February 07, 2021 6 min read
Unfortunately, we have been ingrained as a society to expect an inevitable health decline as we age. This ‘expectation’ for illness and immobility is hardly inspiring and in fact encourages an entirely negative approach to growing old, saturated in fear and often a sense of hopelessness.
However, it is worth reminding ourselves that we have so much power to influence the state of our later years. With 80% percent of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease involving modifiable lifestyle factors (1), we can influence our genetic jackpot in a real, tangible way, to positively influence how well we age.
We may think of longevity as the ultimate measure of ‘health’ but in reality, and as with most things in life, it is more helpful to think about quality and not just quantity. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aim to increase our overall lifespan, but it may be more beneficial to focus on maximising our number of ‘healthy’ years instead.
Of course, it is true that certain factors are stacked against us, for example our muscle mass does slowly decline, our immune system becomes less primed for invading threats and as our internal organs do age, however, we have enough understanding of the human body now to counteract many of these processes such that they don't cause us ill health.
We can often set the bar too low when we consider what it means to age well.
We should not just aim for the absence of severe or chronic illness, but also to include the other markers of wellbeing including our energy levels, our vibrancy, and our general joie de vivre!
Shockingly, under 20% of people are considered to ‘age successfully’ (2), which again, is not simply the absence of chronic disease, but also, the capacity to live as you want to, by exercising, socialising or travelling.
Clearly, there is much to be achieved from our efforts to promote healthy aging.
One of the key issues underpinning multiple chronic disease states is inflammation (3). However, when we age, we are also prone to ‘inflammaging’ (4) the unhelpful combination of both aging and inflammation processes.However, by moving our lives more in an anti-inflammatory direction, we can counteract this effect.
In fact, studies conducted on centenarians, some of the oldest living people (often found in Blue Zones - longevity hot spots), showed that such long lifers are not immune from aging associated inflammation, however, they appear to be able to ‘anti-inflame’ - more efficiently, showing the huge merit in prioritising an overall anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
As we age, unbalanced blood sugar starts to show up in more unhelpful ways, whether as pre-diabetes slowly progressing into full blown diabetes type 2, or by increasing our propensity to gain weight through poor eating habits.
But the great news is that by stabilizing blood sugar - and reversing type 2 diabetes if necessary - we not only improve our mood, energy levels and immune system day to day, but we also reduce the risk of all the myriad chronic diseases associated with insulin resistance including cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, and even cancer (11).
We do tend to lose muscle mass via natural decline from our 30’s onwards, however we compound this by being inactive, avoiding resistance exercise, and in some instances, by becoming deficient in Vitamin D3, Calcium and Magnesium (14).
Malnutrition as we age, is surprisingly common (19).
Whilst caloric intake requirements are usually met, we may frequently find that being overfed still amounts to being undernourished, i.e., by eating plenty of high calorie low nutrient foods but failing to achieve optimum nutrient coverage.
This is easily solved by prioritizing the intake of 30 different plant-based foods per week, filling up on fibre, omega 3 fats, and healthy proteins, before turning to the less nutritious refined foods which can often make up the majority of our dietary intake.
Chronic stress, especially as we age, has the potential to dysregulate our hormones, lead to a propensity to weight gain (20), and is also associated with other unhelpful health behaviours, whether in the form of inactivity, poor sleep and binge eating episodes (21).
Conversely, once we get a handle on our stress, we are much more likely to take up other health promoting activities, including regular movement, socialising and the prioritisation of healthy eating.
If we look at a longevity hotspot - Okinawa in Japan, here local communities create supportive networks who meet regularly to discuss life or offer each other a listening ear, all whilst drinking antioxidant rich green tea (22).
Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our isolated TV dinner rituals and focus on the type of multi beneficial activities which yield huge rewards for us as we age.
February 14, 2021 6 min read
February 01, 2021 4 min read
What does it really mean to be resilient? Is resilience a trait we are born with or is it something we can learn to embody as we go through life? Here we explore the true nature of resilience, why it is an ability we need now more than ever, and how we can cultivate resilience to support us throughout our lives.
January 24, 2021 3 min read
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