Nothing prepares you better mentally like a good yoga sesh.
A ging is natural, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to stop it in its tracks – or at least slow it down. At best, we hope to reverse it, with the ultimate goal being the renewal of the organ functions that start to deteriorate as we age, from your brain to your heart, to even your skin. Growing older, especially for women, is a debilitating stigma in a society that obsesses over youth and already unrealistic physical objectives, so it’s no wonder that finding the fountain of youth takes such high priority on our health wish lists.
The aging process is inevitable in that it is the life-long accumulation of damage to the cells and tissues that occurs as a side effect of our body’s normal operation. We have been able to adapt to certain levels of stress and damage, but too much will lead to disease, disability, and even death. This is where aging sets down its destructive path on our health and livelihood.
Addressing damage from aging is best done preventatively and should happen as early as possible. The human body is a complicated machine that can be maintained in the same way we extend the longevity of any machine. The owner of an antique car uses comprehensive maintenance to keep it functioning well past its expiry date; we can apply this philosophy to the systems of our bodies, too.
Around the age of 40, cellular senescence develops. Senescence is age-related deterioration in which a cell rapidly loses its power of division and growth. With time, we see the issues associated with aging develop more quickly and bodies begin to function less effectively. However, there are ways to slow this process down, or even offset it.
Clean diets don’t just fight fat. They fight aging, too.
UP YOUR ANTIOXIDANTS: As you age, your body’s natural production of antioxidants, called endogenous antioxidants, decreases. This means that your body and its tissues can become more susceptible to oxidative stressors and damage.
To help counteract this degenerative decline, it is wise to ensure you are getting antioxidants from food and supplements. A healthy diet can naturally provide you with plenty of antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, through fruits and vegetables. Berries are particularly high in antioxidants, specifically the polyphenols and anthocyanins that are found in fruits with deep orange, red, or blue color. Seafood will also provide the antioxidants astaxanthin and selenium, among other building blocks of health.
FIGHT A SLUGGISH METABOLISM: Upon turning 40, you may notice that it’s become easier to gain a few pounds and harder to lose them. This is due to the unfortunate reality that your metabolism, the biological process that your body performs to turn food into energy, slows down with time, and menopause is commonly when we see dramatic metabolic rate changes due to hormonal shifts. Studies have shown that a decrease in estrogen – precisely what happens to women in the throes of “the change” – can prompt animals to move less and eat more, two factors that can lead to weight gain.
COMBAT MUSCLE LOSS: On top of the dip in hormones that can affect your ability to maintain a comfortable weight, loss of muscle mass makes it more difficult to burn calories – a double whammy for your waistline. As we age, our muscular tissue breaks down and we lose the protein compounds that keep our muscles healthy
and strong. Less muscle, a metabolically active tissue, means that we can’t burn calories at the same rate as before, and as such we tend to gain weight and lose mobility.
One of the culprits working against us in the fight to gain muscle mass is a hormone most of us are familiar with: insulin. When we pass the age of 40, insulin no longer effectively prevents your muscle from breaking down as it once had. This preventative mechanism is called mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) which is part of the insulin pathway and is activated by both diet and exercise. Once secreted by the pancreas, insulin signals your muscles to accept amino acids, glucose, and other substances involved in the muscle-building process. Strength training, eating protein, and cutting down on sugar can improve insulin sensitivity to help your body withstand this lamentable but completely natural hormonal shift.
IMPROVE COGNITIVE FUNCTION: Though we don’t want to think about it (pun not intended), with every decade our cognitive abilities decline. The rate and degree of decline will depend on many factors, but this shift most commonly affects memory, processing speed, the ability to multitask, and executive functioning, a term that refers to one’s ability to manage themselves in setting and achieving goals. (Our brain-boosting tips below are a good place to start.)
High-impact training, like running, can help strengthen your weakening joints and bones.
BUILD UP YOUR BONES: You probably already know that bone loss in women occurs faster in the first few years after menopause and accumulates as we get older. Eating a diet high in calcium can help decrease the risk of osteoporosis since low-calcium diets have been linked to lower bone mass and an increased risk of broken bones. Calcium supplements are available but, as is usually the case, food-based nutrient sources are best. If you’re adverse to dairy or are lactose intolerant, know that there are other sources of calcium out there, such as sardines, almonds, and dark green leafy vegetables. Vitamin D is also important for bone health, as your body cannot absorb the calcium in your food without it. As with calcium, you can take a vitamin D supplement but it’s best to get your recommended daily allowance through whole foods such as egg yolks and liver. Vitamin D can also be made in our bodies through direct sunlight exposure, so spending time in the sun is important for your bones. Ten minutes of exposure every day – without sunscreen – should be enough to give your body what it needs.
SHARPEN YOUR EYESIGHT: At this stage in your life, the cumulative damage your eyes have been subjected to over the years, including damage from the variety of screens we interact with on a daily basis, becomes more apparent. Lifestyle changes – avoiding intense ultraviolet light and eating a healthy diet – can help delay or prevent these eye problems. Diets rich in vitamin A, omega-3s, and lutein, a type of plant pigment called a carotenoid, can help combat age-related sight decay.
Growing old is inevitable but the way we age and the rate at which we do can be mitigated through lifestyle choices. Living a healthy lifestyle with a nutrient-rich diet, plenty of quality sleep and regular exercise will help you at any age but will be especially advantageous when you are older. Be cognizant of your overall habits and you’ll be well on your way to slowing the passage of time.
Knowing is half the battle, as they say, and this especially applies to your health in your forties and beyond. We examine the areas that can make or break your quality of life – and how to correct the damage you may have already done.