How to slow down the affects of aging
Getting older. It’s a common topic and something many people are fighting against. As soon as someone starts to experience aches and pains, they may accept it and write it off as “getting old”. Many expect move more slowly, have more pain and to have physical limitations as they age and think there is nothing to be done to help or slow down this inevitable fate.
It is true there are some things we can’t control in the aging process. Our bodies will change. While we can’t stop ourselves from aging completely, there are some things we can do to slow down the effects of aging and to minimize or even reverse some of the slow down and ailments that might occur as we grow older. These controllable factors include your daily habits and lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle is the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth.
What are some of the naturally occurring effects of aging?
- Aerobic Endurance Slows
Our V02 max naturally decreases as we age and if we are not performing cardiovascular exercise. This is the body’s ability to use oxygen. When your V02 max decreases, your body cannot use as much of the oxygen that is breathed in, which limits muscle output and cardiovascular function. That means you will get breathless quickly and tire faster.
- Max Heart Rate Declines
As we get older, our maximum (max) heart rate lowers. A max heart rate is the upper limit of heart beats per minute that your body can safely sustain. You can calculate a rough estimate of your max heart rate with this formula from the American Heart Association: 220 - [your age] = estimated max heart rate. This can decrease how intensely you are able to exercise.
Also, with time your heart beats at a lower rate per minute. When your heart beats, it pumps a specific volume of oxygenated blood away from your heart to be used by your body – including your muscles. With fewer beats per minute, it means there is less oxygenated blood in your muscles which means they fatigue faster and more easily.
- Hormones Change
Hormones play a role for both men and women in the changes that occur as we grow older. Just one of these changes is that testosterone and estrogen levels naturally decrease starting in our 30’s and can reduce lean muscle mass. Less muscle mass affects our ability to move and complete daily tasks and changes our body composition. Less muscle also affects our balance – read more about that and other aspects of age-related physical changes in my last post all about balance.
The good news is there are things we can do to limit the effects of aging on our daily lives and that is through our lifestyle. Research has shown that we can affect the length of our telomeres (the protein structures that are found at the ends of chromosomes that cap and protect our genes) through healthier lifestyle choices. A direct relationship has been shown between telomere length and life expectancy, DNA damage and age-related diseases. Dysfunctional telomeres are risk factors for adverse health conditions and may accelerate the progression of age-related disorders. The longer our telomeres, the risk is reduced for the development of cancer, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory diseases, and premature aging.
So how do we lengthen and protect our telomeres, thus slowing down the age related physical slow down?
Sleep has been shown to be important for our health at every age. Experts recommend 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Studies also show it affects the length of our telomeres. One example is a study where researchers found that men with shorter sleep duration had shorter telomeres.
Some ways to improve your sleep would be to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning – even the weekends. Shutting down devices at least an hour before bed, having the bedroom temperature at 65 degrees, and having less caffeine (especially later in the day) could also help.
- A Healthy Diet
The Mediterranean way of eating has been repeatedly shown to be the “best diet” for health and longevity. It focuses on eating real, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, olive oil, herbs, and spices. Fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt are also included in moderation. The fish and seafood provide omega-3 fats which are especially important in reducing inflammation and improving insulin resistance.
A healthy diet limits sugary and highly processed foods. One study found an association between sugar-sweetened soda consumption and shorter telomeres. Just another reason to avoid drinking soda!
A study in the Archives of Medical Science showed a positive association of vitamin D in the length of telomeres. Vitamin D is an important nutrient that many don’t get enough of. It’s a good idea to have your health care provider check to see if you are deficient as it can affect many aspects of your health. Some foods contain vitamin D, like some types of salmon, mushrooms, sardines, and eggs but it can be difficult to get all the vitamin D that you need from food. Moderate sunlight exposure can also up your vitamin D intake. In general, 15 minutes of unprotected (no sunscreen) time in the sun can give you all the vitamin D you may need. (Don’t forget to put on sunscreen after that if you will be out in the sun longer!)
Both aerobic exercise and strength training are important to stay healthy at any age but also to combat signs of aging. Strength training will help to minimize or reverse the natural loss of bone density and muscle as we age. Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise keeps our V02 Max higher which means we won’t tire as easily on a walk or while playing with grandkids for example. It also can increase or maintain the length of our telomers. A study done in the UK showed that as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking a day was associated with longer telomeres and reduced signs of aging.
- Stress Reduction
Several studies have linked chronic stress to shorter telomeres. One such study compared healthy women who were mothers of healthy children (the control moms) and those who cared for chronically ill children (caregiving mothers). On average, the caregiving mothers had telomeres that were 10 years shorter than the control moms. That is, their cells behaved as if one decade older.
Stress is part of everyday life but typically the response to the stress from our Central Nervous System (CNS) will dissipate about 90 minutes after the stressful event. Chronic stress is when our bodies stay in that “flight or fight” response from the CNS. That means we have heightened levels of stress hormones in our bodies which have numerous negative effects on our health, among them contributing to the shortening of our telomeres and aging.
Experiment with things that will help reduce your stress. Take the time to do what makes you feel better and bring you joy. Mindfulness, yoga, and meditation have all proven to reduce stress. Taking time to enjoy a hobby, getting regular exercise, connecting with friends, and listening to music are all examples of things that could help lessen your stress response.
Your habits and lifestyle can make a difference in how your body ages. Slowing down aging isn’t about rejecting the idea of getting older, it’s about improving the quality of your life for the rest of your years. Not necessarily about adding years to your life but adding life to your years.
"Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be." Robert Browning (1812-1889)
Topics: LivRite News