Aging is a complex and fascinating process, filled with ups and downs, taking on many different forms and affecting many different facets of our lives; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Of course, though you may be getting wiser and more experienced as the years go by, there are probably going to be a few aspects of aging you’re not all that happy about. Don’t think that this is just an inexorable part of it that you can’t do anything about! There are many things we can do to make sure we age both naturally and gracefully. Here’s a guide to making sure you have the best possible experience in your later years.
Understanding the Biology of Aging
There’s a time in everyone’s life where they discover, usually quite out of the blue, that they’re not as young as they used to be. The point where this occurs varies from person to person, and the reasons behind it can be as unique as the person. Aging is a very complex process, involving the behavior of the body’s cells at a molecular level. The balance between your cells’ ability to renew themselves, and the natural process of their death, drives the process of aging in everyone. DNA governs our cells, and helps them to manage the various systems that make our bodies tick. The lifecycle of an individual cell is dependent on a certain part of our DNA called a telomere. It’s easy to understand these by thinking of them as the plastic tip around a shoelace. The longer the telomere, the more frequently it can divide and remain youthful. However, every time it divides the telomere shrinks, and gradually loses its ability to regenerate and repair itself, until it eventually disappears. This process causes cells to become deficient and defective, which is what causes biological aging to become apparent in the body.
Can We Slow Down the Aging Process?
This is something that countless people wonder as they move out of middle age, and start to notice more lines in their face and more grays in their hair. While we can’t stop the aging process (and let’s be honest would you really want to?) we can certainly take steps to slow it down, and keep ourselves healthier for longer. There have been countless studies which have shown that various simple lifestyle changes can increase telomere length, ensuring that our cells stay healthier for longer. Even taking a daily multivitamin can make your telomeres 5.1% longer than those who don’t, according to one study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vitamin D levels have been found to have a huge impact on our telomere length, and taking supplements or simply making sure you get enough exposure to the sun can have a huge, positive impact on our aging process. Vitamin K has also been found to offset various signs of aging, and reduce the chances of diseases like osteoporosis. There are more than 40 different vitamins, minerals, proteins and fatty acids which mesh well with our genes and prolong health. It’s easy enough to go out and stock up on all the vitamins and supplements you could need to stay young and healthy. However, the best way of assuring you age gracefully is making the right changes to your diet. Low consumption of meats, moderate consumption of alcohol (notably red wine) and high consumption of nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables and olive oil are all great for slowing the effects of aging through your diet. Aside from that, it will also stave off the various illnesses and diseases we become more susceptible to as we age. Remember that the more our cells receive from our nutrition and lifestyle choices, the more they respond, and the less likely we are to contract conditions we’re predisposed to in our genetic makeup. This can be one more motivator if you have some kind of genetic predisposition that runs in your family.
Hormones, Calorie Restriction, and The Rest
You’ve probably seen at least a little in the media about various celebrities who have been using bioidentical hormones to prevent aging. As positive as the mainstream reports may sound, I’d keep away from these kinds of solutions for the time being. There’s been a lot of controversy about hormonal methods. This mainly stems from the fact that we don’t know enough about the long-term effects of any kind of hormone, bioidentical, synthetic or otherwise, as a way to stave off the signs of aging. Another popular treatment that’s been gaining more and more attention in various health journals has been resveratrol. This is a natural antioxidant found in various plants, most notably the skins and seeds of red grapes. Experiments in the early noughties found that this compound could extend the natural lifespan of yeast and fruit flies. Various other experiments are being carried out on other organisms, though there’s no definite answer as to what its effects will be in humans. The theory is that resveratrol could reduce our risk for diseases related to aging, though not necessarily halt the aging process altogether. If it’s found to be safe for humans, it could have applications for improving our cardiovascular health, constraining cancerous cells, maintaining a healthy metabolism and staving off various neurological disorders. Calorie restriction is another treatment which has been at the center of debates for some time now. However, if people aren’t able to commit to calorie restriction regimens successfully, it can really come back to bite them. When people go on and off their diets erratically, rather than making positive lifestyle choices and sticking to them, it can lead to shorter telomeres, rather than longer ones. The psychological stress of slipping in and out of your diets alone can be seriously bad for the body. Although I can’t recommend any of these treatments with a clear conscience, there’s definitely potential, and I recommend keeping tabs on these and other anti-aging methods to see how the research pans out.
What Can You Do?
While scientists around the world toil away at a miracle anti-aging solution, you’ll obviously be wondering what you can do for yourself now. You’ve probably heard it a million times, a few of those on this very blog, but the secret you’re looking for is all in simple lifestyle changes. Eating well, absorbing all the right vitamins and micronutrients, and reducing the stress in your life are all great ways to keep the signs of aging to a minimum. I once heard a doctor say that if they could give a healthy lifestyle out in a pill, it would be the most popular pharmaceutical in the world. Here are a few more specific tips for aging as gracefully as possible…
- Pin down the sources of chronic stress in your life and try to eliminate or at least mitigate these. Stress, despite what some people may think, is a very physical problem, rather than purely psychological. It can make inflammation worse, and contributes to the everyday wear and tear our muscles take on a regular basis. Yoga, of course, is one of my favorite ways to unwind and make life that much easier to handle. Massage and meditation can also be good solutions for some people. If you’re getting on in your years and looking into assisted living, then check out centers with a strong emphasis on exercise and reducing stress, such as McKnight Place.
- Review your diet, and cut out any foods that have been linked with cancer and faster aging. Start eating a balanced diet full of antioxidants, and low in refined carbs, processed foods, and unhealthy fats.
- Quit smoking, excessive drinking, or any other vices that have been proven to be harmful, whether physically or psychologically.
- Give your cells the signals they need, with fruits, vegetables, legumes, unrefined grains and healthy oils. The way the cells in your body react to a cake or burger are very different to the way they react to a plate of greens in olive oil!
- Start taking high-quality vitamins. Omega 3 supplements, vitamin D and multivitamin pills are all worth looking into. You may also want to go to your physician or nutritionist and ask them if there’s any essential nutrients or vitamins that you should be getting more of.
- Cut down on exercises that make you feel drained, and find something that makes you feel replenished and energetic instead. Exercise is essential to our all-round health, but if you’re getting it in in a way that you dread it may end up doing more harm than good. If you’re not exercising on a regular basis already, then this needs to change if you want to look and feel as young as possible. It only takes a little motivation to get started, and before long it will become a habit which you can’t do without!