September is National Healthy Aging Month! What does that really mean? Most people are not excited about aging, often trying to forget their birthdays—but still getting mad when others forget it. Why the paradox? While we all want to stay alive and live longer we often fear the toll of aging. I think people intrinsically understand that quality of life is just as important as the quantity. So what can we do to improve and lengthen our lives?

We can’t change our biological age. We can lie about it, but we can’t change it. We CAN change our cellular age. Recent research has revealed that your cellular age (the “age” of your individual cells) can be determined by looking at the telomere length of your chromosomes (the packets of DNA in your cell nuclei that code for who you are). What science has determined is that the shorter your telomeres the older your cell! There are several things that alter your telomere length and thus make your cells—and you—“younger”. Here is a bare bones list:

  1. A plant-based diet based on whole foods, low fat, and low refined sugars.
  2. Moderate aerobic exercise.
  3. Reducing stress.
  4. Social connectivity.

A recent study published in the Mayo Clinic Review shows that for every HOUR of sedentary behavior they can show a decrease in telomere length. So getting up and moving around every hour is very important to long-term health.

A few years back, US News and World Report published their list on “10 ways to live to 100”. It included the following tips for not only living longer, but more importantly better. The list was simple and practical; here is a summarized version.

1. Don’t retire. Volunteer, have a purpose, have a reason to get out of bed and out of the house each day. Even if you’re not working, it is important to be active. Sitting around at home is a sure way to feel your age.

2. Floss everyday. Flossing is believed to reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth and ultimately, increase inflammation in the arteries. Tooth decay and gingivitis have also been associated with stroke and heart attack. This is a cheap and simple way to live better and longer and have more friends (due to better breath).

3. Move around. Get active! Just walk more. Even 10-15 min a day has been shown to decrease mortality! It is important to break up long periods of sitting. Even if you’re at work, get up for a few minutes every hour, even if it is just to walk over to the water cooler.

4. Eat a fiber-rich cereal for breakfast. Increasing fiber reduces your risk of colon cancer by 45%! Eating breakfast helps you lose weight and gives you energy to help you enjoy your day. If you want to learn more about the benefits of fiber, read the article “Fiber, The Best Kept Weight Loss Secret”.

5. Get at least 6 hours of shut-eye. Sleep is the new ‘cross training’. You’ll feel better and perform better with more sleep. Sleeping less is like cutting corners on your workouts. Don’t skip or skimp on this important part of your training program.

6. Consume whole foods, not supplements. Save your money. Americans have the most expensive urine in the world—because most of the supplements they consume are not absorbed by the body and end up being excreted. You are what you eat so don’t be fast, easy, cheap, processed, or fake! To learn more, read the article, “Are Herbal Supplements Worth Your Money?”.

7. Be less neurotic. De-stress. Simplify your life. Don’t overcommit. Forgive. Let things go. There is a recent study that showed that people who forgive can actually jump higher than those that don’t! It is as if a weight where lifted from their shoulders…

8. Live like a Seventh Day Adventist. Adventists are a Christian denomination whose members have an average life expectancy of 89, about a decade longer than the average American. They believe that the body is on loan from God and it is their job to take care of it. Adventists typically have a strong sense of purpose, strong social and family connections, typically don’t drink/smoke, and are often vegetarians. These are things we could all benefit from.

9. Be a creature of habit. Habits make life easy. They require little to no willpower. Build good habits in your life like sleeping early, exercising at a regular time, spending time with your spouse and family, playing with your kids, not working at home, having a daily devotional, eating breakfast each morning, you get the idea… It may take some effort to form new habits, but it will be worth it in the future.

10. Stay connected. We are social beings. There are multiple studies that show that people who are socially isolated have a higher rate of depression, are more likely to commit suicide, and die faster. Stay connected with friends and family even when you are busy or don’t feel like doing anything. Get involved in the community or at your local church. Reach out to others who you know that are lonely or isolated. Wouldn’t you want someone else to do the same for you?

Those suggestions are pretty simple right? I bet you can start applying a few of them right away. Take this month to plan out how you want to age better—and get your family and friends involved. Remember, 100 is the new 30! And you don’t have to look or feel your age.

 

 


About the Author

Harvey Hahn, MD, FACC

Dr. Hahn graduated from Loma Linda University in 1994. He is currently the director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program at the Kettering Medical Center in Kettering Ohio.

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