Saturday, March 04, 2017
Most readers of this blog are familiar with assorted advice on how to age well. But if I asked you to name the two most important lifestyle influences on aging, in two words, could you do it?
The answer is (drum roll please): diet and exercise. Both animal and human research confirm the major role of diet and exercise. Fortunately, we have control over both of these factors, yet sadly neglect to eat and exercise as properly as we should.
A prime example is the popularity of fast-food meals. They are typically loaded with calories, saturated fat, preservatives, and salt. Mice fed on a fast-food diet developed nearly triple their amount of body fat in just four months. Other mice that were given access to an exercise wheel benefitted from the exercise. Those that were on a fast-food diet gained more weight and fat mass than their counterparts that could exercise. The exercise also reduced the development of senescent cells, which are cells that lose their ability divide and replace themselves. As impaired ability to divide happens in organs like the liver, lungs, immune cells, and gut, it promotes development of disease. Normally, the cell turnover time needs to occur:
· every 10 days for immune cells in the blood and cells in the lungs and gut
· every month for pancreas cells, skin, and certain bone cells
· every year for liver cells
You might think that turnover could yield new replacement cells that are more healthy, assuming that a person improved their diet and exercised more. It is certain that precursor cells, once damaged, have been tagged with epigenetic changes that transfer the damage to new replacements.
So what makes a good diet? Eat more foods containing omega-3 fat (a special kind of unsaturated fat found in fish (especially sardines and salmon), shrimp, canola and soybean oil, walnuts, and to a lesser extent, green leafy vegetables. Pill-form supplements are widely available.
Eat a wide variety of foods high in anti-oxidants (most foods have different chemical varieties of anti-oxidants). This includes citrus fruits (vitamin C), brightly colored berries (especially blueberries), dark grapes, red wine (resveratrol), nuts, dark green veggies, beans, coffee, and tea. Vitamin D supplements in moderate dose are probably a good idea too, because this vitamin confers many health benefits even though it is not a primary anti-oxidant.
As for exercise, you don't have to be a marathon runner. In fact, some research shows that marathon-level exercise is actually harmful. Various recommendations have been made, but the consensus advice seems to be combined aerobic and strength building exercises at least three times a week, lasting 30 minutes to an hour.
Why exercise improves health is not entirely clear, but the evidence is consistently clear. Exercise certainly reduces emotional stress, which in itself is a major source of poor health. The effects on circulation and heart function are readily demonstrated. In my own case when I was 35, during the first weeks after I stopped smoking and started jogging, it would take a full 15 minutes to get my breath back to normal after a jog. Within a few months, I could recover in less than a minute. I no longer recommend jogging, because for some people it will damage joints. But plenty of aerobic forms of exercise can substitute (biking, rowing, use of ellipticals, swimming, singles tennis or handball, even vigorous walking). Most commercial gyms have stationary bikes, treadmills, and elliptical and rowing machines.
So you only have to remember two words to know how to age well. The problem is mustering the will power to eat right and exercise.
Documentation and further explanation on aging well is found in Dr. Bill's inexpensive e-book, Improve Your Memory for a Healthy Brain. Memory Is the Canary in Your Brain's Coal Mine. The book is available in all formats from Smashwords.com.