“The next century will be dominated by the concerns of the elderly” affirms Ken Minaker, MD., Chief of Geriatric Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. By the year 2050, our average life expectancy is projected to be 82.6 years (up from today’s average life expectancy of 72.1 years for men and 78.8 years for women.) The census bureau predicts that 3 million baby boomers will live to be 100 years old or more!
Statistically speaking, we are going to live longer than our grandparents did, but the key factor in is that those who are in good health will be able to enjoy those extra years. Here are a few suggestions on how to improve health and live longer.
1. EXERCISE YOUR BRAIN
Mental activity produces lasting changes in the brain – it creates more synapses or connections, which can help make the brain more resilient to stress. Activities such as crossword puzzles, bridge, chess and other card games can help to sharpen mental acuity.
2. EXERCISE YOUR BODY
Aerobic activity. A study of 19,000 participants showed that death rates fell in direct proportion to the number of calories that the participants burned each week. Aerobic physical fitness can be as easy as walking for 30 minutes, 4 times per week. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking, dancing, and gentle aerobics help to strengthen bones and to improve cardiovascular fitness.
Stretching. Stretching helps to maintain limber joints and muscles. One relatively easy way to improve balance, flexibility, and muscle strength is T’ai Chi. T’ai Chi helps to improve strength, muscle tone, range of motion, flexibility, balance and coordination. In clinical trials, it has been shown to help reduce blood pressure and heart rate. T’ai Chi is for people of all ages and introductory classes are usually offered at community and recreation centres.
Muscle Strength. Your local gym is not just a place for body builders. A study done by Dr. Maria Fiatarone asked 10 chronically ill nursing home residents to lift weights 3 times a week over a 2-month period. The results were surprising: the participants’ average walking speed nearly tripled and their balance improved by half. A weight lifting regime does not have to be complicated. A qualified weight lifting instructor could design a fitness regime to suit people of any age or activity level.
3. VISIT YOUR LOCAL CHIROPRACTOR
Chiropractic adjustments help to keep the spine flexible and the nervous system functioning at its highest potential. When vertebrae become fixed, they can put pressure on the nerves as they exit from the spine. Chiropractic adjustments help to relieve that pressure, which improves the communication between the brain and the body. With a better functioning nervous system, and a movable spine, chiropractic patients enjoy more vitality and energy. Adjustments are safe, and they feel great!
4. MAKE YOUR CALORIES COUNT
As we get older, our appetites tend to decrease. A diet based on low fat and high quality foods can help to reverse the effects of aging and to reduce high blood pressure. Try to include many fresh vegetables and fruits in your diet. Avoid processed and packaged foods as they contain more fat, more salt and less potassium than our bodies need.
One of the best ways to improve your energy level is to eat hemp hearts in the morning. Hemp hearts are shelled hemp seeds and they contain all of the essential protein and essential fats (the good kind!) that you need in a day. People who eat them with breakfast notice that they have much more energy and that they feel fabulous!
5. DRINK MORE WATER
It is important to drink eight glasses of water each day. This goal can be difficult for seniors to achieve because as we age, our thirst centres become slower to respond to the needs of the body. Seniors might not feel the urge to drink, even if their body is dehydrated. To remedy this, add an extra glass of water to your day, and SLOWLY (over a period of weeks) work up to at least three extra glasses of water per day.
If drinking water is difficult for you, try using a straw to reduce any gas or bloating that you might experience. You might try adding fresh lemon pieces to your water to improve the taste.
6. TAKE ANTIOXIDANTS
Jan Vijg is currently studying the affects of oxygen toxicity and aging. The oxygen that we breathe is a highly reactive element that can bond to almost anything. We can see the effects of oxidation in rusty metal parts, and just like with rusty metal, oxygen can have a detrimental effect inside our bodies. Oxygen toxicity can deactivate enzymes, change body proteins and compromise our DNA. Oxidative damage may be one of the major causes of the aging process, and it might cause cells to mutate, which can lead to cancer.
A study of Italian centenarians (people who are 100 years old or more) showed that they had elevated blood levels of antioxidants. An easy way to lower the risk of major diseases is to take a modest supplementation of antioxidants such as: vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, selenium and grape seed extract. Be sure to consult a medical doctor or a chiropractor about what dosage is right for you.
7. DRINK GREEN TEA INSTEAD OF BLACK TEA
There are compounds in Japanese or Chinese Green Tea that help to fight cancer and to strengthen the immune system. It can be found in health food or grocery stores.
8. MAINTAIN A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
The way that we adapt to the stresses in our lives can determine how long we live. People who manage their life stresses usually have a better functioning immune system, and are better able to cope in today’s society. One way to help to relieve stress is to surround yourself with family and friends. A study of elderly heart attack patients found that people who had 2 or more close friends had twice the one-year survival rate of those who were alone.
Indeed, a person’s collection of friends and family is as important as mental and physical fitness. A study by Lisa Berkman showed that people who have no close ties to family or friends are 3 times more likely to die over a nine-year period than people who have at least 1 source of social support. To increase your sense of well-being, call your friends and family, get out for a coffee and a chat, volunteer, or take a class at your local recreation centre.
9. GIVE BLOOD REGULARLY
By giving blood, we reduce the number of red blood cells in our bodies, and a reduction of the amount of iron in the body can reduce the amount of oxygen toxicity in the blood.4 Red blood cells contain iron, which carry oxygen to our cells and tissues. The problem is that we are not able to eliminate excess iron in our bodies. Pre-menopausal women do not have this problem because of their menstrual cycles. Men and post-menopausal women can retain too much iron in their bodies. By donating blood, the body is able to rid itself of excess iron and to make new and fresh red blood cells.
These nine suggestions are a way for anyone to maximize their health and longevity. By taking good care of our bodies, we all have a much greater chance of living a long and healthy life.
Dr. Melanie Beingessner is a chiropractor, a breastfeeding counsellor, a certified infant massage instructor and the mother of three fabulous kids. She is the author of The Calm Baby Cookbook, written to help breastfeeding moms calm their fussy babies by changing their diets.
Dr. Melanie’s website provides information about pregnancy, breastfeeding, ADD/ADHD, chiropractic, health and wellness at drmelaniebee.org