What is it that allows some people to remain robust and healthy well into their 80s and 90s while others become frail or virtually incapacitated? It’s not just luck. New studies indicate that aging is largely determined by controllable factors.
Case in point: Millions of people have chronic inflammation, which has been linked to practically every “age-related” disease, including arthritis, heart disease and dementia.
Inflammation can usually be controlled with stress management, a healthful diet, weight loss (if needed) and other lifestyle changes, but there are other, even simpler, steps that can strengthen your body and brain so that they perform at the levels of a much younger person.
To turn back your biological clock…
CHALLENGE YOUR LUNGS
You shouldn’t be short of breath when you climb a flight of stairs or have sex, but many adults find that they have more trouble breathing as they age—even if they don’t have asthma or other lung diseases.
Why: The lungs tend to lose elasticity over time, particularly if you smoke or live in an area with high air pollution. “Stiff” lungs cannot move air efficiently and cause breathing difficulty.
Simple thing you can do: Breathe slowly in and out through a drinking straw for two to three minutes, once or twice daily. Breathe only through your mouth, not your nose. This stretches the lungs, increases lung capacity and improves lung function.
Helpful: Start with an extra-wide straw, and go to a regular straw as you get used to breathing this way.
DRINK THYME TEA
When the lungs do not expand and contract normally (see above), or when the tissues are unusually dry, you’re more likely to get colds or other infections, including pneumonia. The herb thyme contains thymol, an antioxidant that may help prevent colds, bronchitis and pneumonia and soothe chronic respiratory problems such as asthma, allergies and emphysema.
Simple thing you can do: Add a cup of thyme tea to your daily routine. If you have a chronic or acute respiratory illness, drink two cups of thyme tea daily—one in the morning and one at night.
To make thyme tea: Steep one tablespoon of dried thyme (or two tablespoons of fresh thyme) in two cups of hot water for five minutes, or use thyme tea bags (available at most health-food stores).
If you take a blood thinner: Talk to your doctor before using thyme—it can increase risk for bleeding. Also, if you’re allergic to oregano, you’re probably allergic to thyme.
Another simple step: Drink at least six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water every day. This helps loosen lung mucus and flushes out irritants, such as bacteria and viruses.
LOWER YOUR HEART RATE
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. The average American would live at least a decade longer if his/her heart pumped blood more efficiently.
Elite athletes typically have a resting heart rate of about 40 beats a minute, which is about half as fast as the average adult’s resting heart rate. This reduced heart rate translates into lower blood pressure, healthier arteries and a much lower rate of heart disease. But you don’t have to be an athlete to lower your heart rate—you just have to get a reasonable amount of aerobic exercise.
Simple thing you can do: Aim for a resting heart rate of 50 to 70 beats a minute—a good range for most adults. To do this, get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five days a week. Good aerobic workouts include fast walking, bicycling and swimming. Even if you’re not in great shape, regular workouts will lower your resting heart rate.
To check your pulse: Put your index and middle fingers on the carotid artery in your neck, and count the beats for 15 seconds, then multiply by four. Check your pulse before, during and after exercise.
WALK JUST A LITTLE FASTER
A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who walked faster (at least 2.25 miles per hour) lived longer than those who walked more slowly.
Why: Faster walking not only lowers your heart rate and blood pressure but also improves cholesterol and inhibits blood clots, the cause of most heart attacks.
Simple thing you can do: You don’t have to be a speed-walker, but every time you go for a walk, or even when you’re walking during the normal course of your day, increase your speed and distance slightly.
Time yourself and measure your distance to monitor your progress, and create new goals every two weeks. Walk as fast as you can but at a speed that still allows you to talk without gasping, or if you’re alone, you should be able to whistle. You’ll notice improvements in stamina and overall energy within about two to three weeks.
TRY THIS FOR BETTER MEMORY
A study found that people who got even moderate amounts of exercise—either leisurely 30-minute workouts, five days a week, or more intense 20-minute workouts, three times a week—had better memories than those who exercised less.
Why: Physical activity increases oxygen to the brain and boosts levels of neurotransmitters that improve mood as well as memory.
Simple thing you can do: Try an aerobic dance class, such as Zumba or salsa, or power yoga. These activities provide the physical activity needed to boost memory…and learning and remembering complicated routines will activate brain circuits and promote the growth of new brain cells for further brain benefit. Bottom line: Just keep moving—even housecleaning and yard work count. More on boosting brain function below…
SHAKE UP YOUR MENTAL ROUTINES
In a study of about 3,000 older adults, those who performed mentally challenging tasks, such as memorizing a shopping list or surfing the Internet to research a complex topic, were found to have cognitive skills that were the typical equivalent of someone 10 years younger. You’ll get the same benefit from other activities that promote thinking and concentration.
Why: These tasks trigger the development of new neurons in the brain, which boost cognitive function.
Simple thing you can do: Try to change your mental routines daily.
Fun ideas: If you’re right-handed, use your left hand to write a note. Study the license number of the car in front of you, and see if you can remember it five minutes later. Listen to a type of music that’s new to you. Rearrange your kitchen cabinets so that you have to think about where to find things. Overall, don’t let your brain get into the rut of performing the same tasks over and over.
FIGHT BRAIN INFLAMMATION
You’ve probably heard that good oral hygiene can reduce the risk for heart disease. A new study suggests that it also can promote brain health. Researchers found that men and women over age 60 who had the lowest levels of oral bacteria did better on cognitive tests involving memory and calculations than those who had more bacteria.
Why: Bacteria associated with gum disease also cause inflammation in the brain. This low-level inflammation can damage brain cells and affect cognitive function.
Simple thing you can do: Brush your teeth after every meal—and floss twice a day. I also recommend using an antiseptic mouthwash, which helps eliminate bacteria.