Everyone gets old. It’s inevitable. We reach our physical peak in our mid-twenties, and, over the following decades, we lose muscles, gain fat, become more prone to diseases and experience cognitive decline.
It sounds pretty bleak, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing: not everyone ages equally. Some societies fight off the effects of old age with a combination of lifestyle and diet. The famous Mediterranean and Okinawan diets are famous for promoting longer, healthier life – both rely on antioxidant-rich, nutrient-dense whole foods high in vegetables and lean proteins, which is a sharp contrast to the typical Western diet loaded with saturated fats, salt and added sugar.
Studies have found that only 20-30% of how we age is related to genetics – the rest is all down to lifestyle, diet and environment . If you’re starting to move towards the second half of your life, it becomes increasingly important to make sure you’re adhering to good dietary practices. If you don’t, you risk becoming a victim of chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
In this article, we’re going to walk you through the most important nutritional secrets to healthy ageing.
Before you read any further, it’s important to understand exactly how ageing works.
Simply put, it’s the process of getting old! No surprises there. But did you know there are three different types of ageing ?
- Normal ageing
- Accelerated ageing
- Successful ageing
Successful ageing is the one we should all aim for. It’s growing old gracefully by retaining good social, psychological and physical functioning . When we age successfully, chronic conditions are kept to a minimum, and we continue to live fully by learning new things, socialising, keeping busy, feeling happy, being autonomous and being physically capable.
People who age successfully are sometimes referred to as ‘super seniors’. Compared to ordinary seniors, they seem younger, fitter, happier and more capable, and typically have far fewer chronic diseases. Areas that have high numbers of super seniors are sometimes known as ‘blue zones’ – Icaria in Greece, Ogliastra in Sardinia and Okinawa in Japan are three popular examples.
Keep reading to find out how super seniors manage to stay so healthy.
Antioxidants: Fighting Free Radicals
A lot of the damage we sustain to our bodies as we age seems ‘natural’, because it’s not caused by diseases but by time itself. Our joints become stiffer, our bones become weaker, and we suffer muscle loss.
In fact, most age-related damage at both a cellular and a tissue level is caused by free radicals, which are derived from oxygen . This is known as ‘oxidative stress’. Although free radicals attack us throughout our lives, our cells have developed antioxidant defence systems to fight them off. As we age, these defence systems weaken, leaving us more vulnerable to oxidation – in other words, the physical effects of ageing .
That’s a simplified explanation of a very complex process, but you probably recognised at least one term there – ‘antioxidant’.
Antioxidants occur naturally in many types of whole foods, particularly in vegetables, nuts and fish. The problem is that most of us don’t eat whole foods, especially in the Western world. We fill up on processed meats and preservative-loaded meals, and, consequently, our bodies don’t receive enough antioxidants and trace elements. This leads to increased damage from free radicals, particularly as we get older – think higher rates of skin damage, cancer, diabetes and heart disease [10, 11].
The solution, of course, is to make a lasting change to your diet. Replace unhealthy options with foods like these:
- Fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel and anchovies
- Flax seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Berries like raspberries and blueberries
- Green tea
- Broccoli, kale and spinach
- Red grapes
All of them are high in antioxidants, and help slow the ageing process. There’s also evidence to suggest that a diet rich in antioxidants is more effective the earlier in life you begin , so don’t wait – start making the change now. And if you need any encouragement, here’s a fun fact: red wine is loaded with antioxidant compounds, and, drunk in moderation, is strongly linked to preventing coronary disease . So go on, top up your glass and keep reading.
Keeping Your Skin Beautiful
As we get older, our skin develops wrinkles, liver spots and plenty of other damage. The clean, glowing skin of our earlier years becomes an unachievable goal, a faded memory that we look back at and envy.
Oxidative stress – which can be caused by everything from UV rays to diesel fumes – is one of the main causes of age-related skin damage . A great way to prevent it? You guessed it – antioxidants.
Dermatologists often recommend a combination of oral and topical antioxidants to help neutralise free radicals, so make sure you follow a good skincare routine in combination with a healthy, antioxidant-rich diet . Many skin conditions which become more frequent as we get older, like dermatitis, burns and scarring, are also helped by consuming antioxidants .
Keeping hydrated is also very important for healthy skin (and just health in general). Remember to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day in both hot and cold weather – your body will thank you for it!
Vitamin B12: ‘B’ Smart and Keep Your Mind Sharp
Like ‘antioxidants’, you might have already heard of vitamin B12, but the role it plays in your health is probably more obscure. Unlike some vitamins and minerals, B12 needs to come from your diet, because your body can’t naturally produce it. It’s most commonly found in animal products like fish, beef, eggs and milk.
Vitamin B12 is involved with lots of different bodily processes, but the two most important are brain function and the production of new blood cells . Severe vitamin B12 deficiency causes serious problems like :
- Loss of motor skills
- Loss of balance
- Spinal pain
- Difficulty moving
- Memory loss
- Visual and motor disturbances
At a time in your life when being able to live independently is more important than ever, it’s essential that you don’t let a lack of B12 compromise your physical and neurological health.
If that sounds pretty scary, don’t worry – most healthy adults will never have a B12 deficiency . However, as we get older, we become more at risk. We naturally lose the ability to absorb vitamin B12 as effectively, and certain medications, gastric surgery, gastritis and small intestine disorders all make this worse .
Severe vitamin B12 deficiency is serious, and normally requires lifelong daily injections. Unfortunately, roughly 90% of people who experience severe B12 deficiency aren’t able to have the neurological impacts fully reversed upon treatment – the damage is often serious and permanent . Studies have also indicated that even minor vitamin B12 deficiencies in pregnant women can increase the risk of birth defects .
To avoid becoming vitamin B12 deficient, it’s critical that you consume both supplements and foods that it occurs in naturally. Liver, clams, beef, tuna, trout, salmon, milk and eggs are all high in vitamin B12, and oral B12 supplements can be easily purchased off-the-shelf from chemists. You can even skip buying expensive bottles of B12 vitamins and instead choose nutritionally complete powders which contain all the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy.
Why are fish so great?
If you’ve read this far, you’ll have noticed that a food type that is high in both vitamin B12 and antioxidants: fish. Fish like tuna and salmon are practically superfoods, but they’re especially great for older people thanks to their excellent nutrient profiles.
They’re also high in protein but low in fat and carbs, and contain essential omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are found mostly in deep sea fish, but also in flaxseeds, nuts and some leafy vegetables. They help lower blood pressure, reduce the chance of heart attacks and strokes, slow arterial plaque growth, and lessen the chance of sudden cardiac death . Even though everyone should be eating foods with omega-3 fats, it’s especially important for pregnant women and older people.
By eating deep sea fish two to three times a week, you’ll ensure you’re getting plenty of the most essential vitamins and minerals – and you’ll get to enjoy a healthy, delicious meal that’s loaded with protein.
Protein: Make Your Muscles Stronger and Keep Your Independence Longer
Proteins are essential for everyone, no matter how young or old. They allow our bodies to maintain muscle and bone health, fight infections and produce energy. Unfortunately, as we age, our bodies process protein less efficiently – at a time when getting enough is more important than ever. Because many older adults are more prone to diseases, surgeries and age-related muscle loss, eating the right amount of protein is critical for staying healthy and active.
A 2018 study found that seniors who eat higher amounts of protein are 30% less likely to become functionally impaired, and are at lesser risk of falls and fractures . ‘Functionally impaired’ includes basic activities like walking, showering, moving objects and getting dressed, which means getting enough protein is an essential part of becoming a super senior.
Good sources of lean protein include seafood, legumes, chicken, turkey, pork, beef, soy, beans, eggs, dairy and supplements. If you’re thinking about meal options for an ageing family member, remember to consider the quality of the protein source – choose whole foods that are low in saturated fats and contain a good mix of vitamins and minerals.
Calcium: Better Bones, Better Life
You’ve probably heard of calcium before reading this article – remember your parents telling you to drink milk because it keeps your bones strong? 99% of calcium in your body is found in your bones and teeth, and, if you’re not getting enough of this essential mineral, you could be putting your health at serious risk.
Calcium is what allows our bones to get larger, which is why it’s so important for babies and children to get enough of it. Unfortunately, our bones stop growing once we pass the 30-year mark; after that, our calcium intake then serves to maintain density and health . From 50 onwards, bone demineralisation gets much faster .
Why’s that so bad? Because good bones minimise the chance of fractures and bone diseases like osteoporosis, both of which can hugely reduce your quality of life and potentially strip you of your independence .
It’s important to understand that your body can’t absorb and use calcium by itself. Doing so requires three other nutrients – phosphorus, vitamin D and protein . To avoid calcium deficiency, make sure you’re getting the recommended daily amount of all four vitamins and minerals, through foods like cheese, yoghurt, sardines, salmon, almonds, rhubarb and milk, or through nutritionally complete supplements .
Lifestyle and Environment
Although this article is about the nutritional secrets to ageing healthily, lifestyle and environment are both big factors, and they’re definitely worth a mention.
Getting enough sleep, not being stressed and doing physical exercise are all key lifestyle choices that can slow the ageing process. Remember those ‘blue zones’ we talked about earlier? One thing their residents all have in common is daily exercise, which can reduce the risk of early death by 39% . They also sleep around seven hours a day, considered by experts to be the optimal amount of time (significantly longer or shorter sleeping periods have been associated with increased risk of death) .
Environment is also important. Air and water quality are the two biggest risk factors, so consider leaving heavily polluted cities if you or your family are getting older. If you can’t, install air and water filters to remove toxic fumes and contaminants.
Other environmental factors include maintaining social bonds with friends and family (which helps us feel connected and keeps us active), using health and nutrition services (which ensures we stay on the path of health) and minimising our exposure to unhealthy foods.
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AdVital is loaded with 27 different vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12 and antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc. Each scoop contains 15 grams of protein, which is perfect for diets low in meat, and is accompanied by calcium and vitamin D. If you’re sick of taking handfuls of different pills every day just to keep on top of your health, a single nutritionally complete powder like AdVital is the best way forward.
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