9 ways to a healthy and long life

Focus on staying healthy, so you can be happy. And if you're happy, you'll live more. Here's how you can improve the quality and quantity of life

Happy man flying kiteEach of us today has a real chance to live and live very well to age 100 and beyond—Ronald Klatz, MD, president of the Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine had said.

Consider this simple equation: Long life + Good Health = Happiness

This is a simple self-explanatory equation and it is obvious that a long life fraught with health problems can only be a burden to us and our loved ones, which is why just longevity is not enough. Successful aging is the new mantra, which includes good health, independence and happiness. The pioneering study, “Successful Aging,” sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, USA, found that while 30 per cent of aging depends on our genes, the balance 70 per cent is very much lifestyle-driven. This places a huge chunk of responsibility for our longevity, in our hands. Like a retirement fund, your deposits for longevity must start at a young age.

Presenting the 9-point plan to successful aging

1. Watch what you eat

Start today: Have a cup of green tea instead of coffee

Most of the stuff we love eating is not necessarily good for us. While it is tough to remove all your favourite foods from your diet, it is easier to substitute them gradually with healthier alternatives. Simple food replacements can help you live a longer, healthier life according to Dr Maoshing Ni [popularly known as Dr Mao], anti-aging expert, doctor of Chinese medicine and best-selling author of Secrets of Longevity—Hundreds of Ways to Live to Be 100. Green tea for coffee, dried fruits and nuts for fried snacks, brown rice for white rice, fish for red meat, olive oil for butter, fruits for refined sweets and water for soda, even these seven simple swaps can make a world of difference to your longevity quotient. Complex carbohydrates, protein from vegetarian or lean meat sources and healthy unsaturated fats are the key foods to focus on.

2. Reduce your overall calorie intake

Start today: Use a smaller sized plate to eat dinner.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, in overweight people, a reduction in daily calorie intake by up to 25 per cent led to a lower core body temperature and lower fasting insulin levels. The Mayo Clinic defines a calorie restriction [CR] diet for anti-aging as one that involves eating fewer calories than your body needs to maintain your normal weight — while still getting enough vitamins and other nutrients. Some of the ill effects of such a diet such as bone loss and reduced muscle mass can be combated by regular physical activity along with calcium and vitamin D supplements. Research also shows that lowering our calorie intake has a positive effect on our blood pressure, blood sugar, body fat percentage, cholesterol levels and body weight—all of which go towards enjoying a healthier life. Reduced calories slow down the metabolism, which possibly reduces the harmful free radicals produced by the body. Instead of randomly cutting down calories, consult a qualified nutritionist to chalk out a CR diet for you to ensure that the vital nutrients are not compromised.

3. Stay active

Start today: Ditch the elevator for the stairs or chase your kid around the garden for 30 minutes.

It’s never too late to include physical activity as a part of your daily routine. Anything that gets your heart rate up for 30 minutes a day can have numerous benefits starting from weight loss to physical agility and mental wellbeing. The effects of daily exercise on blood pressure, blood sugar and many other ailments are well known. A study published very recently in the British Medical Journal reports that “Increased physical activity in middle age is eventually followed by a reduction in mortality to the same level as seen among men with constantly high physical activity. This reduction is comparable with that associated with smoking cessation.”

4. Keep up your antioxidants supply

Start today: Have a piece of dark chocolate or a small bowl of berries for dessert.

Cellular damage by free radicals is one of the major contributors to aging and illnesses. Antioxidants found in coloured fruits and vegetables, red wine, tea and dark chocolate etc neutralise these free radicals. Micronutrients like vitamins A, C, E, selenium and zinc also have antioxidant properties. Research has shown that vitamin E reduces the risk of heart disease. Oxidative damage by free radicals is present in brains of patients with Alzheimer’s and age-associated degenerative diseases. Those over 80 years of age showed greater systemic oxidative stress and lower levels of antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin E while a study of Italian centenarians showed that they had elevated blood levels of antioxidants.

5. Nurture relationships

Start today: Switch off the TV and some spend quality time with your spouse/family this evening.

Happily married men live an average six years longer than the single guys. No surprises there as the women play a big role in pushing men to take good care of their health. Research at the University of California found that married men were 2.4 times more likely than unmarried men to take medical care, so that too adds years to life. Spend genuine quality time with your spouse. Don’t wait for Family Day or Mother’s Day to spend time with your parents/grandparents or close family. They are your best emotional support system and they won’t be around forever.

Make time for games and chatting sessions with old friends. Your siblings may be in different countries but technological advances leave you with no excuses for not being in touch.

Even spending quality time with your pet can de-stress you, leaving you happy and positive. Nurturing healthy relationships is indeed a soothing balm for the soul.

6. Take care of your skin.

Start today: Apply sunscreen half an hour before you step out.

It’s not entirely vain to use moisturisers, sunscreens and get facials. Irrespective of your gender, having a healthy skin is a big confidence booster and looking good is a stepping-stone to feeling good. Besides, using a sunscreen along with protective clothing prevents sun-damage to the skin.

Excessive UV ray damage to skin, sallowness [sickly yellowish skin colour], wrinkles and photoaged skin conditions make it more prone to developing cancers.

7. Keep your mind active

Start today: Solve a crossword puzzle or play your favourite game online.

Keep your mind ticking with stimulants like crossword puzzles, sudoku or chess. Sign up for classes in your free time, to learn something new, be it a language or a skill.

Neuropsychologist Yaakov Stern of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons followed 1800 older adults for up to seven years and found that the more leisure activities they kept busy with, the lower was their risk of developing Alzheimer’s—even if it was just playing cards, visiting friends or watching movies. Besides these, aerobic exercise and an antioxidant rich diet also helps in keeping the brain razor sharp for many years to come.

De-stressing with a massage, regular weekend breaks, breathing exercises, laughing out loud and sleeping well can all keep stress from building up, leaving your mind in a peaceful, alert state.

8. Insure and save

Start today: Get your health insured today if you haven’t already and review some retirement saving plans

The worry of having to land up in a hospital for a health calamity and seeing your savings wiped off can cause enough stress to block an artery.

So get your health insured early on in life, where you have to pay a lesser premium to get maximum ailments covered, and renew it without fail each year. Don’t wait for health problems to develop before you insure yourself, or all your claims will get caught in the net of ‘pre-existing diseases’.

When you retire, a kilo of potatoes may well cost over 100 Rupees, so start saving today if you want to enjoy a financially independent old age. Even if you don’t want to leave a large inheritance for anyone, you can splurge on healthy food, health supplements, good health care services and go around the world in style with your savings.

9. Don’t ignore health checkups and preventive medicine.

Start today: Make an appointment for a health check up after consulting your family doctor.

We tend to overlook these for a variety of reasons—either because the insurance doesn’t cover it, or you hate the sight of blood, or you are of the opinion that ignorance is bliss. Think of it this way—it is easier to bring down your cholesterol levels today than getting a coronary bypass done 10 years down the line.

Most ailments, from cardiovascular to cancer if detected early, can be treated successfully. It has been seen that women are twice as likely as men to go for regular health checks and screening, and this is one of the reasons why they outlive the men. In fact, at age 100, female/male ratio is 8:1.

A physical examination with blood pressure and ECG, followed by some urine and blood tests is enough for a start. Depending on these test results, your doctor might recommend more specific tests, if required. While you are at it, schedule an appointment for a dental check up too.

This was first published in the July 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Susan Biali
Susan Biali, MD is an internationally recognised medical doctor, happiness expert, life coach, author, speaker and flamenco dancer. She blogs for PsychologyToday.com and is the author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You. To receive a free copy of her e-book, 10 Essential Easy Changes: Boost Mood, Increase Energy,Reduce Stress By Tomorrow, visit her website.

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