How can we combat aging? Here is my list of strategies to feel younger longer. Do these today today and every day for a brighter, livelier, and interesting future.
- Read about and do new stuff. The ‘do new stuff’ part is crucial here. I read a lot of non-fiction, believing that reading would keep my brain alive. As it turns out, reading is not sufficient. My brain already knows how to read so simply reading new material is not helpful – my brain is not forging new neural connections. But if I actually DO something I have not done before with that information, then I can make new neural connections. Unfortunately, simply making new connections is not enough – those connections must be reinforced. In neuroscience this making and reinforcing new connections is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity occurs when the brain changes in response to experience. Simply reading about how to knit, won’t create new neural connections but actually doing the knitting – however cumbersome or awkward it seems, will forge new connections. Most memory-promoting sites recommend learning and practicing a new language or a musical instrument. Accordingly, because I am a classical music snob – about 5 years ago, I decided to learn how to play the cello. And though I won’t be ready to perform any time soon – if every, I am having a blast.
- Watch what you eat. There is so much misinformation on the web these days, it seems impossible to sift out what to eat or not eat. Plant protein versus animal protein, coffee versus tea, keto versus vegan, intermittent fasting versus multiple meals and snacks. It’s so confusing. The experts that study longevity recommend a predominantly plant protein based Mediterranean diet with nightly 12 – 14h intermittent fasts, adequate healthy fats and salt with inclusion of coffee/tea and red wine.
- Intermittent fasting. Routine nightly fasting of 16 – 18h has been shown to increase the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neuro-peptide important in neurogenesis (new neuron growth) in the brain’s memory center improving overall memory. Intermittent fasting has also been shown to improve sleep, boost immune function and decrease inflammation – all of which can have a beneficial impact on the quality of life with increasing age.
- Exercise your muscles. Break a sweat daily. As little as 20 minutes of moderate, heart pumping break a sweat exercise daily significantly increases the BDNF the miracle grow hormone for neurons in the hippocampus, the memory center of your brain. Sadly, it is a fact that as we age we lose muscle. Add in weekly strength training to counteract this muscle loss.
- Promote flexibility in your joints. If you cannot move your joints you cannot use your muscles and you will cease up. If you have ever had your wrist in a cast, you know what I am talking about. Six weeks of immobility creates no movement whatsoever. And it takes months of diligence to get that movement back. Stretch regularly or start a Yoga practice. Personally, I find Yoga poses too challenging and complicated for my injury-related muscle imbalances. Instead I practice something called Active Isolated Stretching. I love it and do a full body stretch-out daily.
- Enhance/improve your balance. Balance is one of those things that disappears so imperceptibly it’s not noticed until you fall. Do yourself a favor and work on your balance everyday. Most people visualize the careful execution of various yoga poses for improving one’s balance. And it’s true, yoga works. But simply standing on one foot while you prep veggies for dinner is a good place to start. I alternate balancing from right foot to left foot to a count of 10 for 10 sets while standing on a flat – side- up Bosu Balance Trainer as part of my stretching routine – it’s great fun and harder than you might think. A quick google search on how to improve your balance will yield more than enough suggestions.
- Exercise your cognitive powers – use it or lose it. Our memory improves the more we challenge it. The converse is equally true – poor memory is the result of disuse. As a society we have out-sourced our memory, with the widespread use of smart phones and iphones and its detrimental to our memory. Gone are the days when you could easily recall a 7-10 digit number. Give your phone a rest – use your memory!
- Increase mindfulness. Our attention span is shrinking at an alarming rate. Think about it, it’s impossible to remember anything if you did not notice it in the first place. We are a distracted society. Learn to pay attention. Notice what is happening around you. Simply by becoming more mindful – to intentionally notice – you will improve your memory.
- Do something you love and that brings you joy. For those of us closer to 100 than 1, chances are our careers are drawing to a close. But if you have another 30 years to live, what would you absolutely LOVE to do with your time? For me it’s to play cello sufficiently well to consider myself a contributing member in our community orchestra. Find something you love, and pursue with all your heart.
- Spend time in nature every day. Become a tree-bather! Walk amongst the trees everyday. The impact of solitude in nature cannot be understated. Appreciate quiet solitude, birdsongs, the magical Northern lights on a cold, clear starry winter night, sunrise/sunset, the wind in the leaves of the trees. Get as much as you can.
Though it may be physiologically possible, I seriously doubt I will live to 120y, even if longevity runs in my family. But I may well live to 90y. I have time to learn cello and much , much more.
Why not choose to spend the next 30 or so years doing something you love and that brings you joy while keeping your brain and body running as smoothly as possible?
Alright my friends, talk again soon.
Live Life, Love Life, Always…