Invest with Nutrition Now to Age Better Later

 

Avoid accelerated aging with diet. Photo Credit: Stone Soup

Avoid accelerated aging with diet. Photo Credit: Stone Soup

You can also view this article on the Food & Nutrition Magazine blog, Stone Soup.

From the moment of conception, the human body is aging. And while it cannot be stopped, it’s possible to influence how quickly the body ages. One of the most significant ways is through diet. Think of every bite as a deposit into the bank of health, with nutrient-rich foods being valuable currency. And remember: It’s never too late to make contributions. Here are some tips for each decade of life that promote healthy aging.

Twenties

With the “need it now” mentality fueled by social media and technology, 20-somethings are accustomed to quick and convenient, especially when it comes to food. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean healthy. Convenience foods can be high in calories, fat, sugar and salt. Few provide the right amount of quality protein — an important nutrient for this age group since muscle mass peaks in this decade. A Journal of Gerontology study showed that lean mass, and the muscle that comes with it, could decrease by up to 40 percent from age 20 to 70. Eating a high-protein diet together with exercise can counteract this loss. Include protein-rich foods like lean meats, dairy, fish and lentils with each meal.

Thirties

Many in their 30s enjoy good health and are untouched by the visible signs of aging. Unfortunately, many also are preoccupied with work and family and neglect their health and take for granted their body’s resilience — a resilience quickly chipped away by poor diet. Enter multivitamins. A survey from the market research company NPD Group suggests that the average American adult meets dietary guidelines just seven days out of the year. Almost all fall short of the estimated average requirement for vitamin E, and more than half don’t meet needs for magnesium, folate and vitamin D. Taking a multivitamin helps supply the nutrients needed to support healthy aging.

Forties

In this decade, the likelihood of becoming overweight or obese sharply rises, and with it comes health risks, mostly notably type 2 diabetes. The Obesity Society reports that almost 90 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Weight gain is largely preventable by following a healthy diet. For those in their 40s, it’s important to avoid foods high in refined sugar like soda, candy and pastries. Instead, eating balanced meals with complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber can help manage blood sugar and weight.

Fifties

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women, trumping cancer, stroke and diabetes. Being over the age of 50 increases the risk. Add other factors — African-American ethnicity, a family history of heart disease — and the risk increases even more. While some factors cannot be mitigated, diet and exercise are effective tools for preventing heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week (or taking a daily supplement) to increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids.

Sixties and older

The greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age, and most individuals with Alzheimer’s are 65 or older. The likelihood of developing the disease doubles every five years after age 65. While there is no cure, research has focused on delaying, slowing and preventing symptoms, and nutritional interventions show promise. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests 2,000 IU of vitamin E as part of a comprehensive care plan that helps slow dementia. More research is needed, but there’s no denying the benefit of a healthy diet and lifestyle to support brain health.

No matter the decade of life, the goal should always be to invest wisely with nutrition.

Secrets to Living Longer, Better

The mineral-rich water sourced from a volcano in Soufriere, St Lucia, that many refer to as "the fountain of youth".

The mineral-rich water sourced from a volcano in Soufriere, St Lucia, that many refer to as “the fountain of youth”.

Mark Twain couldn’t have said it any better: “life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.”

From wrinkle creams to age-preserving supplements, we are constantly trying to slow the aging process. Why? Aging is commonly associated with low quality of life due to the symptoms of disease such as memory loss and immobility. It is no surprise then that we spend countless hours and dollars trying to avoid this time of our lives controlled by failing health.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if we could live healthfully well into old age?

I recently finished reading a fascinating book called “The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner. In it, he and his team travel the world looking for areas where an unusual number of people live long enough to celebrate their 100th birthday. These people—known as centenarian—were sought out in a quest by the researchers to discover the secrets behind healthy aging.

Out of the five Blue Zones that are discussed in the book (Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Loma Linda, CA) there were four main commonalities I found among centenarians:

1. Vegetarianism: All of the centenarian interviewed ate little to no meat, mostly because they could not afford it. Only on special occasions would they slaughter one of their animals or splurge on buying meat at the market (which usually involved a five to ten mile walk). Instead, their diets consisted mostly of beans, grains, vegetables, and fruits.

The link between vegetarianism and healthy aging is supported by a recent study, which found that those following a vegetarian diet had a 12 percent lower mortality rate that non-vegetarians.

If you feel compelled to turn down meat but you don’t think you have the willpower to stick to it, try committing to the “weekday vegetarian” lifestyle.

2. Daily physical labor: Another commonality among the centenarian was that they engaged in some form of physical labor daily. Whether it was tilling land or shepherding sheep, they were up and moving for a good portion of the day.

Think of your average day: Drive to work. Sit at desk. Drive home. Sit on couch. Lay in bed. Where’s the physical activity?

Getting exercise is essential to support health aging. Not only does it help with weight maintenance, it supports muscle growth and cardiovascular health. Think of the benefits you could reap just by walking to work, going to the gym at lunch, or attending a fitness class a few times each week. (Or try these exercises you can do while sitting at your desk!)

3. Wine: Red wine seemed to be the drink of choice among the centenarians. Many reported drinking the antioxidant-rich tonic throughout the day and at gatherings with family and friends. Although I find it hard to believe wine is the “answer” to health aging, it probably doesn’t hinder it. In fact, I would think that having a glass of wine daily would help with stress reduction, allowing the body to relax and recovery at the end of the day. Of course that depends on exactly how much you drink—drinking too much alcohol can weight heavy on the function of your liver. Cheers to red wine! …in moderation.

4. Purpose: I thought this was the most interesting characteristic of healthy aging the researchers found. It makes sense when you think about it though—when you lose purpose in your life, you are less motivated to care for yourself.

Most centenarians lived with their children and grandchildren (even great-grandchildren in some cases) and were involved in the daily activities around the house such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for the yard. It is much different in the US, where elderly people are often placed in facilities where strangers care for them.

In addition to being a contributor to their families, they were also closely tied to their communities. Although each culture had their own name for it, they all participated in regular gatherings with friends where they would gossip, give advice, and tell jokes. It was something they could look forward to each day.

Though there has been no discovery of the fountain of youth, there do seem to be a few lifestyle habits you can follow to increase your chances of living a longer, healthier life. I wholeheartedly believe that prevention is the key. Make the changes now to slow the process of aging.

Curious what your overall life expectancy is? Take this cool quiz from the Blue Zones website. My biological age is 21 and I am expected to live until I am 92 years old. What about you?