Science may be on the cusp of revealing the elixir of life – here’s what the experts are saying about how not to only live longer, but have a better quality of life.
According to a 2012 estimates, the United Nations declared there are nearly 316,600 centenarians living around the world. In Australia alone, there are predicted to be 78,000 centurions by 2055, up from 3000 in 2009 reports the Reader’s Digest. But now that we are living longer than any other time in history, many of us now are turning our attention to how to get the most out of that century.
For the last fifty years, science has slowly unravelling the secrets of centurions – and here are the latest findings to help you on your way to living longer.
Good sleep is crucial
It wasn’t that long ago over achievers proudly boasted they could fire on all cylinders on only 4 hours sleep. But knowing what we know now, those sleep elite may be heading back to bed. New research suggests we may have been underestimating just how important shuteye is to our overall health. Chronic sleep loss may speed the onset or increase the severity of age-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and memory loss, while a study commissioned by Estee Lauder showed that poor sleepers had increased signs of skin aging and slower recovery from environmental stressors. And according to Dr Stephen G Jones, Director of Outpatient Medicine and Center for Healthy Aging at Greenwhich Hospital, sleep helps embed in our brain the things we learn during the day and is crucial for a healthy memory as we age.
And it’s not just how much sleep, but how we sleep. Sleeping on our side helps improve waste clearance from the brain that could prevent Alzheimer's and neurodegenerative diseases, according to a new study by The Stony Brook, reports Yahoo Health.
Have a strong social circle
Stress can lead to all sorts of health problems and accelerate aging - this isn’t news. While relaxation techniques and exercise are two of the biggest solutions put forward to combat stress, scientists are now discovering how important an active social circle is as part of this mix.
“When you are suffering chronic stress you produce more of a stress hormone called cortisol,” explains Dr Anna Phillips of the University of Birmingham to The Guardian. “This in turn goes on to dampen down various parts of your immune system which are involved in fighting off infection and producing antibodies. These immune cells are really profoundly affected by your stress hormones. So people who have better social support and less stress in their lives seem to have healthier immune systems.”
“In older adults we've shown that if you have a severe life stressor, such as bereavement, it can reduce your response to vaccination. This means you're not going to be able to fight off flu as well, or pneumonia, which are two of the biggest killers of older people.
If you are experiencing bereavement or another serious stress, “make sure you've got lots of friends at hand so you're not the only person dealing with it,” advises Emma. “So for some people that's volunteer work, or going to a social or church group – meeting up with people with similar interests while you are still active and healthy and not too stressed, so you've got these resources later in your life when you're more likely to need them.”
We’re not designed to sit!
Heard the saying that sitting is the new smoking? Modern life entails sitting for as much as half the day (and that’s not counting sleeping) and scientists have now made a link to sedentary behaviour to all sorts of alarming ailments. A recent review of 43 studies analysing daily activity and cancer rates found that people who reported sitting for more hours of the day had a 24% greater risk of developing colon cancer, a 32% higher risk of endometrial cancer and a 21% higher risk of lung cancer—regardless of how much they exercised, reports Time.com . If you can’t avoid sitting for your job, experts advise getting up from your desk and going for a walk – even if it’s around the office every hour.
Make exercise part of your life
If you think exercise is just about keep your weight down, think again - scientists are discovering that the benefits go far beyond that, especially as we age. Janet Lord a professor of immune cell biology at the University of Birmingham and director of the MRC ARUK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research has discovered how cardio-vascular exercise such as running, swimming and brisk walking is good for immune function as well, reports The Guardian. The study found that neutrophils – or immune cells that help fight bacterial infections - don’t work as well in older adults who don’t take exercise. Exercise can also help lower raised cortisol levels - which can be responsible for raised blood pressure, increased muscle and bone loss and distribution of fat around the abdomen.
Don’t eat so much
Could fasting be the key to a sharp mind into our golden years? According to Dr Sandrine Thuret from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London – who herself only eats every other day – that answer might be yes. She told The Gaurdian that we may be able to prevent cognitive decline through restricting calories with research showing that in people over 70, intermittent fasting led to a 30% improvement in verbal memory after three months. “Intermittent fasting” — on consecutive or alternate days — is also shown to be helpful in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, for weight control and for protection against disease, including dementia diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Follow an anti-inflammatory diet
And of course, it’s not just about how much we eat (or don’t eat). What we eat has a huge impact into the health of our brain - and therefore the quality of life - as we reach old age. Researchers at Newcastle University say they have discovered how an individual may live beyond 100 years and even pass it down to their offspring – and it’s all to do with inflammation.
“It has long been known that chronic inflammation is associated with the aging process in younger, more ‘normal’ populations, but it’s only very recently we could mechanistically prove that inflammation actually causes accelerated aging in mice,” study co-author Professor Thomas von Zglinicki, from Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing told Forbes.com.
“This study, showing for the first time that inflammation levels predict successful aging even in the extreme old, makes a strong case to assume that chronic inflammation drives human aging too.”
Clinical data suggests that cellular inflammation can be rapidly reduced with a diet that maintains a balance of low-fat protein, low-glycemic carbohydrates (i.e. fruits and vegetables), and moderate amounts of fat that are low in both omega-6 and saturated fats at every meal.
Exercise your brain
Science still has a long way to go before it discovers how to stop the aging process all together, but it may be that prevention is better than a cure when it comes to preventing degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia.
Neuroscientists have found that actively engaging the brain in learning and education throughout life can have a significant impact on how the brain ages. Pamela Greenwood, cognitive neuroscientist and co-author of the book Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind explains, “Cognitive training appears to change the brain structure and physiology, and neurogenesis may play a role in the benefits of new learning.”
Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Whether you pursue a hobby or learn a new skill, read, join a book group, play chess or bridge, write your life story, study music or art, just make life long learning a priority.
Now put it all together.
Another fact that researchers and scientists keep pointing back to, is that despite dozens of studies on centenarians, there doesn’t seem to be a typical life pattern or history shared by these long-lived people. Still, researchers say that they have found some similarities.
Dr. Luca Giliberto, an investigator physician at the Litwin-Zucker Research Center for the Study of Alzheimer's Disease at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y. told Health Day it’s all about an overall healthy lifestyle.
"One would assume that a diet rich in natural vitamins, low in saturated fats and rich in omega-3 fats, low in refined sugars and rich in high-quality proteins would do the trick," Giliberto said. "In reality, it is probably the balance of all these aspects and the attached quality of life, physical and mental activity, and personal satisfaction that complete the recipe for good cognition."
"It is never too late to start prevention, especially when it comes to food and physical activity," Giliberto said. "The two often go hand in hand.
"Our recommendation for people who aspire to centernarianism is to refrain from smoking, maintain healthy cholesterol levels and confine themselves to four cups of coffee a day,” Dr Lars Wilhelmsen, of the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, who has been involved in a landmark study of centurions for the past 50 years, told The Telegraph.
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