Do you wonder why we celebrate birthdays year after year, when no one wants to grow old? The fact is there is happiness associated with these milestones. Just check your local greeting card store to verify this fact. There are special cards for 40th birthdays, 50th birthdays, 60th birthdays, and well beyond. That means people don’t mind getting older, they just mind growing old. Is it possible to do one without the other? The answer is an overwhelming “Yes!”
Aging without illness
There are changes that take place to the human body over a person’s lifetime that are normal and not usually harmful. Some are related to our appearance, such as graying hair, sagging skin and decreased stature. Other signs of aging affect our everyday activities, including diminished hearing and sight, or changes in our metabolism, which make it necessary to eat less and exercise more. The bodily functions that decline with age are the most challenging. Decreased blood flow in our brain can make remembering things difficult; the weakening of our heart and lungs can limit our energy and endurance; the reduced functionality of our digestive system, kidneys and urinary track may lead us to the bathroom more often than we’d like.
But before you despair about these unpleasant attributes of advancing age, remember they usually happen gradually, allowing plenty of time for adjustment. Chances are you will continue to welcome each birthday with as much fanfare as it brings. That is unless illness interferes with your aging. Here’s what that means:
How poor health hijacks the aging process
When we are very young children, our chronological age and biological age are much the same. At age five, for example, little has happened to our bodies to make us markedly different from our counterparts. As we get older, however, we become physically less like others our age. This is because we have many life experiences behind us. By middle and old age decades of dietary and lifestyle choices are clearly evidenced by the state of our health. It is now recognized that many changes previously associated with advancing age are actually related to illness rather than normal aging.
Body systems can be profoundly damaged by poor lifestyle behaviors, such as cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity and poor nutritional intake. By the time we reach our 50s, these life choices are often present for all to see in the condition of our skin, teeth and weight. It is also more likely that a person who made these choices would be suffering from a variety of illnesses by mid-life.
External factors affect our health, as well, including where we live and work, how much money we earn, how well we deal with stress, and how much exposure we have to infectious diseases and pollutants. Therefore, although we have no control over getting older, we can prevent poor health from hijacking our senior years. The question is: are we willing to do what it takes?
Six tips to staying healthy
Before you study the tips below, remember it is never too late to incorporate these life style choices into your life. The human body is very resilient and it responds positively when we treat it well! People with existing health problems should always consult a doctor before engaging in exercise or making other radical behavior changes. However, these SIX suggestions are good advice that anyone should be able follow.
1. Eat to live
While there’s no denying that eating is a pleasurable experience, we should never forget that we are eating to maintain our bodily functions. Therefore, there are foods we absolutely must eat and foods we should avoid at all costs.
Topping the list of “must-eats” are foods that are high in antioxidants, like fruits and vegetables. These protect us from the oxidative damage that takes place in our cells from our body’s normal metabolic processes, as well as from environmental pollutants. Fish is another beneficial food, as research suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may actually reduce the risk of developing heart disease and some types of cancer. Whole grains are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and soluble fiber for digestive health. Additionally, if you don’t already do so, start drinking tea. It is full of antioxidants and other cancer-fighting compounds.
A few healthy foods are a little more surprising. Nuts are the perfect snack food, as they are filled with vitamins and minerals. Also, healthy fats, like olive oil, have innumerable benefits, including lowering your bad cholesterol, raising your good cholesterol and protecting your heart. And be sure to enjoy an occasional glass of red wine to decrease your risk of heart disease and other vascular problems.
These suggestions probably seem rather easy, but that’s about to change. We now turn to the foods we should NOT eat and the real challenge begins.
Sugar and other refined carbohydrates, which refer to everything we like most, from white bread and pastries to candy and soda, are harmful in many ways. These foods are derived from a process that removes all of their nutrients, so they contain no fiber, minerals, proteins, fats, or enzymes. When we choose to fill our diet with processed carbohydrates over more nutritious foods, we are likely depriving ourselves of essential vitamins and minerals. Additionally, in order for sugar to be metabolized in the body, it must draw on the nutrients from healthy cells. Thus, the body is even further depleted of the materials it needs to maintain proper function. Refined sugar also disturbs the balance of normal insulin production, which weakens the immune system and contributes to the gradual onset of chronic illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease. Avoiding carbohydrates can be extremely difficult, but it is so beneficial!
Another food that should be avoided is processed meats, like salami, hot dogs, pepperoni, bologna, and bacon, as they contain high amounts of nitrates. This is the chemical that is used to preserve the color of the meat and inhibit the growth of bacteria. It has been found to cause cancer in animals when consumed in large quantities.
Finally, one of the worst foods of all is hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fats. These are oils that have been chemically changed by forcing hydrogen gas into the oil at high pressure. Trans fats are so transformed from the oil’s original state they are just one molecule away from being classified as plastic. Nevertheless, the food industry uses this type of oil in many products, from fast food to chips to baked goods, because it prolongs the shelf life of these foods and is cheaper than natural oils. The body finds it extremely difficult to process hydrogenated oil. It thickens our blood, which makes our heart and other organs work much harder. It is also extremely difficult to digest, because the very same components that keep the food from spoiling cause tremendous cell damage when our bodies attempt to break them down. Illnesses associated with hydrogenated oils include heart disease, obesity, cancer, clogged arteries, high cholesterol, diabetes, ADHD, learning disabilities, childhood asthma, birth defects, low birth weight, and more.
2. Just say “No”
There’s a reason we are taught the dangers of drugs and alcohol from the time we are very young. When these products are misused, they can cause a myriad of very serious conditions, from liver damage to psychiatric disorders. The diseases linked to smoking range from minor complaints such as coughs and colds to some of the most dreadful diseases a person can face, including cancer, heart disease, cardiovascular diseases, lung disease, respiratory problems and more. People who smoke should make every effort to quit, including asking for help when necessary. These behaviors are the surest path to shortening your life.
3. Keep moving
Exercise is an essential component of good health. Aerobic exercise raises the heart rate, improves the oxygen system and strengthens the cardiovascular system. Strength training builds strong, toned muscles and is one of the most effective ways to remain younger longer. And, if formal exercise seems daunting, remember little steps go a long way, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further back in a parking lot, and spending more time on your feet rather than sitting in front of the TV or computer. Be sure to exercise your brain as well. Challenging yourself to learn new things is a great way to improve your mental ability in later years.
4. Get a good night sleep
Sleep is the way we replenish our bodies and it should be on the top of your list for staying healthy. Doctors recommend at least seven hours a night, plus a short nap during the day is a great refresher, too.
5. Stay positive
Scientific studies have now confirmed that stress does not just cause emotional discomfort, but also actual physical damage. Therefore, staying positive is a very important factor in maintaining our health. Seeing the glass “half full” rather than “half empty” may be a cliché, but it accurately describes a positive mental attitude. A great way to stay positive is to surround yourself with other positive people. Also, try practicing some stress relieving activities, such as meditation or exercise. You’ll find that these measures really do make a difference.
6. Baby your skin
Caring for your skin is more than a matter of vanity; it helps to promote good health. Using moisturizers daily, for example, helps keep your skin healthy and hydrated. Sunscreen is an absolute must for protecting yourself against cancer-causing UV radiation.
Enjoying a longer, healthier life
The end result of all these measures is a longer and healthier life. It means that you may not only live to celebrate many more birthdays, but you will be healthier and happier at each occasion. There is a scientific hypothesis for this accomplishment: it is called Compression of Morbidity. Morbidity refers to the presence of illness and compression is the concept of the shortest period of time possible. In other words, getting older need not be characterized by a long period of prolonged illness, which eventually ends in death. Instead, we can remain healthy and active long into our lives.
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