported that the older centenarians become, the more they make decisions on the basis of what they believe as opposed to what others expect. They place responsibility for their health with themselves and not their doctors. People with high self-efficacy tend to see problems as challenges to be met, setbacks as a reason to double their efforts and failure as a learning experience for next time.
Albert Bandura, the psychologist who created the concept of self-efficacy, points out that while many of our physical capacities decrease as we grow older — forcing us to reappraise our capacity for certain activities — the gains in knowledge, skills, and expertise compensate. ‘When the elderly are taught to use their intellectual capabilities, their improvement in mental function more than offsets the average decrement in performance over two decades,’ he says.
9. Stretch and strengthen
Everyone knows about osteoporosis — the loss of bone density that sets in as our skeletons get older and less active. But a similar disease, sarcopenia, affects your muscles as you grow older. Between 30 and 80, 15 per cent of muscle mass is lost (and with it go strength and tone). But is the loss due simply to advancing years or declining levels of activity? In one study, published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, 70-year-olds who had lifted weights regularly for more than 10 years had as much muscle as 28-year-olds.
Adding a couple of strength training sessions to your weekly regime is a wise move if you want to preserve your muscle mass. Flexibility also begins to deteriorate with age as connective tissues stiffen, muscles shorten and joints become drier as synovial fluid dries up. While you might not care about touching your toes, not being able to do up your bra strap or bend down to tie your shoelaces soon can dent your independence! Regular mobilizing and stretching (and it’s never too early to start) can help to reduce the effects of aging on joints and muscles.
10. Protect your skin
There are two factors affecting the way we age: intrinsic factors — caused by the genes we inherit — and extrinsic (external or environmental) factors, such as exposure to the sun’s rays and cigarette smoking. This is the area that you can take action in. If you smoke, stop — and if you don’t wear a sun protection factor on your skin, start! Without protection from the sun’s rays, daily exposure can add up to cause noticeable changes and damage to the skin, such as freckles, age spots, spider veins and fine wrinkles.
Also, a 2002 study showed that facial wrinkles not yet visible to the naked eye could be seen under a microscope in smokers as young as 20. Cigarette smoking causes biochemical changes in our bodies that accelerate aging. A person who smokes 10 or more cigarettes a day for a minimum of 10 years is statistically more likely to develop deeply wrinkled, leathery skin than a non-smoker.