We all love (and love to hate) that stage young children go through, when every sentence begins with the word “why?” It’s a time when we are trying to understand the world in which we live and our natural curiosity strives to find the meaning in everything around us.
As a child I remember thinking my father was the font of all knowledge (he seemed to have the best answers to my Why questions). Imagine my surprise when, one day, he responded with “I don’t know”! Fortunately this didn’t stem my curiosity and by the time I was 18 I had a mission: to help feed the world by researching into crop development in arid regions. And so I entered the realm of science. However, the reality of the late 70s hit such that, after graduating in Biological Sciences, I considered myself fortunate to land a job on the scientific journal Nature. I have also worked on a range of scientific titles, a medical book and health magazines.
Fifteen years ago I qualified as a Shiatsu practitioner. Since then my expertise has grown and I now offer exercise and cooking classes in addition to my Shiatsu practice.
For me, in a way, the Ageing question is part of the ultimate question: the “why are we here”, or the “meaning of life” question. Ageing is an inevitable part of our time on this earth.
So, how can we Age well?
Here are my
Seven Secrets to Ageing Gracefully
1. Positive outlook
7. A Healthy Heart
1. Positive Outlook
People have been trying to work out the secrets of centenarians’ longevity (those over the age of 100). This is what they found:
The most spritely are:
- Rebels; they don’t go along with the beliefs of their culture;
- They have a ritualistic token “bad” habit, for example, one cigar a day, or a whiskey a day;
- They live in the present and look forward positively to the future;
- They do not identify with their age. Rather, they live in sub-cultures that support their beliefs.
These centenarians are influencing their genes in a very positive way, through positive mental attitude and action. Epigeneticists are particularly interested in these people. Epigenetics is the study of gene expression; these scientists explore why genes are or are not expressed in an individual.
If you want to influence your genes for the best:
- Don’t indulge in negative chat about aches and pains, other than to your GP or specialist;
- Don’t use your age as an excuse to not do something
- Defy what you’ve been taught about ageing
- Begin acting healthily NOW
- Create goals and dreams for a fun future
- Adopt an ageless attitude and seek the company of others who share your beliefs. http://www.drnorthrup.com/thriving-with-each-passing-year/
As good old Readers’ Digest assured us: Laughter is the Best Medicine.
Laughter has been called internal jogging, because the act of laughing stimulates hormones called catecholamines, which in turn release the happy hormones -- endorphins. Endorphins are the feel-good hormones, make us more relaxed and happy and ease sensations of pain.
Laughter has been scientifically proven to relieve stress, reduce anxiety and increase our stores of personal energy. It also boosts the immune system and can aid relaxation and sleep.
Share plenty of laughter with your friends.
Ensuring that we get adequate sleep is important. Between six and eight hours a night is ideal (both more and less are detrimental).
During sleep our bodies heal and our immune systems become stronger.
But, sleep can prove elusive, particularly as we get older.
Mindfulness Meditation has been showing its benefits in a range of research studies over the past few years. Only last week a study was published showing that meditating for up to 20 minutes a day significantly improved the quality of sleep in a group of older people. Other problems, including symptoms of fatigue, depression and anxiety also lessened.
Black, D. et al.; JAMA International Medicine, 16 Feb. 2015
As the saying goes: we are what we eat. In order to stay well, we need the best nourishment. There are very few people that can get away with a lifetime of excess drinking, smoking and/or bad food choices.
A healthy diet is one focused on whole, ideally organic, foods including plenty of vegetables and leafy greens. Think 9 a day rather than 5 a day.
Throw out the processed, ready-made food, including packet breakfast cereals, anything with e numbers and look out for too much salt, particularly processed table salt.
Sugar in all its forms and refined grains (this includes bread, cakes, biscuits and related foods, including all flour products) do our bodies no favours at all. Sugar feeds cancer and has a negative impact on the immune system via the problems it creates in our gut. Every organ in our body will be stressed by any form of sugar that we consume.
Emond JA, et al. Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence Associated with Carbohydrate Intake and Tissue Expression of IGF-1 Receptor. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2014 Jul;23(7):1273-9.
The idea that sugar feeds cancer is often attributed to Otto Warburg, a German researcher who received the Nobel Prize in 1931 for his discovery that cancer cells have a different energy metabolism than healthy cells.
Warburg believed that cancer cells originate from an “injuring of respiration,” or lack of oxygen, that is replaced by fermentation. In other words, cancer cells learn to thrive by gleaning energy from the fermentation of glucose, or sugar.
Yet, the statement that sugar feeds cancer is often debated, since all cells, including healthy cells, use glucose to grow. It appears, however, that cancer cells do use sugar more efficiently, and in greater quantities, than healthy cells.
Cook from scratch. It’s fun to share our cooking skills with children/grandchildren, or borrow someone else’s with whom to share our kitchen exploits. Even at their tender age of 3 years, my grandchildren enjoy nothing more than helping to create something edible (usually) in the kitchen.
While we’re in the kitchen, be sure to avoid microwaves where possible.
Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water and curbing caffeinated drinks.
Studies indicate that omega 3 oils derived from fish may help keep brains healthier in older people, particularly in the hippocampus, which is an area of the brain involved in memory function.
James V. Pottala et al, Neurology, 22 January 2014.
These omega-3 fatty acids can also reduce inflammation, which is a driving factor for a variety of diseases.
Rangel-Huerta, O.D., et al., Br.J.Nutr., 2012. 107 Suppl 2:S159-70: p. S159-S170
Another excellent anti-ageing food is coconut oil, known to reduce our risk of heart disease and lower our cholesterol. When frying, favour coconut oil rather than unsaturated vegetable oils, which de-nature on heating.
We’ve all heard that anti-oxidants are good, but it’s best to source them through our food, rather than as a supplement. Good sources include berries (blackberries, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), cherries, beans and artichokes.
•Fermented foods were widely used by our ancestors but much has been lost in our fast-food society. Bread is no longer proved twice, and nothing is left to soak or ferment. The process of fermentation renders many foods more easily digestible for our bodies. The good bugs in fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut also enhance our immune system, which is acknowledged to lie largely in the gut.
Nature Reviews Immunology 9, 313-323 (May 2009) | doi:10.1038/nri2515
Nature 455, 1109-1113 (23 October 2008) Published online 21 September 2008
Sauerkraut - fermented cabbage - contains more vitamin C than the original cabbage it is made from. The good bugs in the sauerkraut synthesise vitamin C during the fermentation process.
Scientists are now re-evaluating many concepts of health and disease, including those affecting the nervous system. Research is now demonstrating a link between the brain and the good bacteria in the gut. It appears that psychological and physical stress factors affect the diversity and activity of the gut bacteria. But it is now being demonstrated that there is a link in the other direction too: changes in our gut bacteria affect our emotional behaviour and other brain systems. Conditions such as autism and depression have been linked to inadequate good bacteria in the gut.
Mayer EA, et al. J Neurosci. 2014 Nov 12;34(46):15490-6 Gut microbes and the brain: paradigm shift in neuroscience.
One of my most popular cooking classes in fact doesn’t involve cooking at all: it is about how to ferment foods to make them more digestible and nutritious.
This brings me to inflammation. What I am referring to is not the acute inflammation that we may see as a result of an injury to a muscle or joint, for example, but rather inflammation that occurs in the body that is long-term and not so easy to distinguish.
Inflammation may also be the result of an auto-immune disorder which triggers an inflammatory response in parts of the body, such as in certain kinds of arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, crohn’s disease and other conditions.
But do you know that inflammation is also present in many other diseases, including high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease?
We can keep our levels of inflammation low with good eating and lifestyle practices. For example, high levels of insulin promote inflammation in your body and speed up ageing. Keep insulin levels low by avoiding sugars and processed grains and by exercising.
Stress also has a direct impact on inflammation within our bodies. As inflammation underlies many chronic diseases, if we can develop effective mechanisms to cope with stress, we may find we live longer and with better health.
5. The importance of being social
As you know, the more socially engaged we are, the better our memory performs. Studies have shown that this is true across all age groups.
Find stimulating ways to socialise:
Singing involves many positive health benefits: standing rather than sitting helps posture and balance, breathing control used during singing helps stimulate your immune system, cleanses the lungs and helps prevent depression. And music can have a particularly positive effect on the body too; keep singing and dancing as long as you can.
6 . Movement
Exercise can help prevent or delay high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and osteoporosis. Exercise also reduces the likelihood of falls that may lead to hip and other fractures. Although a lifetime of regular exercise is ideal, it's never too late to start. People of all ages, including those in their 70s, can substantially increase strength, endurance and sense of balance with exercise.
• Yoga improves mental as well as physical health.
Practicing hatha yoga three times a week for eight weeks improved sedentary older adults' performance on cognitive tasks that are relevant to everyday life, researchers report.
The findings involved 108 adults between the ages of 55 and 79 years of age, 61 of whom attended hatha yoga classes. The others met for the same number and length of sessions and engaged in stretching and toning exercises instead of yoga.
"Hatha yoga requires focused effort in moving through the poses, controlling the body and breathing at a steady rate," Gothe said. "It is possible that this focus on one's body, mind and breath during yoga practice may have generalized to situations outside of the yoga classes, resulting in an improved ability to sustain attention."
• Get out in the sun
A recent review of clinical studies shows an association between low vitamin D levels and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Being out in the sun boosts our levels of vitamin D naturally.
Remember to stay out of the midday sun and avoid sunscreens.
In the winter months, keep your vitamin D levels topped up with a good quality supplement.
7. Keep a Healthy Heart
Cholesterol is an important molecule in our body: it is indispensable for the building of cells and for producing stress and sex hormones, and vitamin D.
It is also important for brain health and aids in the formation of memories.
There is no doubt that a constant state of emotional stress is directly linked with high cholesterol levels.
The function of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline is to provide fuel for a potential fight-or-flight situation. But if this energy (seen in the body as raised blood sugar levels) is not used, it gradually accumulates as fat tissue.
We need to find ways to help our bodies develop a healthy cholesterol level naturally, rather than taking a pill to lower cholesterol levels.
There are a range of strategies that we can use to help balance our stress levels.
While there is good evidence demonstrating that daily meditation can help relieve stress and also that moderate-to-vigorous exercise helps lower anxiety and stress levels, there may be other activities that could work well for you.
For some, gardening may be the panacea: it combines gentle movement and exercise with being out in natural daylight, it is totally absorbing for the mind (mindfulness) and being close to nature has many rewards.
We’re all individuals, so there will be no single panacea for ill health or for longevity and we have to discover what works for us.
But there is one secret that is probably the most important of all.
And that is LOVE
Thank you for your attention.