Posted On May 04, 2011
Much of the age-accelerating damage that we experience as humans can be dealt with by changes in our lifestyles, especially in the four fundamental areas of diet, exercise, sleep and stress mitigation. Good food, regular exercise, sufficient restful sleep and freedom from persistent, chronic stress are all fundamental.
Nothing is more important to the anti-aging lifestyle than good nutrition. Food is medicine, and bad food is the equivalent of eating toxins.
One of the findings that has been confirmed through numerous studies is that, generally speaking, people who eat less live longer, healthier lives. This notion of ‘calorie restriction’ comes with lots of caveats, however—including a big warning that sufficient nutrients and proteins are required in any diet, no matter how limited—but generally speaking, mammals who eat fewer calories tend to avoid many of the chronic illnesses that their over-weight fellow mammals face.
In addition to restricted calories is the quality of those calories. Overall, the best diet is one that is rich in vegetables and fruits, followed by protein and complex carbohydrates. About 50% of your plate should be covered with vegetables, with the remaining half split between the proteins and carbohydrates.
The reason for this is that fruits and vegetables contain essential micro-nutrients that are not supplied by the over-processed, over-sweetened foods that make up the lion share of the modern American diet. Protein is of course essential for building muscle and other body components, while carbohydrates supply energy. The important thing is to eat complex carbohydrates, because simple carbohydrates—such as sugar or white rice or white bread—release their sugars too rapidly, causing a spike in insulin, which ultimately wears out the insulin receptors in all our cells and prevents fat cells from releasing their stored energy.
So, avoid sugars like the plague and eat lots of fruit and vegetables, making sure these are organic whenever possible. Eat lots of protein, too, but try to eat fish rather than meat, and poultry rather than red meat. Here, too, go for the grass fed, natural meats rather than the barn-raised, corn-feed, fat-filled meats.
We were born to run, as Bruce Springstein once wrote, and it’s absolutely true—our ancestors were in fairly constant motion, and today’s sedentary lifestyle is slowly killing us.
Numerous studies have confirmed this idea, with a whole assortment of conclusions about how much you should exercise and how often you should exercise. The purists insist that you should do about an hour of cardiovascular exercise every day. It can be an easy, relaxing exercise like walking, or it can be a more intense exercise like running or skiing. You should also do some upper-body resistance training a couple of days a week, which means using weights or going swimming.
In the end, the best exercise is one that you enjoy doing, since this is an exercise you will be more likely to do on a regular basis. Just remember that any exercise at all is better than none at all, and two or three days a week will make a huge difference for you in terms of energy, longevity and cognitive powers. Among the various studies, the evidence is clear that exercise pumps more blood to the brain, so you will be smarter as a result. It’s also a good idea to break into a sweat when you exercise, since this helps cleanse the body of toxins and make the skin healthier.
It is only in recent years that scientists have come to realize how essential sleep is for our bodies to repair and restore themselves. A host of activities occur when we sleep, including a rhythmic restoration of our cortex and central nervous system, and a general restoration of our immune systems.
While some people can ‘get away’ with a few hours of sleep per night, this is by far the exception and not the rule. The average adult needs 7 hours of sleep per night; without it we lose mental clarity and physical vitality, and become more susceptible to illness. Those who go without sleep on a regular basis will age faster. Indeed, one of the fundamental indicators that an anti-aging regimen is working is that we look “more rested.”
We are designed, as formerly wild creatures, to react to threatening situations by stressing ourselves out. This is the good kind of stress, the so-called fight or flight response, where our bodies gear up to maximum exertion thanks to the release of adrenaline. The other kind of stress—prolonged, low-level chronic stress—is what damages us over the years. The adrenal glands, which release adrenalin, also release cortisol, which is the hormone for low-level, chronic stress.
If we are under constant stress, our adrenal glands become exhausted after prolonged production of cortisol. Eventually they become worn out, and we become unable to deal with stress. The results range from physical exhaustion to negative moods, from weight gain to weakened immune systems, and from mental confusion to accelerated aging.
A fundamental part of any anti-aging program is the need to mitigate stress, either by avoiding its sources or dealing with it through stress-relief activities, such as exercise or meditation. For those who have been under such prolonged stress that their adrenal glands not longer effectively function, a diet that restores adrenal function—that literally nourishes the adrenal glands—is often required.