On “Wellness Wednesday,” we typically focus on the “Eat Right” portion of our mission: “Move Right, Eat Right, Think Right, Live Right.” But there’s more to wellness than just eating right. There are some lifestyle choices we can make that also contribute to our overall health.
Growing Well, Not Old
What are the characteristics you think of when I mention aging?
Maybe wrinkled skin, poor posture, gray hair, diminishing sight, stiffening joints. Here in Naples, we have a larger than normal percentage of people age 60 and above, and my practice reflects that. As I’ve had the chance to watch my patients move through their 40s and 50s into their golden years, I’ve seen some significant differences in how people have aged. There may be some genetics involved, and certain careers are more prone to toxicity than others (like people who worked with harsh cleaning chemicals or other unsafe conditions), but some of our premature aging can be tied to some lifestyle choices. I think I can probably bypass obvious things, like smoking and drug use, but there are things we do every day that can accelerate aging.
Let’s look at a couple things you can do to help slow down the aging process.
How You Can Defend Against Premature Aging
Have you ever seen an ad with a petite, youthful model taking a bite of some scrumptious-looking sugary desert? My guess is she only eats like that in front of the camera (or she has a ton of makeup on).
According to dermatologist Jessica Wu, M.D., author of Feed Your Face, “a diet high in sugar” activates enzymes that “devour healthy collagen.” Collagen is the substance that keeps your skin smooth, tight, and healthy-looking on your face. As that collagen system breaks down, the depletion is literally “all over your face.”
Sugar also contributes to inflammation. Inflammation is a wide subject, but it may be best to summarize it as your body’s first response to infection, irritation, and tissue damage:
- That scratchy throat you feel at the onset of a cold? That’s your body responding to a foreign invader with T-cells.
- That rash? Your body has detected poison in your skin and it’s mobilized an army to neutralize it.
- Swelling joints after work? Your body is working to repair the torn muscles.
While there are several environmental factors that contribute to inflammation, sugar is an important one, and the best part is, how much you consume is totally within your control.
Reduce Red Meat and Black Meat
When the Blue Zones Project was identifying the lifestyle habits of cultures where a large percentage of people lived to be over 100, one of the things they identified was that they didn’t eat much red meat. In fact, they didn’t eat much meat at all compared to their vegetable and oil intake, but when they did, they preferred fish over poultry over red meat. The Mediterranean Diet allows a little red meat, but it is very limited. I’m not going to scold you if you have the opportunity to enjoy a steak from time to time, but I always recommend you stick with leaner meats, like chicken, turkey, and wild fish. But more important is how it’s prepared: that black char on your steak may contain pro-inflammatory hydrocarbons, which accelerate aging in your outer appearance, as well as in how you feel.
We also need to remove all processed meats from our diets. The nitrates, nitrates and sulfates that meat packers use to keep your sausages from rotting in the package are some of the most toxic things you can put in your mouth.
While you’re sleeping, your body is recharging, resetting, and rebooting itself for the next day. It allows your subconscious to process the day’s events while your blood system carries nutrients to your muscles and skin. Most healthcare professionals agree that you need at least seven or eight hours of sleep every night for your body to reset itself. Running your body without enough sleep is like running your car without a tune-up or an oil change. The parts wear out over time. I’m as guilty as the next guy of short-changing my sleep (have you seen my hair?), but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s important. Go-getters especially have to make sleep a priority so they don’t neglect it. Your 80-year-old self will thank you for it.
Your skin is an organ just like your liver and it needs to stay hydrated. If you’re having to use moisturizers, collagen treatments, or smear anti-wrinkle cream all over your face every day, it’s a sign that your skin is not getting enough water. Wounds and cuts heal more quickly when your skin is soft and moist. Ever wake up with sticky, goopy eyes? Drink more water. Arthritis is as much a function of an inflammatory diet as of dehydration, but water keeps your joints slick and fluid.
Some people think constipation, kidney stones, and joint pain are all just part of getting old. Baloney! Water is the key to all three. Your digestive system uses water to keep your waste soft and pass comfortably, and kidney stones are pellets of waste that dried up and got stuck in your kidneys. Water would have prevented that. To top it all off, your brain is anywhere from 75% to 85% water, and all your synaptic processes use water. Headaches, fuzzy memory, confusion, and attention deficit are all evidence of dehydration.
Alzheimers research is consistently turning up new information about keeping your brain healthy throughout life. Water is crucial. Limiting your exposure to chemical solvents and heavy metals like mercury is non-negotiable. But the strongest brains are the ones that are constantly challenged with new learning:
- Spend some time reading every day.
- Complete a crossword puzzle.
- Practice a musical instrument.
- Study a foreign language.
- Teach yourself a new computer program.
- Memorize Shakespeare.
Every time you learn something new, your brain builds a new synaptic path for it. Every time you repeat it, it paves that path again until it becomes permanently etched. Keep adding new paths and new connections and your brain will stay active and strong for years to come.
For some people, enjoying a steak or a candy bar, or burning the midnight oil at work is worth the discomfort they may feel later. But if looking and feeling young in your later years is important years is important to you, then you can do something about it. That’s up to you.
Your golden years should be golden, not bent over a walker or watching the world go by from a hospital bed. Let’s get the word out. Take a few seconds to share this on social media. Who knows? This might be the answer to a friend’s nagging health question.
Take care. I’ll see you here next week.