It’s inevitable: From the moment you’re born, you begin to age. But not until your 50s do you typically begin feeling the effects of aging. Aside from the obvious, such as graying hair and wrinkling skin, other indicators of advancing age lurk within your body. Muscle mass decreases, bones lose density, blood pressure increases, bladder capacity declines, and the senses start to dull. Luckily, there is some hopeful news. Although scientists theorize that how you age is based on a combination of factors involving your genes, environment, and lifestyle, many believe these factors can be managed to slow the process. So how can you make the most of years to come? We asked several top aging experts to share their tips on how you can lead a longer, healthier life.
If anyone knows his vitamin ABCs, it’s Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD. He’s dedicated his professional life to the study of antioxidants (compounds, such as vitamins C and E, that prevent free radical damage) in foods and supplements, and their effects on health and aging. Although oxygen is required to survive, it also generates free radicals—highly reactive molecules—that damage the lipids, proteins, and DNA in our bodies. “There is no doubt that free radicals contribute to both the aging process and to a number of chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease,” says Blumberg. “A higher intake of antioxidants may well serve to protect us.”
Blumberg’s tips for aging well:
- Take a daily multivitamin.
As people age, their ability to absorb key nutrients, such as folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, calcium, and zinc, declines due to a drop in the stomach’s ability to produce hydrochloric acid. Taking a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement can help older adults get the extra nutrients they need to fend off degeneration and chronic disease and enhance immunity. Of course, it’s a good idea to begin supplementing your diet with essential vitamins and minerals in your 20s or 30s, rather than “later in the game,” says Blumberg.
- Up your intake of vitamin D.
The body’s ability to produce vitamin D—a vital bone-strengthening nutrient—from sunlight and food sources diminishes by 60 percent in older people. Blumberg notes that, in general, vitamin D intake is so low in Americans of all ages that supplementation is especially important. Increasing vitamin D through supplements or diet (milk and fortified cereals are good sources), along with calcium, is an easy way to lower the risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia, or bone loss, especially for those with limited sun exposure. (For doses, see “5 Essential Supplements for Aging Well.”)
- Boost vision health.
Age-related macular degeneration is common in people older than 60 and is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. Supplementing with zinc and high intakes of antioxidants—vitamins C, E, and lutein—has been clinically shown to help reduce the risk or delay onset of this debilitating condition.
Top two things Blumberg does to live longer:
- He enjoys a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which provide abundant fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. “As a result of knowing what’s good for me, I’ve gotten a lot more adventuresome in finding new foods and trying out new menus,” Blumberg says.
- A self-described workaholic, Blumberg doesn’t get out of the lab much. To stay fit, he eschews the elevator at work, opting to run up and down flights of stairs.
Vincent Giampapa, MD, FACS, based his books on the latest findings from the Human Genome Project, which mapped out the entire human genetic blueprint. “Every human being has 99.9 percent the exact same genetic makeup,” says Giampapa. “The only thing that makes us different is the 0.1 percent difference in our individual genes. That small percentage really dictates how long we’ll live, what diseases we’re prone to, and how we age.” By influencing our genes through stress reduction, healthy eating, exercise, and supplementation, Giampapa believes that we can all live longer.
Giampapa’s tips for aging well:
- Consider genetic testing.
One of Giampapa’s aims is to bring cutting-edge genetic testing to the public. One method he particularly recommends is at-home SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) tests. You order the test, swab the inside of your cheek to get a DNA sample at home, and return the sample to the lab. Your DNA is then analyzed to get information that may help you prevent chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, measuring your need for specific supplements, foods, and medications. The tests also offer information on a number of genes directly related to aging, says Giampapa. Basic SNPs screening tests cost approximately $350. (For information on genetic profiling services, visit www.suracell.com, where Giampapa is chief scientific officer, or www.genovations.com.)
- Repair your DNA.
Stress, pollution, and poor nutrition wreak havoc on DNA, which can lead to conditions such as cancer and diabetes, according to Giampapa. Supplements can help repair DNA, aiding in the prevention of most chronic diseases, he says. Particularly notable is CAE (carboxyl alkyl esters), an extract from the herb cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa), found in the Amazon rain forest. CAE, Giampapa says, is the only natural substance known to enhance DNA repair (Phytomedicine, 2001, vol. 8, no. 4), plus it has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immune-enhancing effects (Alternative Medicine Review, 2001, vol. 6, no. 6).
- Control mental stress.
If you’re stressed, nothing else you do for optimal health will matter, says Giampapa. Breathing, meditation, and relaxation methods can help combat stress by regulating the hormones cortisol and insulin, which rise during stressful times and accelerate the aging process, according to Giampapa.
Top two things Giampapa does to live longer:
- In the morning, Giampapa meditates for 10 to 15 minutes, which helps him focus and start the day stress-free.
- After meditating, he works out for one hour, six times a week, doing aerobic and resistance exercises.
David Lipschitz, MD, PhD, believes that aging well should be a national priority. The number of 85-year-olds will at least triple in 30 years, he says. If half are dependent on others for care, then “we’ll face the single-biggest crisis in America’s history” in terms of health care and other costs.
Health and happiness, he believes, are the keys to aging well; he tries to help his patients achieve both. “My goal when they leave my office is for them to feel better than when they came in,” says Lipschitz. “They don’t come to see me just because they’re sick. They come to see me because they want to stay healthy.”
Lipschitz’s tips for aging well:
- Avoid dieting.
Lipschitz acknowledges that eating right is crucial, but dieting is “a huge mistake.” Being “pleasingly plump”—10 percent above your ideal body weight—might actually be associated with a greater chance for longevity, according to Lipschitz. But extra padding is no excuse to be a couch potato. “If you’re chubby and exercise, you’re far healthier than if you’re thin and sedentary,” he says.
- Be educated.
Get regular checkups and disease screenings. Be proactive about preventing illness. And don’t believe everything your doctor tells you, says Lipschitz. Doctors often order “inappropriate” medications, interventions, and surgeries for elders that can actually worsen their health. Empower yourself by learning about a condition, and be willing to ask important questions, he says. And if there’s any doubt, get a second opinion.
- Love large.
“If you have love in your life, you’re going to live longer and be happier,” Lipschitz says. His research has shown that happily married people tend to live longer (on average, eight to ten years for men; three to four years for women) than singles. Studies also show that sexually active seniors live longer—and are happier and healthier—than their celibate counterparts.
Top two things Lipschitz does to live longer:
- Lipschitz ranks “being totally in love with my wife” at a clear number one.
- He knows how to set priorities. A heart attack forced Lipschitz to abandon a pressure-filled life and learn to cope with daily vicissitudes.
An expert in Ayurvedic medicine—a 5,000-year-old natural health system founded in India—Nancy Lonsdorf, MD, specializes in women’s transitions into menopause. Around age 50, Lonsdorf says, “there’s a major shift happening in the underlying dominance of the doshas,” the three vital energies that govern body, mind, and emotions. During menopause, the main dosha force in a woman’s body changes from pitta (fire) to vata (wind). Vata, says Lonsdorf, tends to have a dry and degenerating influence on the body, represented in the cessation of menses. But if the body is in balance, says Lonsdorf, “with normal function and good overall health,” it can adjust to this change smoothly, with minimal to no menopausal symptoms.
Lonsdorf’s tips for aging well:
- Eat plenty of phytoestrogens.
A diet rich in plant foods, particularly those high in phytoestrogens (plant estrogens that support the body’s hormonal and metabolic functions), is crucial for achieving balance and staving off menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, says Lonsdorf. Phytoestrogen-rich foods, spices, and herbs include asparagus, fennel bulb, Mexican wild yam, soy, whole grains, legumes, licorice, turmeric, and nutmeg. These plant-based phytoestrogens are a healthy alternative to long-term hormone replacement therapy with horse-derived estrogens, which recent studies have shown increases the risk for heart disease, breast cancer, and stroke (American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2004, vol. 190, no. 4).
- Make time to meditate.
Shown to reduce coronary heart disease risk factors such as atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, transcendental meditation is key to aging well, according to Lonsdorf (Stroke, 2000, vol. 31, no. 3). She recommends meditating twice daily for 20 minutes in a comfortable position, such as sitting in a chair with your eyes closed. “The mind and consciousness is the most powerful factor in our health,” says Lonsdorf. (To learn more about transcendental meditation, visit www.tm.org.)
- Give your beauty routine a rub.
To retain your youthful glow, drink pure water, eat healthfully, and try a morning all-body oil massage, suggests Lonsdorf. Massage not only helps reduce the effects of aging and detoxifies the body, she says, but it helps “you look fresher and gives your skin more of a glow.” Here’s how to give yourself an at-home massage: Sit on a towel in your bathroom. Using 3 to 4 tablespoons of warm organic olive oil, massage the oil into your scalp with the flat of your hands and work down from your face to your toes in clockwise circles (on arms and legs, stroke up and down). Shower or bathe afterward with a mild, natural cleanser.
Top two things Lonsdorf does to live longer:
- She’s in bed by 10 p.m. and up by 6 a.m. One of the three pillars of health in Ayurveda is good sleep (diet and balance are the others), considered crucial in fending off diseases such as cancer, says Lonsdorf. According to Ayurvedic practice, “the quality of sleep will be better if you go to bed earlier—you’ll have a deeper and more rejuvenated rest,” she says.
- Lonsdorf takes a brisk walk every morning for at least 20 minutes. “This gives a person more energy and digestive power during the day, and also helps them sleep better at night,” she says.
Julie Rothschild Levi is a frequent contributor to Delicious Living.