Most of us would like to live to be 100 or older, provided we could maintain a highly functional body and mind. Of course, being functional is the important thing.
Research has now shown that we can live to a ripe old age and live it in good health, provided we follow a few simple steps each day.
Each of us can live strong, healthy, vibrant, energetic lives for a long time to come. The key? Actually, there are many of them. Read on, and you may never see your dinner plate, your friends, or your sneakers the same way again.
1. Eat fewer calories, but more food.
That’s no misprint. Slimming down can help prevent disease, and cutting way back on the amount you eat (a strategy called calorie restriction) may even slow the aging process. When nutrition researchers invited themselves over for dinner in kitchens across the globe — from Greece to Japan to the state of Pennsylvania — they discovered a tummy-satisfying secret to good health: Pile your plate high with vegetables and fruits, add respectable portions of beans and whole grains, and downplay high-calorie fare like cheeseburgers, cream sauces, and fatty meats.
The result: Fewer calories, more health-boosting antioxidants, and longer, happier, more active and independent lives.
2. Use exercise as an anti-aging vaccine.
Exercise can help you attain a better quality of life as you age. It’s no secret that physical activity tones up muscles, burns calories, and puts a happy bounce in your step. But recently, researchers uncovered a new, bonus benefit: Exercise acts as a powerful vaccine against the aging process itself. When University of Florida exercise physiologists put healthy people ages 60 to 85 on weight-training programs for six months then tested them for signs of free-radical damage, they were surprised by the results. By the end of the study, low-intensity exercisers had a drop in free-radical damage, while high-intensity exercisers had a slight increase. And a control group of non-exercisers had a whopping 13 percent rise in free-radical damage.
3. Reach for Red
Resveratrol, an ingredient in red wine, seems to have powerful anti-aging effects. Research suggests that it offers the same life-lengthening benefits as calorie restriction — without the hunger pangs. A caveat: The doses that have been shown to be effective are many times higher than what would be safe or smart to get in alcohol form. A pill is in development, but until it’s available, sipping a little Merlot with your dinner isn’t a bad idea.
4. Connect with friends and family.
Close connections are a source of joy and offer a sturdy shield against the stress that can lead to health problems down the road. Scientific journals prove time and again that having friends around changes the biochemistry of your brain, pumping up feelings of joy and wellbeing that bolster immunity.
When you’re alone for too long (and the definition of “too long” is different for each of us), levels of the stress hormone cortisol rise, ratcheting up your odds for heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, muddled thinking, and sleep problems.
5. Find something interesting to do.
Life is perpetually busy no matter what your age. But the truth is, as careers reach their later stages, as children mature, and as home-improvement ambitions are fulfilled, time usually does become more available for adults after 60. With this time comes choices. The easy one is to merely to relax: watch more TV, eat out more often, talk on the phone as much as you want.
The better choice? Discover something more meaningful to devote yourself to and pursue it wholeheartedly. Why? A growing body of scientific research shows that doing something that interests you offers big health benefits in your 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond. An example: When psychiatrists at the University of California, San Diego, checked up on 500 adults ages 60 to 98 who were living independently, they got a pleasant surprise. By standard definitions of successful aging, which focus mostly on physical well-being, this group had plenty of challenges. Most were coping with a tough health condition such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and mental health problems. Just one in 10 met the usual criteria for healthy, successful aging, the researchers noted.