Getting older may be inevitable, but it doesn’t have to come with a side of declining health. Current research is making it clear that many of the assumptions associated with aging, such as disease and chronic pain, can be mitigated or completely avoided by healthy lifestyle choices that are within each of our control. By taking the time to educate yourself about preventive health and being open to change, you can begin investing in the future of your health now. Below are some of our recommendations to help you get started.
1. Make Sleep a Priority
Don’t underestimate the power of sleep. Getting a full night of restful sleep has long been known to contribute to your baseline health by regulating your hormones (including the stress related hormone cortisol), promoting cellular growth and repair, and boosting your immune system. This is particularly important for adults as we get older, with a 2015 study suggesting that even one night of not getting enough sleep activates biological pathways that promote aging in older adults.
…But Not Too Much
However, a joint study by Cambridge and Fudan Universities that just came out indicates that there is an optimal amount of sleep per night, and it is especially important for older adults2. Researchers studied sleep and cognitive data for 500,000 adults aged 38-73 years and discovered that both too little or too much sleep was associated with poorer performance on cognitive tests such as processing speed, memory and problem solving as well as mental health.
7 Hours of Sleep Each Night is Ideal
The study found that getting 7 hours of sleep each night was the optimal amount, with the keys being that it is a consistent habit, and the sleep is not interrupted. The researchers suggested that both insufficient and excessive sleep duration may be a risk factor for cognitive decline in ageing.
How To Get a Good Night’s Sleep Regularly
So what can you do? Invest some effort into learning to fall asleep and stay asleep by practicing good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is the practice of accumulated habits that promote regular, deep sleep over time. Where to start:
Create a nightly practice that helps you wind down. This can be anything from a hot shower, to reading your favorite book, or journaling. Avoid screen time at least one hour before bed and do something relaxing that you love.
Commit to going to bed and waking up at the same time daily. This helps your body regulate your circadian rhythm which is imperative to falling and staying asleep. If you wear a health tracker on your wrist, setting a gentle buzzing timer to wake up can help to avoid the stress of an alarm.
Be mindful of your eating and drinking habits. Avoid caffeine after 12:00 pm, eating 2 hours before bed. Limiting your alcohol consumption is also beneficial as, in spite of its sedative effects, the consumption of alcohol has been linked to poor sleep quality and duration.
No matter how enticing, avoid naps. Napping works against you getting the sleep you need at night to stay healthy.
2. Eat a Healthy, High Fiber Diet
Are you eating enough fiber? Most adults probably think they are, but many aren’t. The US Department of Agriculture cites that the average person aged 51 and older consumes roughly 16 grams per day, when the recommended daily intake for men is at least 28 grams per day for men and 22 grams for women. 3
Fiber Connected to a Longer, Healthier Life
Why is this important? A 2018 study in the Journal of Applied Gerontology cites that older adult who ate a fiber-rich diet were 80 percent more likely to live longer and stay healthier than those who didn’t. They recommend an average of 29 grams per day.
Foods Rich in Fiber
Fiber rich foods include beans, legumes, wholegrains, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
Increasing your intake may be as simple as replacing a potato chip habit with popcorn or a handful of nuts; replacing any highly processed sweet snacks with natural and fiber-rich choices such as chia pudding sweetened with honey, low sugar granola or a fruit smoothie; even simply adding a sprinkle of freshly ground flax seeds to smoothies, applesauce, salads and granola. Fiber supplementation is also a good option for those that struggle with daily food intake of fiber. Powder that can be easily added to a smoothie, just ensure quality of the Fiber with no unnecessary additives.
3. Drink Plenty of Water
Staying hydrated helps adults stay healthy as they get older, but data suggests that people tend to drink less water as they age - likely because our ability to detect thirst lessens as we get older.4 This can result in chronic dehydration, a condition that can have you feeling tired and dizzy - symptoms that are often attributed to other reasons or even ignored altogether. Dehydration also disrupts the digestive process and can cause muscle cramping.
The Pervasive Effects of Dehydration
All of these symptoms lessen your quality of life, and can be the starting point of a cascade of health issues. For example, if you regularly feel tired, dizzy and experience muscle cramping, what are your chances of feeling motivated to get at least 30 minutes of light physical activity per day? How will that affect your stamina over the long term?
Set the Scene
Increasing your water intake can be as simple as drinking a full glass of water every morning as soon as you wake up and keeping water with you throughout the day. If you work at a desk, consider keeping a glass full by your side. If it’s there, your chances of forgetting to drink it are lowered. Sound boring? Add a bit of lemon to satisfy your taste buds. That bit of lemon will aid in digestion too as an added bonus.
Increase Your Connection to Others
Loneliness is on the rise, to the point where it is considered to be an epidemic. A recent study conducted cites that 61% of Americans are lonely, often feeling a lack of connection and meaningful interactions with others.5 This is staggering, as are the potential negative effects loneliness can have on our mental health and physical health, regardless of age.
4. Loneliness is the New Smoking
For example, one study compared chronic loneliness to obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes per day, each of which have been estimated to shorten a person’s life by 15 years.6 Loneliness is tied to an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. It also negatively impacts your cortisol levels and decreases immunity.
Build Meaningful Friendships Throughout Life
What can you do to keep building meaningful connection in your life as you get older? Get involved. If your home or workplace are not providing the opportunities you need to make new friends, branch out. Join a hobbyist or sports group or consider volunteering. Consider taking a class that is interactive or join a local nature or historical group that promotes community and group discussion. Caring for a pet, especially a cat or dog, has also been shown to ease loneliness and brings a host of benefits from improved cardiovascular health to plain old joy and companionship.
5. Understand Your Risk Factors
We can have all the best intentions, but if we don’t understand our current health status or genetic predisposition, the so-called ravages of age can tend to creep up. We recommend staying on top of your health by regularly seeing your primary healthcare provider and scheduling your annual physical and blood work. Speak to your family members to determine if you have a family history of any conditions or diseases.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Preventive measures are always the best, and they start with understanding your current health status and potential future risks. Once you know your starting point, you can learn what you need to do to maintain your current health status, or correct the course before it develops into something more serious. This is particularly important if you have a genetic predisposition to a particular disease or health condition.
We Can Help
Staying healthy as you age is absolutely possible. As integrative functional medicine practitioners, together we can analyze your current risk level and create a lifestyle plan that invests in your quality of life as you age. Book an appointment with Desire Wellness Group, and together we can create a customized longevity plan for you.
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⦁ Carroll JE, Cole SW, Seeman TE, Breen EC, Witarama T, Arevalo JMG, Ma J, Irwin MR. Partial sleep deprivation activates the DNA damage response (DDR) and the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP) in aged adult humans. Brain Behav Immun. 2016 Jan;51:223-229. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2015.08.024. Epub 2015 Aug 31. PMID: 26336034; PMCID: PMC4679552.
⦁ Yuzhu Li, Barbara J. Sahakian, Jujiao Kang, Christelle Langley, Wei Zhang, Chao Xie, Shitong Xiang, Jintai Yu, Wei Cheng, Jianfeng Feng. The brain structure and genetic mechanisms underlying the nonlinear association between sleep duration, cognition and mental health. Nature Aging, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s43587-022-00210-2
⦁ Wadyka, Sally. The Surprising Anti-Aging Benefits of Fiber. Consumer Reports. 2018 consumerreports. org/diet-nutrition/anti-aging-benefits-of-fiber/
⦁ Martin CB, Wambogo EA, Ahluwalia N, Ogden CL. Nonalcoholic beverage consumption among adults: United States. 2015–2018. NCHS Data Brief, no 376. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2020.
⦁ Newsroom. cigna. com/loneliness-in-america
⦁ Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Baker M, Harris T, Stephenson D. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2015 Mar;10(2):227-37. doi: 10.1177/1745691614568352. PMID: 25910392.
⦁ Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Skoner DP, Rabin BS, Gwaltney JM. Social Ties and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. JAMA. 1997;277(24):1940–1944. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540480040036
⦁ Kim TW, Jeong JH, Hong SC. The impact of sleep and circadian disturbance on hormones and metabolism. Int J Endocrinol. 2015;2015:591729. doi:10.1155/2015/591729
⦁ McMurdo ME. A healthy old age: realistic or futile goal?. BMJ. 2000;321(7269):1149-1151. doi:10.1136/bmj.321.7269.1149