As recent as the early 1900s, the average person did not live past 50 years old. Today, in many developed countries, life expectancies have risen substantially. On the average, people can expect to live to their mid- or late- seventies. It is against the background of such changing trends that the question of how to age gracefully has become as important today, if not more, than the question of how to live longer.
Research on the causes of physical aging and elderly ailments may provide some important clues on how you could slow down aging, retain good health and looks, as well as maintain your mental acuity even as you grow in chronological age. An important factor is nutrition.
The link between nutrition and aging
The relationship between nutrition and aging is a complex one.
Nutritional deficiencies can lead to conditions conventionally associated with aging, such as impaired mental functions, graying of hair and blurry vision. At the same time, many elderly people also experience poorer digestion and nutrient absorption, leaving them more prone to nutritional deficiencies.
Some foods and nutrients can help reduce your rate of aging, while other foods actually speed up the decline of your body. Other than what you eat, or not eat, how much you eat and how you eat them also matters.
The following are some good nutrition tips to help you deal with aging.
The vitamin B12 route to graceful aging
As you age, your gut produces less stomach acid, which can leave you with poorer digestion and nutrient absorption.
That is why vitamin B12 deficiency is often seen in elderly people. Studies suggest that this deficiency can be as high as 42% of persons aged 65 and above. Because vitamin B12 is crucial for energy production, immunity and nerve function, symptoms of this deficiency is sometimes misinterpreted as signs of senility or dementia.
Make sure that you get sufficient vitamin B12 in your daily diet. You can get plenty of vitamin B12 in foods like eggs, fish, clams, cheese and tempeh.
Antioxidants for anti-aging
Just like the oxidation process causes fruits to brown, it also causes cells to degenerate and grow old. In the body, oxidation is brought about by free radicals, which rob healthy cells of electrons (as such damaging them) and produce more free radical in the process. Unless this oxidative process is stopped, the vicious cycle harms the body at increasing rates, contributing to problems like heart diseases, wrinkles and cancer.
Fortunately, nature offers a protection against free radicals – antioxidants. Antioxidants are found in many foods, including flavonoids-rich foods like berries, ginkgo biloba, parsley and onion, as well as foods rich in vitamin-C or beta-carotene like broccoli, carrots, kiwifruit and papaya.
Top up on your daily intake of antioxidants today, to slow down your aging process.
Less AGE-foods for youthfulness
Researchers are finding a link between substances known as advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) and age-related problems like cataracts, wrinkles, blocked arteries, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. AGEs may be produced by your body when your blood sugar is high, or introduced into the body when you consume high-AGE foods, such as meats cooked at high temperatures (e.g. frying, baking).
The glycation process that produces AGEs is actually involved in the aging of skin – it causes cells to become stiffer and more damage-prone. In turn, AGEs are found to increase oxidative damage to cells, alter their functions, as well as contribute to inflammation.
So, if you wish to age at a gentler pace, eat less AGE-foods and watch your blood-sugar levels.
Nutrient-dense foods in place of calories
The propensity to suffer from poorer digestion and nutritional deficiencies as one ages means that you will need to pay special attention to what you eat, so as to obtain your needed nutrients without having to overwork your digestive system.
Doctors are advising that you replace your high-calorie foods for nutrient-dense foods as you enter your golden years, since you won’t need as much calories as before. In fact, some researches have found that reducing calorie intake can help extend life and slow down aging-related ailments in mice. The same could apply to humans.
Go for nutrient-dense foods (e.g. spirulina, alfalfa, barley grass, berries, seaweed, and mushrooms) that are low in calories, but loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Aging gracefully with good nutrition
Your chronological age (how old you are based on our birth date) is really just a number. What actually matters more is your biological age, which is an indication of the rate at which your body is aging, as well as a good measure of your current health, life expectancy and future life quality.
You can actually slow down or even reverse your biological aging through healthy living efforts. In fact, you could even feel better at sixty than when you did at forty, if you do the right things. And giving your body the good nutrition it needs is just one of the right things to do.
1. Yeager, Selene, et al. The Doctors Book of Food Remedies. New York, NY: Rodale, 2007. Print.
2. Murray, Michael T., ND. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements: The Essential Guide for Improving Your Health Naturally. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1996. Print.
3. Balch, Phyllis A., CNC. Prescription for Nutritional Healing: A Practical A-to-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & Food Supplements. 5th ed. New York, NY: Avery, 2010. Print.
Cindy L. TJOL is trained in Psychology, Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has several years of experience writing on natural health on the internet. Follow her on her blog and read her other articles at Insights On Health.com.