With the American popular media focus on youth and beauty, growing older is something nobody wants to face. It may beat the alternative, but who looks forward to achy joints, age spots, and wrinkles?

We’re all susceptible to the message that getting older means being washed up and less desirable. It’s no surprise then, that products that claim to have “anti-aging” effects are so popular.

Who wouldn’t want to turn back the clock? If there were a quick, easy, non-invasive, painless way to not only look and feel younger, but to actually be younger wouldn’t you sign up?

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or fountain of youth that truly is anti-aging. In reality, none of us can “anti-age”. It’s just not physically possible. But there is some good news in all this. We may not be able to turn the clock back, but we can slow it down! Even better, we can give our body the tools necessary to age well.

Most of us simply believe that heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke are par for the course. You get old and you get sick. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little work, you can greatly increase the chances of taking your aging body into your 70s, 80s, and even 90s while remaining healthy and disease free.

Nutritional and Lifestyle Tools for Aging Well

Now that we’ve come to terms with the fact that no single pill or potion is going to live up to the “anti-aging” hype, we can stop wasting time and energy on ineffective approaches to wellbeing with age. Instead, we can focus on giving ourselves the true gift of health. And it is a gift!

Rule #1: Maintain a healthy body weight

The best way for most people to determine a healthy body weight range is to look at their body mass index (BMI). BMI is a way of looking at body weight, adjusted for height. This makes sense, because a taller person should weigh more than a shorter person.

Gender also plays as role in determining BMI, with men having slightly higher BMIs, on average, for a given height. In general, muscle mass and denser bones, both of which men have in more abundance than women, will increase BMI.

To calculate your BMI, you can use an online mass index calculator. Try the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute for an easy-to-use version of the BMI calculator. Once you know your BMI, you can determine if you fall into a healthy weight range for your height and gender.

The standards for body mass index (BMI), in kilograms per meter squared (kg/m2) are:

For Men

If your BMI is less than 20, you are underweight

If your BMI falls between 20 and 24.9, you are at a healthy body weight

If your BMI falls between 25 and 30, you are overweight

If your BMI is more than 30, you are obese

For Women

If your BMI is less than 19, you are underweight

If your BMI falls between 19 and 24.9, you are at a healthy body weight

If your BMI falls between 25 and 30, you are overweight

If your BMI is more than 30, you are obese

Unfortunately, fully two-thirds of American adults fall into the overweight or obese range. Nothing will age your body and your brain faster than carrying around a lot of excess body fat.

Rule #2: Maintain a healthy body shape

In addition to BMI, consider your body shape or how you carry any extra weight. There are two general body shapes -- the “apple” and the “pear.” Apples are literally, “apple-shaped”. They carry excess body weight in their chest and abdomen. They “look” heavier on top. Pears tend to be “pear-shaped”. These folks carry excess body weight in their butt and thighs, and look heavier on the bottom.

Body shape matters because fat carried in the upper body is worse for health than fat carried in the lower body. Dozens of studies tell us that having an apple-shaped body increases the risk of many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and several types of cancer.

Another quick and easy way to determine if your body shape is aging you more quickly than it should is waist circumference. For men, if the widest part of the waist is more than 40 inches, you have a higher than average risk of all of the “diseases of aging”. This includes heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and just about anything else we hope to avoid as we age. For women, waist measurement should not exceed 35 inches in order to ensure good health.

Rule #3: Move it, even if you don’t lose it

Let’s face facts. If losing weight were easy, more than two-thirds of American adults wouldn’t be overweight or obese. Losing weight, and keeping it off, is hard work. And it’s nearly impossible without regular exercise.

Even beyond the healthy-weight benefits, exercise is vital to aging well. Even if you don’t lose a single pound, exercise alone will improve your health. This is important stuff. It means that even if you’re mightily frustrated that your exercise plan hasn’t shed any pounds, you should stick with it!

Exercise balances hormones, improves bone density, maintains muscle mass as we age, keeps joints healthy, and so much more. The bottom line is that we need to let go of the focus on “vanity”. Rather than having a goal of fitting into a certain pair of pants or getting ready for that class reunion, we all would do better to focus on the plain old health benefits, including healthy aging, of regular physical activity.

Rule #4: Limit the White Stuff

Sugar and white flour do nothing to promote healthy aging. Why then, would we only want to “limit” these items rather than just avoid them altogether? Because I’m a realist. I don’t buy into the scare tactics that “white sugar and white flour are poisons.” These foods are not poisons. Your body can process them just as it can process other foods.

The downside of too much sugar and white flour has more to do with what you aren’t eating when you eat too much of the white stuff. When it comes to healthful aging, what is not in your diet is at least as important as what is in your diet.

For decades, medical science and the research community have focused extensively on what we eat that may cause disease. The latest research supports a much more positive approach to healthy diet. Rather than the myriad of things we “can’t have” that may cause disease as we age, we should focus on what is missing from our diet that helps slow down aging. What are the things that protect our cells from damage and wear and tear?

Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, try to get excited about the amazing things you can add into your diet to improve your chances of aging well. Any type of minimally processed plant food – vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, and seeds – is just about guaranteed to improve your odds of aging well. These are the very foods that stave off the damage that can lead to heart disease, cancer, and more.

So don’t sweat the small stuff. An occasional piece of crusty French bread or the odd slice of cake won’t “poison” your body. But too much of these “white foods” will crowd out the good stuff. And it’s that good stuff that will help you slow down that clock!

Author's Bio: 

[Ed. Note: Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, is an internationally recognized expert in nutrition, chronic disease, cancer, and health and wellness as well as the Executive Editor of Nutrition Intelligence Report, a free natural health and nutrition newsletter. For more information or to sign up for a free subscription, visit http://www.appleboost.com/.]