Aging is a process that’s going to happen no matter what we do, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do to help slow it down and prevent premature aging. By adopting certain lifestyle changes and positive habits, medical experts reveal how to stay youthful longer. Eat This, Not That! Health talked to specialists who offer informative tips on ways to not get old. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Dr. Scott Kaiser, MD, a board certified geriatrician and Director of Geriatric Cognitive Health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA says, “Social isolation and loneliness have negative health impacts on par with obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking 15 cigarettes a day and are associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia. Simply taking a moment to connect with someone—even through a brief phone call—can reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression and deliver brain-protecting benefits. The mechanism by which this occurs is unclear but there are several potential pathways—including the possibility of chronic inflammation as part of the body’s stress response—and a recent study seemed to indicate that this is likely a reversible risk factor. In an analysis of the Framingham Heart Study data investigators noted an association between reports of loneliness in middle age and increased rates of dementia in later life; however, those who reported as lonely initially and then increased their sense of connection developed dementia at reduced rates.”
Dr. Kaiser says, “It makes sense, intuitively, that having a strong sense of purpose—having a reason to get up in the morning, knowing that people are depending upon you, feeling that you are making important contributions and possibly even making a difference in this world—could contribute to healthy aging. Many scientific studies clearly support this notion and demonstrate the value of having a strong sense of purpose in our older age in promoting many domains of good health and well-being—including our brain health and in reducing our risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.”
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Dr. Kaiser states, “While volunteering is not the only pathway to purposeful living—people also find meaning and purpose at work, through family relationships, and a variety of social activities—the research on volunteerism clearly demonstrates its rich benefits and its powerful role as a valuable ingredient for healthy aging. Older volunteers in a 2013 study experienced reduced risk of hypertension, delayed physical disability, enhanced cognition, and lower mortality. While the mechanisms of these correlations were not clear, researchers Dawn Carr, Linda Fried, and John Rowe identified the physical activity, cognitive engagement and social interaction aspects of volunteerism as contributing factors. Plus, there’s the added benefit of the win-win: it’s good for others that’s good for you. Experts in the field of aging agree that there’s a tremendous opportunity to improve public health if we can get older people engaged, feeling purposeful, and giving back. Not only can volunteerism efforts help older individuals improve their own health but they can also yield significant health, social, and even economic benefits for others at the same time. The aging population is, in the words of Encore.org CEO Marc Freedman, ‘our only increasing natural resource.’ Rather than seeing this demographic shift as a burden, harnessing the power of purpose we can leverage the assets of our many older people to make our nation stronger; realizing the value of: experience, expertise, ability to analyze and solve problems, and a natural drive to leave the world a better place.”
“While it’s great to embrace aging—counter to all of the messages we’re bombarded with every day that extol the virtues of youth and make aging look like a worse alternative than death—how we think about aging has a significant impact,” Dr. Kaiser says. “The ground-breaking work of Becca Levey, a Yale Professor of Psychology and leading researcher in the fields of social gerontology and psychology of aging, has established clear links between one’s perceptions of aging—the stereotypes people attribute to getting old—and the actual trajectory of their own health as they age. With this, we see that having a positive view of aging is associated with both living longer and living better. In one of Levy’s studies, participants who had positive self-perceptions of aging had 7.5 years greater longevity and fended off Alzheimer’s disease better than low scorers.”
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Dr. Kaiser says, “Singing, playing an instrument, painting, and writing a poem, are just a few examples of the type of creative expression that improve brain health. And while certain activities, like playing an instrument throughout your life, are associated with a reduced risk of dementia, there are benefits to the arts and creativity at any age and it is never too late to try something new!”
Dr. S. Adam Ramin, MD, urologic surgeon and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles/@UrologicCancer says, “While much of the United States was still under some form of either stay-at-home orders or physical distancing measures, the result was and is that we’re moving around a lot less. But being quarantined inside our homes may also be causing us to develop or continue some poor sedentary behaviors that can spell disaster for our overall health – including our urologic organs. Many people know that sedentary habits can lead to obesity, which can severely impact heart and spine health, for example. But, you may be surprised to learn about the ways that too much sitting can also hurt your urologic organs.
In men, prolonged periods of sitting or inactivity can also irritate the scrotum and prostate gland. One condition, called prostatitis – inflammation of the prostate – can be brought on by a variety of factors (including obesity) but can also be made worse by a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting too much puts a considerable amount of pressure on a man’s reproductive organs, which can, in turn, irritate. It’s a vicious cycle, but it doesn’t have to be. Recently, I have seen a significant increase in the number of patients coming to my office as well as the emergency room with prostatitis directly attributed to prolonged sitting.
Now, it is important to distinguish between being sedentary due to being cooped up inside with not much to do and having to sit behind a computer for hours and hours for work or for school. While both situations are due to the ‘safer at home’ guidelines, and both lead to health problems, the second situation may be less apparent. Collectively, perhaps we aren’t aware of the health consequences of prolonged sitting, and instead may be thinking we’re simply doing what needs to be done by sitting for hours behind the computer. I want to help make the public aware that even when they are doing online remote work or remote learning, they should spend about 50 percent of their time doing so in a standing position. To help achieve this goal, consider investing in a stand-up desk module, or other means that enables you to work comfortably and ergonomically from a standing position. If you need to be on the phone, take the call while walking around the room and stand during work or studying breaks.”
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Dr. Bert Mandelbaum, MD, sports medicine specialist, orthopedic surgeon, and co-chair of medical affairs at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles says, “As the largest joint in the human body, the knee can be underappreciated when it comes to daily exercise. After all, if you ask most folks what their workout routines consist of, they will probably tell you they do squats and lunges for glute and quad toning, planks and crunches for abdominal muscle strengthening, and bicep and triceps curls for arm definition. However, you won’t hear many talk about what they do to keep their knees strong and working well throughout an entire lifetime. Yet, a focus on knee health and strength is key for active, healthy living, especially as we age. Strong knees help us keep our balance and avoid falls that can result in disabling fractures. Healthy knees also keep us moving without pain and walking, an also-underrated activity especially in life’s later years.”
“A focus on weight-bearing exercises is crucial for developing, maintaining, and increasing knee strength,” Dr. Mandelbaum explains. “Interestingly, and many people may not know, specific exercises can help strengthen the knees by focusing not on the knees themselves but on the muscles that surround and support them. For example, strong quadriceps muscles can help take pressure and shock off of the knee joints by bearing some of the load and force of your everyday activities. Another tangible benefit of weight-bearing exercises is that they don’t require any gym equipment and can be done just about anywhere. Whether you’re using your body weight when just starting to perform these moves or adding dumbbell or ankle weights as your strength increases – it’s all good for your knees. As with any new exercise routine, be sure to talk to your doctor about what’s safe and suitable for your specific health needs before you get started.
Once you’ve got the all-clear from your provider, here are some fantastic knee-strength exercises to add to your workout routine:
- Leg Lifts
- Hamstring Curls
- Wall Squats
- Single-leg Dips
- Step Exercises
- Seated Knee Extension
- Standing Knee Flexion
- Calf and Heel Raises”
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According to Dr. Mandelbaum, “As the largest joints in your body, your knees are designed with movement in mind. Maintaining an active lifestyle, in addition to the incorporation of weight-bearing activities, will round out a solid knee-strengthening regimen. Remember, to keep your knees strong, and in proper working order, they need consistent daily movement, and that’s where aerobic exercise comes in. Contrary to what some believe, the term ‘aerobic’ doesn’t necessarily mean high-impact or strenuous. There are a number of knee health benefits for people who engage in low-impact aerobic exercises. In some cases, lower-impact activities can also help stave off injury while exercising. As with weight-bearing exercises, anyone can do aerobic exercises without an expensive gym membership or any equipment. If you can walk around the block a few times, most days a week, your knees will be better for it. Beyond walking, some additional aerobic exercises to consider incorporating into your routine:
- Elliptical Training
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Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson, aka “The VibrantDoc”, a recognized leader in functional medicine and author of the new self-care book Vibrant: A Groundbreaking Program to Get Energized, Reverse Aging, and Glow says, “Drink more water. If there’s one easy and free thing you can do to make your skin look younger fast, it’s to drink more water throughout the day. Research has shown that women who drink more water have significantly better skin hydration, both at the superficial and deep levels, than women who drink less water. I recommend a goal of half your body weight in ounces of water per day, but you can calibrate up to that slowly, so your body can adjust, such as by increasing your intake by one cup each week until you get to your goal.”
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“Among its many health benefits, yoga has been shown to positively influence cellular aging, as well as mobility, balance, mental health, and brain function, according to the 2021 review of research on yoga for healthy aging, Dr. Stephenson explains. “These are all markers of aging that yoga can improve, but inversions—any yoga pose where your head is below your heart—may be the most powerful anti-aging poses yoga has to offer. Decades of walking around right-side up, according to yoga instructors, can result in a sort of internal and external sagging of organs, skin, and blood flow. Spending some time each day reversing that sag can help to rebalance the body and reverse the effects of aging that come from this effect. Using your own muscles to perform inversions, from Downward Dog to Shoulder Stand to Plow to (for those of you who can do it without injury) headstand or handstand, makes inversions more active and effective. Even lying down with your legs up the wall can have a positive anti-aging effect.” And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.