Cellular aging is a direct result of cells receiving an inappropriate message or a message at the wrong time to either turn themselves on or off. We prematurely age ourselves with artificial light, an abundance of sugar, and lack of adequate sleep. These factors create hormonal imbalances and nutrient deficiencies that can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, and cancer.
One of the biggest contributors to early aging is poor-quality sleep. Many people go to bed with lights on or surrounded by ambient light, which can interfere with sleep schedules and quality. This is because your brain releases the hormone melatonin in response to darkness, usually between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., which triggers the release of a hormone called prolactin between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.; this activates the human growth hormone (HGH) throughout the night, which helps repair and replenish the body. Sleeping at the right times helps our bodies repair the damage done during the day. You don’t need ten hours of sleep; you just need to maximize your hormonal release by sleeping at the right time.
Stress prematurely compromises hormone production and, over time, your cells aren’t able to repair themselves. We age because stress and lifestyle factors such as improper sleep and hygiene cause hormone depletion. But by triggering the release of growth hormones, sleep helps rebuild healthy cells and decreases the aging process.
–Andrea Purcell, ND, Portal to Healing Naturopathic Clinic, Costa Mesa, California
Vascular aging specialist
Several dietary factors affect cardiovascular aging. If you eat a high-fat diet, you are more likely to experience accelerated and worsened cardiovascular aging. People who eat a lot of salt, present in large amounts in processed foods, also tend to show more age-related changes in their cardiovascular systems than people who consume low-salt diets. You also want to eat various fresh green vegetables for their antioxidants, which can help protect your brain and heart from free radicals and the development of oxidative stress.
Other factors that appear to minimize aging are maintaining your body weight and not accumulating an excessive amount of fat in the abdominal area. As you age, you typically gain body fat—it’s where that weight accumulates that determines if it will affect your heart and cardiovascular system. Fat accumulated around the abdomen is a different kind of fat that secretes molecules that are harmful to your heart.
Do aerobic exercise at least three to four days a week and eat a healthy diet low in fat and sodium and high in fresh, nutrient-rich foods. Supplementing with about 200 IU vitamin D and at least 1,000 mg fish oil also can help slow the cardiovascular aging process.
–Douglas Seals, PhD, professor at University of Colorado at Boulder
Older adults who reduce excessive alcohol use can improve their health-related quality of life. The body’s reaction to the environment and the things we eat and drink changes with age. Alcohol is one of the things that you need to be mindful about as you get older. And though moderate alcohol intake is not prohibited, heavy consumption is linked to several health problems.
Excessive alcohol can cause cognitive impairment in adults of all ages. Most notably, alcohol consumption leads to a pattern of impaired executive functioning and impaired memory. Alcohol also interacts with many medications, particularly in older adults. For some medications, alcohol will change how much of the medication is needed to control the underlying condition, such as insulin regulation, which can result in an increase in side effects from the medication. For other medications, alcohol can interfere with how the medication works and thus make the medication less effective (for example, antibiotics and antidepressants).
As you age, your body doesn't process alcohol as efficiently as it does when you are younger. A 70-year-old who consumes the same amount of alcohol as a 40-year-old will have a higher blood alcohol level and will show more impairment. Also, your brain doesn't tolerate as much alcohol as you age. Thus moderation is always the key.
–David Oslin, MD, associate professor at University of Pennsylvania