Embrace your vitality
By Serenity Aberdour
For as long as humans have known about aging, we have been searching for a fountain of youth. Although we cannot prevent aging, there are certainly things we can do to help us embrace our age and to enjoy a good level of health well into our golden years. Here are five basic lifestyle tips that anyone can adopt to help maintain vitality in later life.
1. Quell inflammation
Inflammation is at the root of many chronic health problems, including those associated with aging. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and joint pain are two key examples.
The right foods
Dietary choices can go a long way toward stopping inflammation before it starts.
Avoid sugars, processed foods, and high intakes of saturated fats.
Increase foods that help quell inflammation, such as fresh vegetables (especially green leafy vegetables) and omega-3 fatty acids from fish and seeds.
Helpful herbs and spices
Various herbs and spices also have potent anti-inflammatory effects.
Turmeric’s key component, curcumin, has anti-inflammatory abilities, which makes it of interest in helping to relieve many painful conditions. Much interest also exists for the possible role of curcumin in cancer prevention due to promising results seen in animal studies.
In humans, turmeric, in combination with soy isoflavones, has been shown to help reduce elevated PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels. This could make this combination helpful in the prevention of prostate disease, possibly including prostate cancer, one of the most common cancers in men as they age.
Fish oil supplements allow people to take in the higher doses of fish oil required to help control inflammation, without a very high intake of fish (which may increase intake of unwanted contaminants such as heavy metals). Fish oils have the added benefit of supporting healthy triglyceride (blood fat) levels, which can contribute to heart health.
2. Load up on antioxidant-rich foods
Diets high in antioxidant-rich foods have been linked to a reduced risk of many diseases. Antioxidants are vital in protecting the body from free-radical damage and keeping cells and tissues healthy.
Oxidative damage has been shown to play a role in many age-related health problems, including macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in the developed world), cataracts, cardiovascular disease, and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s.
The right foods
Conveniently, most of the same foods listed above for their anti-inflammatory effects are also rich in antioxidants, so reaching for more fruits, veggies, fish, nuts, and seeds will allow you to support healthy aging in multiple ways.
Some supplements may also offer benefits when it comes to the prevention and management of health complaints seen more frequently as we age.
Resveratrol is a polyphenol, first identified in grape skins, and is thought to be a key player in the reputed health benefits of red wine. Unfortunately, almost all of the research on resveratrol was conducted in vitro (in a test tube) or in animals until very recently.
But study results published in the last two years are now showing that resveratrol could offer benefits in the prevention and management of common health problems in humans, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- In a small study of type 2 diabetics, four weeks of supplementation with 10 mg of resveratrol per day was associated with a decrease in insulin resistance, a major underlying problem in type 2 diabetes.
- In a second study, 19 individuals who were overweight/obese and who had high blood pressure received resveratrol at doses of 30 to 270 mg. Shortly after taking their resveratrol, the study subjects underwent a test to help assess blood flow through arteries. Supplementation with resveratrol was associated with an improvement in their test results, and the improvements were greater as the dose of resveratrol was increased.
Pycnogenol is an extract of French pine bark that has a long list of studies citing its benefits.
- Relief from menopausal symptoms—100 mg of Pycnogenol for a period of eight weeks has been found to reduce six key menopausal symptoms: hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, irregular periods, loss of libido, and vaginal dryness.
- Vascular health—Pycnogenol can be helpful in a range of conditions including hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and fragile capillaries. Researchers have shown that Pycnogenol can also be a helpful addition to the treatment of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a dangerous blood clot that can occur in the legs.
- It can also provide very effective relief from chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a weakness of the veins of the legs that can lead to ankle and foot swelling as well as a great deal of discomfort. In the case of CVI, Pycnogenol can be even more effective than compression stockings, the usual treatment for this condition.
- Male sexual health—It is estimated that about 40 percent of men over the age of 40 will experience erectile dysfunction. Natural medicine has much to offer when it comes to treating this concern, and Pycnogenol is definitely among the products that should be considered, particularly in combination with the amino acid L-arginine. This combination has been shown in multiple clinical studies to be an effective treatment for mild to moderate erectile dysfunction. In one study over 90 percent of men using this combination reported normal erections after three months of supplementation.
- Arthritis—Pycnogenol, in daily doses of 100 to 150 mg per day over three months, can help to reduce symptoms and medication use in mild to moderate osteoarthritis.
- Type 2 diabetes—Pycnogenol offers several potential benefits for those with type 2 diabetes, including improving eye health and vision in those with diabetic eye disease and improving blood sugar control and blood pressure.
3. Keep on rollin’ (the importance of exercise)
As the old saying goes, a rolling stone gathers no moss, and active bodies are generally healthier bodies at any age. The importance of regular exercise to healthy aging cannot be overemphasized.
Study after study has shown the positive effects of physical activity on age-related concerns.
Swimming—Improved blood pressure and blood vessel function was recorded in adults over the age of 50 who participated in a 12-week swimming program.
Combined walking and resistance training—Participants in this study combined walking and resistance training three times a week over 12 weeks; researchers recorded improved blood pressure, blood sugar control, and increased levels of growth hormone, a hormone whose decline occurs as we age.
Endurance exercise—A supervised endurance training program was followed by study participants for three hours a week over a 12-month period; researchers found a significant reduction in progression of age-related cognitive decline.
Aerobic exercise alone or with strength training—A meta-analysis of 34 studies done between 1970 and 2009 found improved blood sugar control, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels in those with type 2 diabetes who did aerobic exercise either alone or combined with resistance training.
It’s never too late
Best of all, it’s never too late to get rolling! Even in elderly adults, regular exercise can produce beneficial effects. One study found that six months of resistance training produced significant gains in muscle strength and lean body mass in elderly participants.
Add fish oil
Want to get even more out of your exercise? Try adding fish oil. It turns out fish oil may also enhance the benefits of exercise in those over 60. In a study of women with an average age of 64, adding 2 g a day of fish oil to a strength training program resulted in greater gains in muscle strength compared to women on the same program who did not receive fish oil.
4. Drink more tea
I remember, growing up, that a cup of tea was my mother’s cure for just about anything that ailed us. Turns out Mom was not far off, with more and more research showing the health benefits of tea. There is now little doubt that tea should be part of everyone’s healthy aging program.
Findings in recent studies make tea a real contender in the search for dietary factors to improve cardiovascular disease risk.
Blood pressure and cholesterol—Regular tea drinking has been associated with lower blood pressure readings in women over the age of 70 and with significant reduction of total and LDL cholesterol in both men and women who have elevated cholesterol levels.
Inflammation markers—In a study of men 55 years and younger, six weeks of black tea consumption was shown to reduce both markers of platelet aggregation (a clotting risk factor) and C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammation marker considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Other studies have confirmed the effects of tea on CRP levels with one showing that 3 cups (750 mL) of black tea a day for 12 weeks could reduce CRP levels by more than 50 percent in men and by 41 percent in women.
Tea, and specifically green tea, is also a potential cancer fighter.
In a group of men at high risk of prostate cancer, one year of supplementation with high doses of green tea catechins resulted in a dramatic reduction in the formation of prostate tumours compared to placebo. At the end of one year, only one tumour occurred in the green tea group, compared to nine in the placebo group; a remarkable difference and with no reported side effects.
Regular intake of either green or black tea has also been associated with better cognitive function in older adults, with improvements in memory and other important markers of mental sharpness.
As an added bonus, tea may also keep you looking younger! In a 12-week study, women who received a supplement providing 1,400 mg of catechins from green tea were found to have better overall skin quality, including improved blood flow and oxygenation of the skin, reduced roughness, and better elasticity.
5. Keep a positive outlook
Evidence is accumulating for a link between negative outlooks and bad health. The link seems particularly strong for cardiovascular health, with researchers showing that regularly experiencing hopelessness, pessimism, worry, anxiety, anger, or hostility can increase disease risk.
People who regularly experience the world through these types of emotions have been found to be at increased risk of concerns such as coronary artery disease, slower recovery from bypass surgery and complications from such surgery, or increased risk of heart attack.
How, exactly, negative outlooks affect cardiovascular health (and potentially health in general) is not fully understood, but it is likely a result of a variety of factors such as increased stress hormones, tendency toward more unhealthy lifestyle choices, and withdrawal from or rejection of important social support networks.
The impacts of negative outlooks are not restricted to cardiovascular health. In a revealing study on the impact of attitude on menopausal symptoms, a 2010 study found that women with a negative attitude toward menopause were likely to report a higher number of symptoms when they themselves began their menopausal transition.
In another study postmenopausal women with high levels of hostility had a 23 percent higher risk of cancer-related deaths as compared to optimistic women. So how you look at things can have a major impact on how they affect you!
Although there will likely never be a fountain of youth, getting older does not have to mean a dramatic reduction in health or vitality. Taking steps such as keeping active, controlling inflammation, boosting antioxidant intake, and staying positive can go a long way toward helping to keep you healthy at any age.
About the Author
Serenity Aberdour, a naturopathic doctor practising in Vancouver, regularly writes about natural medicines and provides talks on the use of diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes to help prevent and treat illness. serenitynd.com