If you want to stay youthful and competitive into your later decades, the good news is that you can.
While we live in a culture that actively promotes the idea of age-related degeneration, in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry, a growing band of researchers and medical professionals are preaching a different message.
That message is that your beliefs are your biology and that by rejecting the traditional model of age-related decline, and caring for the whole body, mind and spirit, you can retain both vitality and function.
International bestselling author and medical practitioner Dr Christiane Northrup says many health professionals now recognise that the “causes of health” including exalted emotions such as compassion, joy and love; elevated cognition (focussing on what’s positive); and expressing righteous anger can help us stay ahead of the pathology curve.
Even our genes need not be our destiny, she adds, with the new science of epigenetics set to discover what causes genes to be expressed – or not.
At the same time, organisations such as The AustralAsian Academy of Anti-Ageing Medicine or A5M are dedicated to advancing longevity science, medicine and technology to detect, prevent and treat ageing-related diseases. It promotes an integrative and preventative approach to maintaining the best possible health outcomes, using a scientifically proven, holistic, “entire body” approach to maintaining and restoring wellness.
Meanwhile stem cell therapy, therapeutic cloning, genetic engineering and genomics are what anti-ageists say will further shore up health and longevity in the next decades.
Whatever path you are on now to wellness, here are 10 ways to improve or maximise lifelong health.
1. Release toxic emotions
The more critical and unforgiving we are towards ourselves, the more miserable and sick we’re likely to be, says Northrup. “The body has a remarkable ability to manifest shame as illness or physical problems – it produces inflammatory chemicals in the body that set us up for illness,” she says in her latest book Goddesses Never Age.
“This is why, in the famous CDC-Kaiser Permanente study of adverse childhood experiences, it has been documented that those who experience events generally associated with shame, abandonment and betrayal are far more likely to experience health problems and die prematurely that those who didn’t.”
2. Ditch the bad habits
In a study of nearly 17,000 people between 16 and 90 years of age, University of Zurich researchers found there were four lifestyle choices that can subtract years from your life: tobacco smoking, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful alcohol consumption. Someone who smokes, drinks a lot, is physically inactive and has an unhealthy diet has 2.5 fold higher mortality risk in epidemiological terms than an individual who looks after his/her health.
3. Do whatever you can to reduce negative stress
Some stress can be positive – to help you achieve deadlines, or motivate you to chart results. However, a prolonged fight or flight response triggers sympathetic nervous system overdrive and persistently elevated cortisol levels, with secondary sex and thyroid hormone suppression, says Dr Tania Ash, clinical director of integrative medical clinics, Vitality Hub, in Prahran and Malvern, Victoria.
“High cortisol also switches off melatonin production, disturbing our REM sleep - our key repair time overnight,” she says. “It disturbs our mood, making us feel anxious and irritable, and tired but wired and, over time, results in adrenal reserve depletion with concomitant chronic fatigue, chronic inflammation and cognitive dysfunction.”
Her suggestion: a regular mindfulness practice.
4. Have a passion
Numerous studies suggest people with a passion live longer, healthier lives. Maximise the time you spend doing what you love.
5. Keep moving
It is cellular breakdown that produces the physical changes we associate with ageing, says Dr Northrup. “This deterioration occurs in large part because of the accumulation of toxins,” she says.
“The toxic build up’s effect on the body is exacerbated by the development of dense fascia: that is scarring of connective tissue caused by physical, emotional and mental stress.”
Spending too much time sitting and lying down speeds up the ageing process, she says. “One reason movement is vitally important is that your fluids can more easily move toxins to organs that process them if you aren’t sitting all day long.”
6. Don’t overeat
Restricting kilojoules has shown some benefits in increasing longevity, although research on humans is limited, says author and anti-ageing practitioner Dr Michael Elstein, of Eternal Health in Sydney. He recommends the 5:2 Diet.
7. Indulge in pleasure
Cells in our brains, blood vessels and lungs produce a signalling molecule, or gas, called nitric oxide, says Dr Northrup.
“Its production is triggered by laughter, orgasm, and other experiences of pleasure, as well as by eating fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants, meditating and exercising,” she says.
Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessel walls and sets off a chain of reaction of other feelgood chemicals in the body. “It also signals white blood cells to fight infections and destroy tumours and reduces cellular inflammation.”
Simply put: “The biochemistry of pleasure can counteract the biochemistry of ageing.”
8. Value relationships
Most centenarians have strong social networks now a new study from the United States suggests that social interaction should be considered an important factor for extending lifespan.
Researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah conducted a meta-analysis of published studies and found that having social ties with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues can improve our odds of survival by 50 per cent.
They say low social interaction has a similar impact on lifespan as being an alcoholic or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
9. Detox your diet
Research proves vegetarians have less cancer and heart disease but must watch out they get enough vitamin B12, zinc, protein, says Dr Elstein.
Reduce meat consumption, especially processed meats that an analysis of 800 studies from around the world by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently concluded showed "sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer".
Eschew processed foods and choose organic or biodynamic fruits and vegetables and grass, not grain-fed, organic meats and wild caught, not farmed, fish as well as plenty of omega-3 fats in the form of flaxseed oil, avocados and nuts and seeds.
Dr Ash also recommends including fermented foods to feed a healthy gut flora population, such as sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha tea; as well as nutrient-dense bone broth for gut wall repair.
10. Get as much sleep as you can
“Sleep is hands down the most effective way to metabolise excess stress hormones,” says Dr Northrup.
Dr Ash suggests keeping the lighting dim in your home in the evening as bright light shuts off melatonin production, not going to bed with your laptop, smart phone or iPad as their blue light switches off melatonin production, switch off your wifi at night to reduce EMR which can disturb sleep cycles.