Secrets to living a longer and healthier life

The fountain of youth is a lovely myth. Imagine if it were as easy as taking a sip from a clear wellspring and being rewarded with glowing skin, sharp eyes, and the complete absence of any aches and pains.

Until someone uncovers this magical spring, we make do with what science has to offer: a good diet, plenty of exercise, and a stress-free existence. For those are the secrets of longevity and while they might not turn back the clock, they may be able to help slow it down. 

To help explain how, we’ve asked Registered Clinical Nutritionist, Jess Wharton of Key Nutrition for her advice and expert knowledge which she’s shared a wealth of when it comes to eating and living well.

The secrets of longevity that come from food

Jess begins by explaining that as we get older, the body has different needs, and there are certain nutrients that are especially beneficial.

That begins with protein, which “provides energy and is also essential for the repair and maintenance of body tissues.” She recommends that older men have at least three servings per day, and women have at least two.

Then there’s potassium, which, combined with a limited sodium (salt) intake, may lower your risk of high blood pressure, Jess explains. “Fruits, vegetables, beans and low-fat or fat-free dairy products are all sources of potassium. Select and prepare foods with little or no added salt. Add flavour to food with herbs and spices.”

Jess also highly recommends calcium and vitamin D, saying we need more of these to maintain bone health, and that over 50s should aim for four servings of calcium-rich foods each day.

“Select calcium-rich foods and beverages such as dairy products, milk, cheese, fortified cereals and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, canned fish with soft bones, and fortified plant-based beverages. Sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, such as salmon, eggs and fortified foods and drinks. If you take a calcium supplement or multivitamin, choose one that contains vitamin D.”

As well as vitamin D, Jess suggests that you don’t scrimp on vitamin B (folate) either, which is “needed for optimal brain function.” “Fortified cereal, lean meat and fish and seafood are sources of vitamin B12. Folate is found in dark leafy vegetables, fruit and legumes.”

That just leaves the two Fs: fibre and fats.

Fibre helps you to stay regular and may help to lower your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, says Jess. You’ll find it in “whole-grain breads and cereals, and more beans, peas and lentils, whole fruits and vegetables.”

As for fats, Jess recommends the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated kinds. That is, the types found in nuts, avocados, vegetable oils, and fish.

Stay physically active

One of Jess’ final pieces of advice for over 50s seeking the secrets of longevity is to get active. She recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as walking) every day.

Her advice mirrors that of the New Zealand government, which recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week (or more if you can). The Ministry of Health also adds that you should aim for three sessions of flexibility and balance per week (such as yoga and pilates), and two muscle-strengthening activities per week.

Keeping active may also help to boost your immunity, which can help to fight off bugs and colds.

Prioritise your happiness

How often do you put your needs and wants first?

While your friends and family may not be used to you putting yourself first 100% of the time, no one will resent you if you start making your happiness more of a priority.

When you work on your own happiness, you’re working on your attitude and approach to life, and that zest could affect your longevity too.

At least, that’s what Neurologist and professor at the University of California, Irvine Dr Claudia Kawas claims. In her chat with Radio New Zealand, she said that “those who live longest are not spartan in their approach to life”. 

“Attitude matters. Attitude is also associated with longevity and I think most of the people who have made it to that age have really shown some kind of spark that I think has a lot to do with it, and depriving themselves or being too strict in any of those parameters is generally not a feature we see in these folks."

So, if it makes you happy, go for gold.

Reduce anxiety and stress levels

Anxiety and stress when watching the latest season of Bridgerton is normal (will they, won’t they?). Anxiety and stress as a constant, regular companion is simply no good for you.

Numerous studies have looked at the effects of long-term anxiety and stress and found that when you take out other risk factors, they may reduce your lifespan. Even without the risk of a shorter lifespan, living a life overflowing with stress and anxiety is far less enjoyable than it could be.

So, what could you do to balance your stress and anxiety? From exercise to seeking professional help, there are different methods you can try – and it’s well worth trying until you find one that sticks.

Don’t let friendships fall by the wayside

We humans are social creatures, and after the past couple of years, we’re all much more aware of how draining it can be not to socialise.

The good news is that maintaining friendships and keeping an active social circle may even help with longevity. A variety of studies have looked into how social support might improve health and wellbeing, and have repeatedly found that friendships and socialisation may have a positive impact.

Dr Claudia Kawas in her interview on Radio New Zealand also talked about the benefits of socialising and participating in activities, saying that it’s crucial.

“It uses a lot of parts of your brain; it moves it along. I think it makes all kinds of connections and changes all kinds of hormones and I think at the end of the day on average it is a very important part of brain and body health,” she said.

So, if it feels like your friends keep you young – perhaps they really do!

No matter where you’re at in life, there’s never been a better time to consider life insurance which can help to protect your family’s finances into the future. Perhaps even reducing their stress levels, too.

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