1. Eliminate Self Destructive Behaviors
This is the first step in preventing disease and meeting your later years with vitality and good health and it almost goes without saying – almost. The health toll of destructive behaviors such as smoking and excess drinking do not necessarily manifest for many years, thus discouraging motivation to stop. It’s natural to forgo making changes when the results are seemingly intangible or minimal at best. Smokers, of course, often report almost immediate improvements in breathing, sleep, and general health, but even so, indulgent habits are difficult to break. Do it now anyway. Whether it’s nicotine or sugar or drugs, don’t let your “vice” become your master. In time it will not only rule your life; it will destroy your body.
2. Eat Properly
I frequently say that 70% of health is about what you put in your body (exercise and stress comprise the rest of the equation). Though it’s an estimate, of course, there is absolutely no debating that the food with which you choose to fuel your body is the single most powerful choice you can make for your health now and as you age. In particular, the stress of free radicals and insulin resistance (i.e. oxidation and “syndrome X”) will wreak havoc on your health. As we age, our cells are more vulnerable. It’s that much more important to stimulate the metabolism, control stress hormones, safeguard immunity, and prevent atrophy. There is no reason anyone needs to be hobbling around at 65 or 75. You can enjoy the energy, vigor and looks of someone much younger if you simply take the extra steps to ensure your body has the arsenal of tools it needs. It’s not rocket science; in fact, the answers are right there in our cells (okay, so it is science). The best thing you can do is fuel your body appropriately with whole, fresh, nutritionally-dense food. Eat the right fats, plenty of quality, clean protein, and copious vegetables. Absolutely avoid anything processed, fried, packaged, reconstituted, refined, or high in worthless carbohydrates.
Much of “aging” is essentially tissue wasting (atrophy). The phrase “use it or lose it” is cliche but true. The human body is designed to conserve precious energy. If you are sedentary, you are sending a clear message to your cells (e.g. your muscles, bones, and brain) that they aren’t necessary. Your muscles weaken, your bones shed their valuable osseous material – thereby even further compromising your immunity – and your mental capacity begins to slowly deteriorate. Exercise isn’t really about being ripped or sexy, though we all want that. It’s simply a necessary component of functioning as a human being. So many of our health conditions are diseases of sloth. If you are tired or lacking in energy, barring a specific condition or hormonal imbalance, it’s likely you aren’t active enough.
4. Manage Stress
An excess of gluccocorticoid hormone production will quickly derail the best health plans and prematurely age you. I’m tempted to argue that as a population, many of us are just too darn “old” for our age. The common “symptoms” of aging – high blood pressure, heart disease, adrenal fatigue, wrinkles, loss of sex drive, loss of energy, poor memory – are not really symptoms of aging at all. They’re symptoms of stress and poor lifestyle choices. Do everything you can to eliminate every type of stress in your life, whether from poor-quality junk food, smoking, drinking, and/or emotional stress. Cut out negative people and put an immediate end to stagnant or abusive relationships. Seek therapy if you think it can benefit you. Free yourself of your childhood, your demons, and your regrets. And please find a way to cope with the stress that can’t be eliminated, whether through exercise, prayer, meditation or time in the garden. This will make an enormous difference in your overall well-being.
5. Think Young
Your one life is a precious gift, but “thinking young” is about more than thinking positively or staying interested in current trends and world events. Realize that even at 55, 65, 75 and beyond, you are “young”. As long as you are alive and taking every intelligent step to get the most from your body and your life, you are young. Living itself is the ultimate fountain of youth. Look at the way children play and are curious. Don’t lose that spirit. I think we all tend to take life far too seriously. While responsibility is important, don’t lose your sense of joy. If someone in your life doesn’t understand that, it’s really their loss. You are who you think you are. If you are constantly telling people you are just “okay” or that you’re tired (again), that’s what you are. There is no harm in thinking positively, so train yourself to do so. Negative thoughts are unproductive and unnecessary. Use “outcome thinking” where you visualize what you want rather than focusing on what was or what might go wrong. I’m not advocating living in the clouds and ignoring reality, but when you take stock of reality, think about the positive outcome you hope to gain from the situation.
6. Get Rest
We recently discussed the importance of sleep. It’s critical to cell repair and regeneration. Adequate sleep can drastically affect your lifespan and your well being, and unfortunately, Americans aren’t getting nearly enough quality sleep. (Look for an upcoming Primal Health piece on sleep as well.)
7. Practice Good Hygiene
I see this one left out of many so-called guides to “aging secrets”. Aside from bathing and preventive habits like frequent hand washing, look after your dental health, your hearing, your vision, your nails, and your home. Cleanliness may or may not be next to godliness, but it is certainly going to help prevent infections and potentially serious long-term health problems. Be proud of your body and take care of it. There is no reason you shouldn’t trot into your golden years with all your teeth and (most of) your hair. Genes do play a significant role in many aspects of health, including how we look and age, but by taking care of yourself properly, you can make the most of all your years. The advances in scientific knowledge about the human body and aging are radically more powerful than what was conceivable just a generation ago. Take the very simple, common-sense preventive steps such as those listed here coupled with the incredible knowledge we now have and realize that longevity is about much more than just “making it” to 80 or 90. Rather, we can utilize what we know about the body and actually thrive well into old age.
8. Prudent Supplementation
Like it or not, our food supply is not always sufficient for providing us with all the available tools to fight oxidation and stress or reduce our risk for certain diseases. Debates rage about organic, local, free-range ad infinitum. Do your best, of course, to provide your body with the freshest, most nutritious food you can. But you can go beyond this with prudent supplementation. A powerful antioxidant multivitamin is in my view a must, as is a quality fish oil supplement. The standard American diet is shockingly low in essential fatty acids (“good fats”) and woefully high in shelf-stable macronutrients that offer little nutrition – trans fat, sugar, starches, etc. While I don’t believe in fad nutrients or miracle juices or weight loss gimmicks, intelligent supplementation is a must.
9. Proactive Living
It’s been said that many people fritter their lives away in despair, living someone else’s dreams and choices. Take personal responsibility and seize the life you have been blessed with by making active choices about who you will love, how you will live, and what you will do. Passivity breeds jealousy, imbalance, resentment, fear, fatigue, depression and unhappiness. While it’s just not reasonable to expect to achieve perfect happiness – hey, life’s not fair – you should strive to actively lead your life. Reflect on your thoughts and be sure your choices are your own. Proactive living is really living. I believe emotional health has a lot to do with feeling at peace with our choices – including the mistakes, or perhaps especially the mistakes. And, I believe authentic living has as much or more to do with longevity and good health as anything else.
Here’s the last, but not least, bit of advice. If you’re a thoughtful or responsible person it’s easy to beat yourself up or get carried away with stress and perfectionist tendencies. We all have our “issues”. Stress happens to be mine. I’ve learned to seek balance and accept that some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue. You won’t always eat perfectly or make the best choice and you might miss a few sessions at the gym. Maybe you drank a few too many last weekend. Don’t dwell on your misses – just keep going and concentrate on how well you’re doing right now. We’re a performance-based culture, and this can be destructive to self-worth. Concentrate on your good habits and achievements and build on those instead of focusing on the negative things. I gotta say it…sometimes sh*t just happens.