Putting off getting old

Exercise plays a huge role in staying younger longer
Exercise plays a huge role in staying younger longer

For centuries civilisations have asked the same questions: how do we live longer and stave off the negative effects of ageing?

Thankfully, whether baby boomers or millennials, more than any other generation before, we have access to the scientific knowledge to provide some answers.

With medical, surgical and technological advances increasing the average Australian life expectancy of 80 years for males and 84 years for females, the escalation of healthcare costs is unsustainable. The downside of ageing, the fiscal and physical costs of cumulative and complex diseases, need to be reduced.

While the cellular damage of aging is most often visible on the skin, the other main signs of aging include slowing metabolism, brittle bones, aching and stiff joints, weight gain or declining muscle mass, memory, bone and vision loss, gum or heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and clogged arteries, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

Ageing – what you can do

Thankfully while science has shown that aging and its resulting disease development is linked to cell damage often caused by inflammation and oxidative stress (or free radical damage) particularly after the age of 60, science has now also shown that some lifestyle factors that we can control – physical activity, nutrition and sleep – can influence how well we age.

Physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day five days a week has been shown to slow down ageing of cells by protecting the telomeres, the small caps on the end of chromosomes which shorten during the ageing process, giving high exercisers a biological ageing advantage over the less active.

Also, high intensity interval training (HIIT ) will also possibly delay cell aging as it boosts both the number and efficiency of the mitrochrondria helping to produce greater energy with less production of free radicals. HIIT training typically involves an 8 second burst with 12 second rest on a bike for cardiovascular improvement and greater muscle strength, for ten minutes at a time, several times day.

As well as exercise, good nutrition and reducing alcohol consumption also seems to help stave off dementia by reducing atrophy of the brain, which typically shrinks about 5% each decade after the age of 40.

San based Australasian Research Institute (ARI) backs this up, finding exercise, diet and sleep significantly impact the body’s oxidative damage either accelerating or decelerating the ageing process, depending on how much and what quality of each you get.  

Weight bearing exercise also stimulates the body and brain by increasing neuro-traffic trophic factor, a chemical essential for learning and helping the brain to function well.

If you want to prevent damage to the body and reduce aging and age-linked diseases then not only do you want to eat foods that provide both nutrients and phytonutrients such as wholefood, grains, nuts and seeds, but also reduce fatty foods, alcohol and excess saturated fat, all of which promote inflammation, cell damage and accelerate aging.  

The anti-ageing foods

Berries are a rich source of  antioxidants, containing high levels of  vitamin C required for collagen for our skin while blueberries boost memory and help stave off disease such as Alzheimer’s dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Grapes are a good source of strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory resveratrol which some research suggests may increase resistance to cell death in the brain.

Similarly leafy green vegetables like spinach are excellent sources of vitamin K (needed to help move calcium into the bones), lutein, and zeaxanthin which strengthen our eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays, and help prevent brittle bones and the risk of fractures.

To boost metabolism and keep muscles strong the body needs protein from good sources such as nuts, legumes including tofu or soy products and for non-vegetarians; skinless chicken, turkey breast, lean beef,  eggs, vegetarian non-scavenging seafood such as whiting, bream and flathead, and low fat dairy which also contains calcium and phosphorus, critical for strong bones.

Dark chocolate (more than 80% cacao) is high in flavanol phytonutrients and can produce positive benefits for cardiovascular disease including lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. This may help reduce heart attacks and stroke in people already suffering with metabolic syndrome, though the vasoconstriction effect of any caffeine present may mitigate somewhat potential vascular benefits in the brain. No more than 50g a day is recommended.

Fasting or calorie restriction

Though what we eat is very important, research dating back to the 1930s consistently shows that one of the most effective ways of slowing aging and reducing disease is through calorie restriction.

But let’s be clear – this is not starvation but really just not eating more calories than the body actually needs. When we do this there are many anti-ageing benefits including increased resources for removing waste from the cells (autophagy), increasing DNA repair and reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.

In one study monkeys fed a 30% calorie restricted diet had a 30% reduction in mortality and a 50% reduction in lifestyle diseases compared to monkeys allowed to eat how much they liked.

Essential shut-eye

When we get less than six to eight hours sleep a night, our bodies suffer: a recent  ARI study found people with poorer sleep quality or quantity had significantly higher levels of oxidative stress damage in their body, likely increasing tissue aging and predisposing them to disease.

Keys to keeping your body looking feeling and functioning ‘younger’?

*Eat foods that will nourish the body with both nutrients and phytonutrients

*Only eat as many calories as needed

*Make sure you get up and move at least every ½ hour and aim to get at least 30 to 60 minutes exercise each day. It doesn’t need to be strenuous – walking around the block at a brisk pace will bring good benefit.

*Don’t skimp on sleep and keep the coffee intake down – drinking caffeine may make you feel awake but it doesn’t  make-up for the lack of time your body has had to repair itself, and may even exacerbate the damage. A recent ARI study reported that oxidative stress damage increased with increasing caffeine intake.        _______________________________________________________________     Professor Ross Grant PhD, Clinical Associate Professor, Sydney Medical School and CEO Australasian Research Institute Sydney Adventist Hospital

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