Aging isn’t easy. And more than mentally coming to terms with getting older—which in and of itself can be difficult—the actual physical process of advancing in age is a cumbersome endeavor filled with increased doctor visits, the need to eliminate certain foods, and, more often than not, a measure of decreased mobility.
Article at a Glance
How To Age Strong
- Aging is inevitable, but how can you age in a healthy way?
- A positive mental state is important to aging
- Pets are also beneficial
- Staying social is perhaps most important
- Cortisol levels spike when you’re stressed
- This can lead to a variety of health problems
- Ashwagandha can help soothe stress
- A sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to health
- Some level of daily exercise is recommended for a long life
- For extra energy, consider a boost from vitamin B12, CoQ10, and astaxanthin
- Junk food adversely affects the healthy aging process
- Eat a diet packed with whole foods, especially those high in antioxidants
- Antioxidants scavenge cell-damaging free radicals, well into old age
Getting older is inevitable for every living organism—and yet, we have yet to devise a robust, clear plan for dealing with both the mental and physical challenges of aging. And why isn’t there a neatly laid out plan for getting older? Well, it’s most likely a combination of two factors: First, most people don’t want to acknowledge or even think about aging, and second, there is no one universal plan for aging because everyone’s physical situation is so unique.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t at least attempt to put a plan together. And any suitable plan for healthy aging should incorporate an eclectic mix of efforts reaching across numerous aspects of both your mental and physical wellbeing. After all, it’s your entire body that ages, not just a heart here and a digestive system there.
In the interest of achieving total body health and continuing down the path of wellness, here’s a handful of tips for you to consider as you age with your zest for life still firmly intact.
Focus on Mental Health
There’s only one place to start, and that’s the top. But more than the physical “top” of your body in your brain, your mental state can be thought of as the overriding system governing your entire body. Your mood, emotions, and general thought patterns often inform your approach to self-care; if you’re feeling down you might indulge in food or other activities that are detrimental to your health—which leads to physical complications.
That’s not a load of new-age hokum. Scientific evidence demonstrates that having a positive frame of mind about getting older can actually lead to improved overall health, and better equip you to recover from injuries late in life. And believe it or not, one of the steps you can take to maintain a positive attitude as you age is to get a pet. Bringing a furry friend into your life has been linked to lowering stress, improving your mood, and reducing loneliness.
Then there’s how maintaining meaningful human relationships in your life can factor into a positive mental state. In the 2018 book Timeless: Nature’s Formula for Health and Longevity, professor of psychology at Pepperdine University Louis Cozolino says that the experience of relating to others is essential to how we survive and thrive into our later years.
“How we bond and stay attached to others is at the core of our resilience, self-esteem, and physical health,” writes Dr. Cozolino. “We build the brains of our children through our interaction with them, and we keep our own brains growing and changing throughout life by staying connected to others.”
And research backs up the professor’s theories. One study involving 7,000 participants over a nine-year period found that people with social ties tend to live longer regardless of other life factors. And researchers in general believe that engaging in a social support system can protect you against stress and also keep your brain active in a healthy way.
Mind Your Stress
Speaking of mental health, stress is one of the biggest detriments to a positive frame of mind. When your cortisol levels spike it can wreak havoc on your mood, conjuring up anger and the associated physical consequences. Your cortisol levels naturally rise when you’re facing a particularly stressful situation, triggering your fight-or-flight response. This reaction helps your body stay prepared. However, cortisol levels that are at a constant state of high alert put you in danger of various health issues, including weight gain, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol—which are all contributing factors of heart disease.
Research has also found that stress can lead to less-than-stellar skin, including wrinkles and other visible signs of aging. So, not only does stress make you feel worse on the inside, it can also alter your physical appearance, making you look older on the outside.
One way to help manage your stress level is with ashwagandha, an Indian plant used for centuries for its adaptogenic anti-stress properties. Ashwagandha works through the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis—aka your adrenal system—which is tasked with regulating homeostasis by controlling hormone levels. It’s there that ashwagandha reduces stress-induced impairments, including elevated cortisol levels. In one, individuals with a history of chronic stress received ashwagandha and showed significantly reduced stress-assessment scores with substantially lower cortisol levels.
One way to help manage your stress level is with ashwagandha, an Indian plant used for centuries for its adaptogenic anti-stress properties.
Exercise And Generally Stay Active
Odds are, it’s very likely that you’ve spent way too much of your life sitting at a desk, back hunched over, eyes glued to a computer screen for years on end. It’s the sedentary lifestyle and unfortunately, far too many of us have jobs and careers that depend on such an existence. And don’t think that just your workday is to blame—yeah, we’re looking at you, flat-screen TV and comfy couch. But what’s most unfortunate is the adverse effects that this lack of getting on our feet and moving more can have as we enter advanced age.
For starters, sitting for long stretches limits the number of calories you burn throughout the day. This leads to the possibility of weight gain, which opens the door to a host of other health issues. And one study illustrates precisely how few calories desk workers burn as compared to those who spend more time working on their feet. Then there’s the question of longevity and the negative effects of being too sedentary—as time glued to your chair has been associated with a host of serious conditions, including increased blood sugar levels and cardiovascular problems.
As for how much exercise you should aim for, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get 2.5 to 5 hours per week of moderate exercise, 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of vigorous aerobic exercise, or a combination of both. These types of exercises include walking, swimming, dancing, cycling, or even higher-intensity workouts.
And in matters of mental stress, exercise and other physical activities produce endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that work as your body’s natural painkillers. This can help you sleep and actually reduce your stress levels.
But as you get older, you’ll likely find yourself with reduced energy levels—meaning you might have troubling remaining active. This is where a particular group of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients come into play. Specifically, vitamin B12, CoQ10, astaxanthin, and creatine which can all contribute to energy levels and physical strength.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to fatigue and weakness. And people over the age of 50 are more likely to develop a deficiency because older adults are often low of hydrochloric acid, which the body needs to absorb vitamin B12.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a major contributor to energy production, also decreases as you age, which may explain why we feel so tired as we grow older. And since CoQ10 is not something your body produces on its own, supplementation might be the way to go.
As for astaxanthin, this antioxidant carotenoid helps to boost overall mitochondrial energy production, translating to a bodily energy boost.
Meanwhile, creatine has emerged as an answer for healthy aging, going beyond its typical association with bodybuilding. Recent studies show that creatine could potentially protect mitochondria from the ravages of age, mainly by minimizing the effects of oxidative damage.
Maintain A Healthy Diet
One day you wake up, probably sometime in your 40s, and you realize that you probably shouldn’t have eaten that double cheeseburger with fries, washed down with a strawberry shake. And this isn’t about weight gain—though that is a concern—it’s more about how it makes you feel and the unfavorable impact it can have on your health.
A diet focusing on healthy, fresh options instead of processed foods high in saturated fat is the key to a clean mind, body, and spirit. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a steady diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins (like fish or beans), whole-grain cereals and breads, low-fat and fat-free dairy, and plenty of healthy fats. And why are such foods recommended over junk food? It’s because junk food is often loaded with sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, massive amounts of sodium, and lots of saturated fats—all linked to high triglycerides, elevated LDL cholesterol, and weight gain, which are all linked to a variety of adverse conditions.
A diet focusing on healthy, fresh options instead of processed foods high in saturated fat is the key to a clean mind, body, and spirit.
And as you can probably guess, those nasty factors make aging harder on your body and mind. For starters, junk food increases the production of free radicals in your body, which as we know leads to cell-damaging oxidative stress. These free-radical generating foods include junk packed with refined carbohydrates, like white bread, chips, and sodas, as well as preservative-packed munchies like processed meats and fast food.
So, if you must forego multiple slices of pizza on a random weekday night and shun all fast food establishments, what are you going to eat? First of all, your diet as you age should be loaded with foods that are rich in antioxidants so that those free radicals can be scavenged before doing damage to your cells. This, of course, include fruits, berries, and veggies, which are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that boost your antioxidant levels, helping you battle against a host of ailments caused by inflammation, from your heart to your brain, all of your joints in between, and your ever-present immune and digestive systems.
You’re Going To Grow Old...And That’s A Good Thing
It’s not all about your body breaking down and having to eliminate all the foods you love. Getting older also means becoming wiser, more confident, professionally successful, and personally satisfied. But in order to enjoy all the benefits of getting older, you have to actually be around and in a healthy physical and mental state. Find your way into that healthy framework—and navigate the next phase of your life on your terms.