As we age, our bodies accumulate molecular and cellular damage, causing physical signs of aging like wrinkles and frailty as well as increasing the risk of age-related disease. Luckily, by changing our lifestyle habits we can take autonomy over aging and increase the chances of living for longer.
Eating for healthy aging
Longevity, or living for longer in good health, can be largely controlled by the triumvirate of eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. Diet is an important lifestyle factor in longevity, with poor diet causing 11 million global deaths and 255 million disability-adjusted life years annually . The health benefits of eating a balanced diet are well known, however, obesogenic environments combined with the busy working week of modern society can make it difficult to prioritise eating for health.
Generally, eating a balance of fruit, vegetables, fish and complex carbs beloved of the Mediterranean diet is an easy guide to follow. A recent study found that eating a nutritionally optimal diet could extend life expectancy by more than a decade! . The earlier you start eating well, the greater the benefits to health and longevity. While eating healthily all the time is almost impossible (not to mention less enjoyable) the ideal diet for healthy aging should include:
- Fruit and vegetables, the wider variety of colour the better. Eating a natural rainbow of fruit and veg provides the body with an almost endless supply of vitamins and minerals, as well as dietary fibre that keeps you fuller for longer. The class of vegetables known as legumes that includes peas, beans and lentils are especially beneficial, and eating more of them can add more than two years to life expectancy .
- Complex carbohydrates like bread, pasta, rice and starchy vegetables (of the whole grain variety of course) form a solid basis for meals, providing energy and making you feel full. This food group differs from simple carbohydrates like white bread, pasta and refined sugars, of which too much can limit lifespan. Simple everyday swaps include choosing brown bread, pasta and rice instead of the white varieties.
- Olive oil. This versatile oil forms the basis of the Mediterranean diet and may be key to its longevity-boosting properties. Olive oil can be used as anything from a dressing drizzled over salads, to being cooked on a medium heat to fry vegetables. It should be used as your go-to oil to replace butter and margarines.
- Oily fish. While fish is good for you (excluding the occasional carb-laden fish and chip supper) oily fish like salmon, mackerel and herring is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protecting cardiovascular health. Try to include it in your diet twice a week, perhaps as an alternative to red or processed meat.
- Limit processed meat. As a general rule, the more processed food is, the worse it is for health. While lean meat like chicken or turkey are excellent sources of protein, processed meats like hot dogs, salami and bacon should be limited, as they can increase the risk of disease and limit lifespan. Additionally, while vegan and vegetarian meat alternatives have given unprecedented freedom to people following those diets, they should not be eaten in excess. Although a source of protein, they are highly processed and should be used to complement whole foods like vegetables, beans and pulses for protein.
- Limit sugar. With the proliferation of processed food, our palates have become accustomed to the addictive taste of sugar. While it does sweeten our enjoyment of life, refined sugar found in sweets, cakes and desserts, and hidden in readymade meals, holds no nutritional value. While equally high in sugar, fruit also provides added fibre. Although challenging, try to swap your daily chocolate bar for a handful of berries or a banana, or make your own fruit salad with your favourite sweet seasonal offerings.
Longevity supplements for healthy aging
A healthy, balanced diet can be supported by supplements, normally used to provide nutrients missing from the diet. Longevity supplements are a new class of supplements containing active ingredients that work on pathways in the body that control aging. They are designed to delay aging and even improve longevity. Longevity supplements are usually sourced from ingredients found naturally in the body or in food, and thus balance high efficacy with low toxicity. Popular longevity supplements include spermidine, NAD+ and resveratrol. One way longevity supplements protect health is through the antiaging process of autophagy that renews cells. Autophagy is thought to protect against inflammation and oxidative stress, major culprits of aging, reducing the risk of age-related diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and metabolic disease .
Supplements like spermidine can also improve the more aesthetic aspects of aging, promising to reduce deep wrinkles, promote hair growth, stronger nails and longer eyelashes by increasing keratin production. While not miraculous life-extending pills, using longevity supplements alongside a healthy diet as we age may be prudent for antiaging.
Water of life
While not a fountain of youth, drinking enough water everyday aids the body’s essential functions and may improve longevity. Water is the most important nutrient in the body and helps remove toxins through the liver and kidneys, carries oxygen and nutrients to cells, aids digestion, regulates body temperature as well as and helping circulation. The optimal water intake of eight glasses per day can protect health and longevity by reducing the risk of age-related diseases like cardiovascular disease and colon and bladder cancer, so should be your go-to drink throughout the day, with meals and after exercise .
Exercising and aging
We all know the benefits of exercise to health and that we should all be moving more. The CDC recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic and strength-based exercise a week. Generally, the greater frequency, intensity and duration of exercise increases its health benefits. With the busy working week, many of us fail to reach this number.
Luckily, getting enough exercise does not require efforts of Herculean proportions. Rather, the secret to regular exercise is integrating it into your everyday schedule to combat the sedentary lifestyle often required in modern life. For example, walking or cycling to work or studies everyday can reduce the risk of all-cause mortality that increases as we age . Instead of prolonging the time spent at your desk during lunchtime, go out and explore the local area. Attending exercise classes, sports, or going to the gym during the week or at weekends can help you to destress while also protecting cardiovascular health.
Antioxidants for antiaging
Antioxidants are molecules produced in the body and available in food that help neutralise oxidative stress and free radicals – major causes of aging and disease. Antioxidants are found in high concentrations in typically healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and spices, and are also available in supplement form. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an effective way to up your antioxidant intake and protect your health. However, too many antioxidants in the body can cause prooxidant activity, known as the antioxidant paradox. The level at which antioxidants make this switch in the body is unknown, so taking antioxidant supplements should be done prudently.
The need for sleep
Every night, humans around the world slip into a mysterious state of rest known as sleep. Sleep is integral to health and getting the right amount can protect against multiple diseases and aging. We all known from experience the negative effects of a poor night’s sleep on your body the following day. Short term sleep deprivation can be detrimental to mood, alertness and mental focus, as well as making us look older and overtired. Long term, sleep deprivation of less than seven hours per night can accelerate epigenetic aging and increase the risk of developing chronic conditions including obesity, serious mood disorders like anxiety and depression, cardiovascular diseases and impaired immune function. Less well known is that chronic oversleeping for more than nine hours can signify sleep disorders, mental health disorders and other health issues.
Consistently sleeping for 7-9 hours every night should therefore be prioritised for healthy aging, so in the liminal time before sleep read a book, take a bath or light a candle to unwind from the stress of the preceding day. While it is tempting to endlessly scroll through social media before bed, limit the use of technology immediately before sleep as this can keep your brain awake and expose you to artificial light, disrupting the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Staying social as you age
Human beings are social creatures and the quality and quantity of social interaction can impact aging and health. Staying engaged mentally, physically and socially as we age helps combat chronic disease and protects health. Joining social clubs, keeping up with friends and your hobbies, trying new things and most importantly enjoying life all contribute to better aging.