How to Age Well and Add 10 Years to Your Life
If you’ve ever dreamed of stopping Father Time, I have good news. The old guy may not be stoppable quite yet, but we do know how to slow him down — a lot! The average American already has a very good chance of living seven or eight decades, and researchers now think it may be possible to add another decade or two to the total.
Impressive numbers, but here’s the catch: Whether those years are filled with enjoyable quality time or doctor visits and one miserable ailment after another is completely up to you. That’s right, you have the power to age well and stay healthy as long as possible. I have seen patients like Vanessa do it, so I know it’s possible. Here are some ideas on how you can do it, too.
How Aging Happens
From the moment we are born, we begin aging. Up to a point, the process is called growing up. After adulthood, the changes we associate with aging — wrinkles, gray hair, sagging skin, loss of sensory and mental abilities, muscle deterioration, and weight gain — appear gradually. But there is a great deal we can do to slow the process.
Some of these changes are due to free radicals, cell-damaging rogue molecules that weaken our organs and defenses. Other age-related changes are created by AGEs (advanced glycation end products) that destroy proteins. Furthermore, increasing levels of insulin, due to insulin resistance, wear out cells throughout the body, while chronic inflammation increases the risk of disease. And unmanaged stress shortens telomeres, the protective caps on our chromosomes. Bottom line: Age-related changes are inevitable, but we have an arsenal of powerful antiaging weapons available. Let’s look at a few of the options.
Why Digestion Matters
Nutritional deficiencies are fairly common among senior citizens and even middle-aged folk. In fact, researchers have found that as many as 30 percent of healthy seniors may be unable to absorb vital nutrients. If you’re taking antacids, the situation could be even worse because they interfere with proper digestion and absorption.
Obviously, if you’re not digesting and absorbing properly, it doesn’t matter what you eat or which supplements you take. Your cells won’t be getting the support they need to repair and regenerate, and that can have serious consequences. Here’s one example: A shortage of vitamin B12 can create Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in an otherwise healthy individual. And yes, B12 is one of the nutrients that can be difficult to absorb, especially after middle age.
How Sleep Protects Your Cells
During sleep is when your faulty cells go into the shop for repairs. But if you’re not getting deep, restful sleep for 7, 8, or 9 hours a night, those faulty cells are forced to muddle through as best they can. Like a car engine in need of new parts, damaged cells can only do so much without the necessary repairs.
In addition, lack of sleep has been linked to weight gain, memory and mental impairment, and premature aging — all things that can be avoided by getting enough rest.
Why Exercise Is Your Best Friend
Many medical experts — including me! — are convinced that a sedentary lifestyle is just as dangerous to your health as smoking. That’s why one element of my foundation for good health is exercise. You don’t need to buy expensive contraptions or join a gym; simply put on a pair of comfortable shoes and go for a brisk, 30-minute walk every day.
Maybe you prefer something more vigorous. In that case, I recommend interval training, alternating short bursts of high-intensity exercise with moderately paced activity. Interval training protects the telomeres that shield our chromosomes from damage and that play an important role in aging.
How to Age-Proof Your Diet
If you really want to add years to your life, calorie restriction (CR) can help. There is an impressive three decades’ worth of research showing that CR extends the lifespan of lab animals and most likely humans, too.
There are a number of books and websites devoted to CR, but the bottom line is this: Eat less, but better. In other words, focus on nutrient-rich foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and lean protein) and avoid anything processed or prepared, like frozen meals, snacks, cookies, and especially refined sugar and grains.
Serious practitioners of CR often cut back on calories by as much as one-third. That’s not realistic for many people, but most of us could eliminate 10 percent of our daily intake by giving up empty calories. Best of all, my patients consistently tell me that after the first few days without their designer coffee, soda, or other nutrition-free snack, the cravings for these sorts of indulgences disappear. Bonus: In one recent study, older people with the largest waists had the worst test results on mental functions. So giving up a few calories might make those crossword puzzles less challenging!
Why Detox Helps
Every day, we are exposed to hundreds if not thousands of potentially dangerous chemicals. Protecting your cells from the effects of these toxins is a major factor in putting the brakes on aging. The lower your toxic load, the less aging you’ll experience. A good place to start eliminating chemicals is in your home. You can also apply the same principles to personal care, something I’ll be writing about soon. Eating as much organic produce as possible helps, too.
Why You Should Hit the Bottle
The bottle of supplements, that is! One of the smartest moves you can make at any age is to take as few pharmaceutical drugs as possible. These drugs create nutritional imbalances and produce unwanted and sometimes dangerous side effects, which often require additional drugs to treat. And let’s not forget that few prescription medications cure anything. It’s all about treating symptoms — in other words, making you a customer for life.
I can tell you with 100 percent certainty, it doesn’t have to be this way, despite your age. Nutritional supplements are often respectable substitutes for prescription medications, without the dangerous side effects. If you are currently taking medication, please do not stop suddenly. Talk with your physician about the possibility of replacing prescriptions with natural remedies whenever possible. Obviously, some medications are absolute lifesavers, like insulin. But even type 2 diabetics have found that upgrading their lifestyles decreased the need for insulin. It really depends on how committed you are to healthy aging.
Where to Start with Supplements
If you’re already taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement, you’re creating the foundation for good health. But there’s so much more you can do to minimize aging. Here are my top baker’s dozen antiaging nutrients:
To Maintain Overall Health
A good multivitamin should contain at least 500 mg of vitamin C, 50 mg of the major B vitamins, and 400 IUs of vitamin E. In addition, I recommend 400 to 1,000 mg of vitamin D. If your multi doesn’t contain these levels, you may need a separate product to get the required dosage.
Multiminerals should include calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Adult women up to age 50 should take 1,000 mg of calcium daily, then 1,200 mg after age 50. Adult males can take 1,000 mg of calcium per day up to age 70, at which point they should increase the dosage to 1,200 mg. For magnesium, try 400 mg daily. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of zinc is 12 mg for women, 15 mg for men.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) or fish oil are good fats that provide health benefits throughout the body, including joints, heart, brain, and circulation. I normally recommend 1,000 to 2,000 mg per day of a product that has been purified to remove toxins.
To Improve Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
Coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10 is a hard-working antioxidant that protects the cell’s energy factories and is especially important for anyone taking statins for cholesterol. I recommend 100 to 200 mg daily.
Resveratrol is derived from a compound in red wine and grapes. It is a potent antiaging weapon with the ability to manage blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. It also enhances blood-vessel functions and supports cardiovascular health. I recommend a dosage of 400 mg once daily.
Pterostilbene helps lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels, while supporting the effects of calorie restriction. Try 50 to 100 mg once or twice daily.
To Help with Arthritis, Muscles and Eyes
Curcumin is an extract from the spice turmeric, a powerhouse antioxidant that protects cells from free-radical damage. Research shows curcumin is as effective as cortisone for treating arthritis. Take 500 to 750 mg daily.
Carnosine is a much-studied but little-known antioxidant that supports healthy muscles and eyesight, and protects cell membranes from damaging free radicals. I recommend a daily dose of 500 mg.
To Reduce Signs of Aging
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a versatile antioxidant that, among other things, helps recycle vitamins C and E, so they remain in the body longer. Try 300 mg once a day.
Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) is an antioxidant with the power to cross the blood-brain barrier, so it can reach brain cells. ALC also reduces overall signs of aging, improves symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, benefits the heart, and eases symptoms of depression and Alzheimer’s disease. The typical dosage is 500 to 1,000 mg taken up to three times per day.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a recognized age fighter that helps balance hormones. I suggest 10 to 25 mg daily. I like to use this with my patients because it shows up in blood tests, making it easy to monitor levels in the body. That’s important because this is a potent supplement, and taking too much can backfire. In women, for example, too much DHEA may raise testosterone levels, which can lead to unwanted facial hair, weight gain, and/or acne. For men, too much DHEA can increase estrogen levels, which would have a feminizing effect. So do yourself a favor and take it easy with this supplement.
To Protect Against Pollutants
Glutathione (GSH) is considered a universal antioxidant that protects against free-radical damage while minimizing the effects of various pollutants. I recommend 500 mg once daily. Some glutathione products are less effective than others. I suggest finding a reputable, integrative physician who can direct you to quality glutathione supplements.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an outstanding detoxifier that protects the liver and also helps maintain healthy glutathione levels. In fact, you may want to try taking NAC before drinking alcohol or taking Tylenol, two common substances that can damage the liver. Two daily doses of 600 mg are usually effective.
Finally, please don’t make the mistake of telling yourself you’re too old to do this or that. Maybe you won’t be skydiving or riding a bicycle across the country any time soon, but there’s a lot to be said for getting out of your rut, socializing, and staying in touch with friends. In fact, research repeatedly shows that social connections are essential for a long, healthy life. So do yourself a favor and make a point of getting together with a friend this week. Even if the best you can do is a phone call, you’ll both feel better for it.
Last Updated: August 21, 2018
Originally Published: May 11, 2012