The Rules Of Ageing Well

When you’re young and carefree, it’s far easier to get away with late nights, copious drinking and an unbalanced diet. But as you get older, medical professionals will tell you it’s essential to build good habits and prioritise your health. According to co-founder of The Age-Well Project, Susan Saunders, there are some simple ways to take control of your future. From the supplement to take, to foolproof ways to hack your brainpower, here’s what you need to know.

Think About Your Genes

“Around 20-30% of how we age is down to the genes we’ve inherited from our ancestors. Scientists know this from studies of twins, which show a shared gene poll doesn’t result in identical ageing patterns. The reality is that much of how we age, and our risk of developing age-related illnesses, is related to lifestyle and environmental factors. Genes are an important part of the story, however. Understanding what we might, or might not, have inherited from our ancestors is important as we create our own age-well plans. For example, knowing both my mum and grandmother had dementia means I need to prioritise keeping my brain healthy. I don’t neglect other aspects of my health, but I keep my brain front of mind. Try to gather as much information as you can about the health of family members. If you want to explore your genetic inheritance further, you might consider a genetic test. However, these aren’t for everyone and you need to be aware you may discover something you’d rather not know – and it may not even be accurate. Genetic tests are not to be taken lightly.”

Fill Up On Fibre

“My number one ‘age-well’ ingredient is fibre. Most of us don’t get enough – the UK average intake is 18g per day, but we should get between 25 and 30g every day. When researchers crunched down almost 40 years’ worth of research into the health benefits of fibre, they found it was linked to a 15-30% decrease in death from heart disease and all other causes. Our gut microbiota ferments fibre to support everything from digestion to brain health. Experiment with fibre-packed whole grains – I love unusual ones such as freekeh, farro and amaranth. Hunt them down in health-food shops and work them into your daily diet. Use them to replace rice or pasta in your cooking, and remember to drink more water if you’re eating more fibre. You need to keep things moving.”

Consider The Mediterranean Diet

“The Mediterranean diet has become shorthand for a way of eating that emphasises pulses, beans, vegetables, olive oil, fermented dairy, whole grains, fish, herbs and spices, nuts and berries, red wine and a little meat. However, it’s not a ‘diet’ – it’s a way of life. The term refers to the traditional mode of eating in southern European countries, where incidences of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia are all lower than they are in the UK and US. The Mediterranean diet has been linked to a reduction in almost all the chronic conditions of ageing, and a lower risk of death overall. Recent research on women links the diet with a one-quarter lower risk of cardiovascular disease. To put that into context, it’s the same risk reduction as that conferred by taking statins, which are regularly prescribed to lower cardiovascular risk.”

Control Your Carbs

“When it comes to macronutrients, you need all of them, but carbs should be wholegrain, not processed, and not eaten in excessive quantities. For decades, governmental health advice urged us to fill up on carbs while limiting our intake of protein and fats. Now this advice has been implicated in growing rates of obesity and diabetes across the Western world. Eating too many carbs, particularly processed sugars and flours, spikes insulin levels, leading to weight gain and inflammation. Try to keep carbohydrates wholegrain and the portions small – think about carb quality (the nutrients it delivers) rather than quantity. No more than one-quarter of your plate should be wholegrain carbs, one-quarter protein and half vegetables, particularly if you are trying to lose a few pounds.”

Have A Glass Of Wine

“As we get older, we’re less able to metabolise alcohol: heavy drinking (more than 14 units a week) has been linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Despite this, drinking in moderation appears to have some general longevity benefits. Most of the world’s longest-lived people (the so-called ‘Blue-Zoners’) drink a little, usually local, red wine. It appears to improve the function of blood vessel linings and may have protective effects against cardiovascular disease. Recent research has found red wine drinkers have more diverse gut microbiota, and are less likely to be overweight or have high levels of bad cholesterol. A compound found in red wine – resveratrol – has been linked to slower ageing and lower stress levels.”

Supplement With Vitamin D

“Not all supplements work when it comes to ageing, but we should all be taking vitamin D3 as we’re seeing less daylight than ever. Vitamin D helps to build bone mass, support muscle strength, protect our respiratory system and maintain cognitive function. Try to take a supplement that also includes vitamin K2, a vital nutrient that works with D3 to transport calcium to our bones, rather than allowing it to calcify our arteries.”

Up Your Omegas

“One study tracking omega-3 fatty acid levels in the blood found that for every 1% increment there was a 20% decreased risk in all-cause mortality. Recent studies have found people given omega-3 supplements had a decreased risk of a heart attack and lower inflammatory markers. Omega-3s are also critical for brain health. Tinned sardines (the cheap ones with the bones in, for extra calcium) are the ultimate age-well food. Salmon, mackerel, herrings, anchovies, and to a lesser extent, tuna, are all good options too.”

Not only does meditation help you to age better at cellular level, but it increases brain capacity too.

Don’t Dismiss Fasting

“There’s evidence to suggest fasting helps protect our ‘longevity pathways’, the cellular repair mechanisms which deal with damaged DNA. The simplest way to achieve this is through intermittent fasting – no one can be hungry for too long – this can be as simple as fasting for 12 hours overnight; up to 16 hours is even better. I aim for a sweet-spot of a 14-hour fast, 10-hour eating window. I aim to finish dinner by 8:30pm and have breakfast at 10:30/11am. This 10-hour eating window has also been found to benefit people with metabolic syndrome (the precursor to diabetes).”

Look After Your Gut

“Gut health is linked to almost all the chronic diseases of ageing – obesity, type-2 diabetes, some cancers, heart disease and more. The link between the gut and the brain is particularly powerful: messages pass from the gut to the brain and back again via the gut-brain axis and particular strains of bad gut microbiota have been linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Boost the numbers of microbiota in your gut with fermented foods like natural yoghurt, kefir, kimchi and miso, then feed them with fibrous foods.”

Hit The Pillow

“Sleep is hugely important when it comes to ageing. During deep sleep our brains go into housekeeping mode, with their in-built cleaning team, the lymphatic system, clearing out toxins that accumulate during the day. The sleeping brain is better at removing the amyloid-beta protein that’s implicated in Alzheimer’s. Sleep is even more important as you age as, over the age of 50, your circadian rhythm changes, making it harder to fall asleep and easier to wake up at night. Think 3-2-1 before bedtime: three hours between eating and sleep; two hours between work and sleep; one hour between looking at a screen and sleep. And make sure your room is quiet and dark – I use earplugs and an eye mask every night. Chronic sleep loss increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cognitive decline.”

Stay Active

“We spend between nine and 12 hours a day sitting down, and it’s killing us. The WHO ranks sedentary behaviour among the ten leading causes of death. Lack of movement day to day is linked to an increased risk of some cancers and cognitive decline as well as weight gain and overall morbidity. Try to do something that raises your heart rate, ideally via high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Doing anything – running, brisk walking or cycling – that gets you breathless in short bursts is enough. Weight training is also important for muscle strength – after the age of 50, muscle mass can decline between 30-50% between 40 and 80 years of age. Strength training also helps improve sleep quality, reduces the risk of heart attacks, strokes and type-2 diabetes, and eases the pain of arthritis.”

Think About Toxins

“The food and drink we ingest are doused in toxic chemicals from pesticides, plastics, solvents and cleaning agents. Many of these can damage our DNA, ageing us at the most basic cellular level. We become less robust at dealing with toxins in cleaning and household products as we get older. Limit the number of harsh chemical cleaners you use at home, particularly sprays which can enter the lungs. And make sure you open windows to air your home every day.”

Be More Mindful

“One study found older adults who meditated for 12 minutes a day had reduced biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s after three months. Meditation has been one of the most life-enhancing elements of my age-well plan – it’s taught me to be more present and connected in my life, and allows me to handle problems and setbacks more easily. Not only does meditation help you to age better at cellular level, but it increases brain capacity too.”

Challenge Your Brain

“Use it or lose it is the message from experts who’ve studied how the brain declines with age. Try going shopping without your list: if you need to pick up fewer than six items, say them out loud to yourself and then head out – this conscious recall is known as ‘declarative memory’. Also try flexing your working memory by learning phone numbers or do working calculations of your expenditure as you go round the supermarket. Even learning – and using – a new word is a great idea. Most dictionary websites will send you a ‘word of the day’.”
 
 
For more information visit AgeWellProject.com or follow @AgeWellProject on Instagram. The Age-Well Plan by Susan Saunders is available now, priced £14.99.
  
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