None of us can stop aging, and when you really think about it, who really wants to? Age brings wisdom, and perspective, and usually a much greater ability to appreciate and enjoy the world around us.
What we actually don’t like is feeling the effects of aging. As we get older, we want to preserve our energy, our mental and physical strength, and the other elements of health that enable us to enjoy the life we have built.
The great news is this: Many of the pearls of wisdom that science teaches us about preserving our health as we grow older is based on diet, lifestyle, and nutrition. And while there are never any guarantees, a little “health” insurance never hurts anyone.
Likewise great is that many of the best-studied preventative measures are low cost and incredibly safe. Although the following list could probably be longer, it’s focused on several things that almost everyone can do.
Let’s start the list with the one thing that virtually everyone agrees on. Our bodies were designed to move. When we stop moving them, all kinds of things work less well. The benefits of exercise for healthy aging are so well-established that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the benefits of exercise very clearly on their website as follows:1
- Helps maintain the ability to live independently
- Reduces the risk of falling and fracturing bones
- Reduces the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and of developing colon cancer and diabetes
- Helps reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and can help reduce blood pressure in some individuals with hypertension
- Helps people with chronic, disabling conditions to improve stamina and muscle strength
- Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression and fosters improvements in mood and feelings of well-being
- Helps maintain bone, muscle, and joint health
- Helps control joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis
If there was a drug that did all that and was essentially free, then most of us would take it every day. How much of it do you need? Frankly, any amount of movement is better than none. If you have been sedentary or are new to exercise, then start with short intervals of mild-to-moderate activity and work up from there.
You should ultimately try to achieve 150 minutes per week (or more) of moderate-intensity physical activity.2 Although you could join a gym, you don’t have to because this type of exercise includes activities like brisk walking, gardening, and dancing. If you engage in more intense exercise such as running, cycling, aerobics, or many team sports, then you can target a lower level of 75 minutes per week.
In addition to these great benefits, exercise might just increase overall lifespan. Feel like you need more energy to get moving? The key nutrients like nicotinamide riboside have been shown to boost the energy-creating function of your cells.* Bonus: these nutrients might also help regulate cellular aging, making them a perfect complement to your workout.*
2. Get good sleep
It is well known that sleep patterns tend to change as we age and generally not in a positive direction. As a trend, the older we get, the less we tend to sleep. However, aging is also tied to many true sleep disturbances like insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and sleep apnea.3 Sleep is critical for the body’s ability to rebuild and restore.
During sleep, the body does most of it building of muscle, repair of damaged tissues, clearing of metabolic waste in the brain, and production and release of growth hormone and other important chemicals. Poor and reduced sleep is associated with a host of challenges associated with aging – from declining cognitive function (poor memory, brain fog, etc.) to poor cardiovascular health.
On the flip side, sleeping better benefits energy, mood, metabolism, and much more. Simple sleep challenges can often be greatly improved by setting better sleep habits (what we call “sleep hygiene”). If you have real challenges, then seeing a health professional is probably your best bet. Changes in hormones associated with sleep (melatonin and cortisol) are one common cause of sleep disturbance that you can test for in the comfort of your own home.
3. Support your bones
Although we already discussed exercise, you certainly won’t stay active if your bones become too weak to support you. Men and women both lose bone as they age, and while this usually happens earlier in women, it can be debilitating for either gender. The body only builds bone until your mid-20s – after that you either maintain or lose bone.
Bone loss (called osteopenia or osteoporosis depending on its severity) often starts by age 40, but is often ignored because it doesn’t produce symptoms. Although factors such as genetics, hormone status, chronic health conditions, and medication use can play a role in both the development and loss of bone, diet and lifestyle also have a big impact.4
Nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K can be valuable assets in making sure you maintain strong and healthy bone, particularly as other factors related to aging (such as declining hormone levels) start to have more of an effect.* A good place to start is to understand your risk factors for bone loss, some of which include heavy alcohol use, being older than 50, family history, and sedentary behavior.
Knowing more about your hormone levels (such as testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone – again for both men and women) can also add to your knowledge of your personal risk. Supporting your muscles is also a good idea. Muscle mass tends to decline with age, and strength along with it. Keeping up a healthy protein intake, along with regular exercise, will contribute to your ability to maintain muscle, as well as bone.* This is why our Bone Support Bundle includes a protein supplement.
4. Keep your eyes healthy
Preserving our senses as we age is probably not something we think about often, but if you take a moment and imagine navigating the world without sight, then it gets important real quick. We place a lot of stress on our eyes. Damage from overuse, sun, and electronic screen exposure (and its associated blue light) takes a toll on the delicate tissues that enable you to see everything from flowers to friends to the food on your plate.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, adults older than 40 are at increasing risk for a range of adverse eye conditions, including vision changes related to age, dry eye, diabetic eye disease, floaters, cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.5 One part of taking care of your eyes is to have them checked annually. Wearing good protective lenses to minimize UV damage is a simple but important measure.
You can include nutrients through your diet and dietary supplements that support eye health including fish oil, carotenoids, bilberry, vitamin C, and zinc.*
5. Nourish your mind
Although you can’t really rate the importance of our organs (you really don’t want to live without any of them), the brain in probably at the top of many people’s lists for being the one they would like to keep as healthy as possible while they age. Numerous factors play a role in how your brain ages, and while some aren’t under your control, many are.
One factor that seems hard to dispute at this point is your diet. Although experts can dispute the finer points of what constitutes a “healthy” diet, the clear winner for brain aging is the Mediterranean Diet, which has clearly been tied to healthier cognitive function.6 Older individuals who follow a Mediterranean diet have been shown to have a 15-35 percent lower odds of scoring poorly on tests of cognitive performance.7
That’s a pretty awesome outcome for a diet that is not only delicious but also benefits your heart, stress levels, blood sugar, and many other markers of chronic disease. Targeted nutrition and botanicals can add to a healthy diet to bolster brain health, with nutrients like fish oil, and botanicals such as Ginkgo biloba and ashwagandha being good choices.*
Another important factor is simply keeping your mind active. Whether it’s reading books, attending lectures, or learning a new skill – keeping your mind active has been shown to have great benefit for keeping it young. So called “cognitive exercise or brain games” have been shown to reduce the risk for developing dementia by about 50 percent in both younger and older adults.8 With so much positive data, tons of apps and websites (such as BrainHQ and CogniFit) now cater to those who wish to engage in structured activities to stay mentally sharp.
6. Maintain healthy relationships
Maintaining positive relationships and social connections as we age is one of the most underrated factors for living a longer, healthier life. As many people get older, their social circles tend to grow smaller – and other factors such as illness and injury can further limit the kinds of activities and engagement they participate in. One thing you can do while you are young is to nurture lasting relationship with friends, family, and community.
And while it seems apparent that social engagement is important for our happiness and enjoyment as we age, what might be less obvious is that it’s actually tied to significantly better health. According to the Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health, individuals with poor social engagement in later life are at higher risk for depression (and other mental health challenges), heart disease, decreased immune function, and overall earlier death.9
In addition, studies have shown that as people age, better social engagement is tied to lower levels of the inflammatory marker Interleukin-6.10 This marker, which has a general trend of increasing with age, is tied to the development of dementia, bone loss, arthritis, fatigue, poor sleep, and other health challenges. So nurturing your relationships is good for you in ways that reach far beyond happiness.
As a final note: you are never too young to start aging well nor too old to benefit from the diet and lifestyle habits that will help you make the most of all your years. Prevention doesn’t have to be complex or costly – it’s much more about having a long-term commitment to simple, meaningful changes.
- A report of the Surgeon General. CDC. Physical activity and health: Older adults. https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/sgr/olderad.htm. [Accessed August 29, 2019]
- O’Keefe J, Franklin B, Lavie C. Exercising for health and longevity vs peak performance: different regimens for different goals. Mayo Clin Proc 2014;89(9):1171-1175. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.07.007
- Frank M. The mystery of sleep function: current perspectives and future directions. Rev Neurosci 2006;17(4). doi:10.1515/revneuro.2006.17.4.375
- Padilla Colón C, Molina-Vicenty I, Frontera-Rodríguez M, et al. Muscle and bone mass loss in the elderly population: advances in diagnosis and treatment. J Biomed Syd NSW 2018;3:40-49. doi:10.7150/jbm.23390
- Fighting the signs of aging? Don’t forget the eyes. American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/news/fighting-signs-of-aging-don-t-forget-eyes. Published September 11, 2015. [Accessed August 30, 2019]
- Zwilling C, Talukdar T, Zamroziewicz M, Barbey A. Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and fMRI measures of network efficiency in the aging brain. Neuro Image 2019;188:239-251. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.12.007
- McEvoy C, Guyer H, Langa K, Yaffe K. Neuroprotective diets are associated with better cognitive function: the Health and Retirement Study. J Am Geriatr Soc 2017;65(8):1857-1862. doi:10.1111/jgs.14922
- Valenzuela M, Sachdev P. Can cognitive exercise prevent the onset of dementia? Systematic review of randomized clinical trials with longitudinal follow-up. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2009;17(3):179-187. doi:10.1097/JGP.0b013e3181953b57
- Research suggests a positive correlation between social interaction and health. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/about/living-long-well-21st-century-strategic-directions-research-aging/research-suggests-positive. [Accessed August 31, 2019]
- Friedman E, Hayney M, Love G, et al. Social relationships, sleep quality, and interleukin-6 in aging women. Proc Natl Acad Sci 2005;102(51):18757-18762. doi:10.1073/pnas.0509281102