While none of us can stop the aging process, a variety of foods and lifestyle habits may help maintain physical and mental health well into our golden years. Many of the dietary guidelines are the same no matter how old we are. All age groups benefit from eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. However, some foods appear to slow aging.
Inflammation is present with health conditions such as joint pain, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, obesity, stroke, cancer and autoimmune diseases (asthma, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.). In fact, chronic (long-term) inflammation is present in nearly every modern disease.
Choosing foods that help lower inflammation in the body can extend longevity and alleviate symptoms. Here are some options:
- Cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli (especially broccoli sprouts) Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and bok choy
- Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring
- Tart cherries
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Bell and chili peppers
- Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
- Green tea.
The Mediterranean style of eating is tasty, realistic and sustainable and reduces inflammation. Highlights include eating
- Mostly plant-based foods such as legumes, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains
- Wild-caught fish and seafood twice a week
- Herbs and spices
- Olive oil
- Plenty of water and some coffee and tea
- High-quality pasture-raised poultry
- Dairy including eggs, cheese, goat milk and probiotic-rich kefir or yogurt in moderation
- Red meat limited to once a week.
Mushrooms do more than combat inflammation. They also contain extremely high levels of two potent antioxidants, Ergo and glutathione. These antioxidants protect cells from damage and stress and purge the body of toxins and carcinogens. Adequate levels help ward off many age-related diseases. White button, cremini, shiitake, maitake, gray oyster, yellow oyster and porcini contain these potent antioxidants. They are listed in order with white button containing the least amount of Ergo and glutathione and porcini containing the most. Adding even five mushrooms to your diet each day can have positive effects on your health.
Pomegranates contain a compound that may help skin look more youthful by preventing the degradation of collagen in cells. High collagen levels result in soft, smooth, firm yet elastic skin. Pomegranates may also boost Urolithin A levels in the blood. This compound is important for improving overall cellular health. Eat pomegranate arils or sip some juice a few times a week.
Strawberries contain a plant compound called fisetin, which acts as an antioxidant, reduces inflammation and kills senescent cells. Senescent cells have lost their ability to divide but do not die, leading them to accumulate and inflame surrounding cells. This is characteristic of aging. Try to eat a half cup of strawberries daily or several times per week.
Spinach contains high amounts of folate, an essential B vitamin found in food. It helps with the production of new, healthy DNA. DNA damage contributes to aging. While folate is often added to food and vitamins in its synthetic form, folic acid, natural forms are best. Other high folate foods include broccoli, artichoke, asparagus, most legumes, and liver. Because folate cannot be stored in the body, it needs to be replenished daily.
Benefits of exercise
Regular exercise increases blood flow to the brain. This helps reverse the cell deterioration of aging, reduce loss of synapses in the brain and inflammatory markers, and other factors that help prevent Alzheimer’s. Strength training to maintain muscle mass is important since many of life’s daily activities require basic muscular strength.
In addition to the recommended foods on the Mediterranean diet, the following lifestyle tips from people in that region also add to your longevity:
- Enjoy meals with family and friends
- Get plenty of exercise
- Consume red wine in moderation (optional, depending on health history).
Quality sleep is important at every age. Seven to eight hours is ideal. This lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke, reduces stress and depression, lowers the risk of obesity, improves focus and concentration and reduces inflammation.
Do things that make you happy. Pursue new hobbies, volunteer with an organization that is meaningful and stay active. See your dentist regularly, because poor oral health may lead to gum disease that can lead to other health conditions. And, of course, have regular medical checkups along with necessary screenings.
Carol Slager is a licensed pharmacist, author, blogger and health coach in Northwest Indiana. Follow her monthly in Get Healthy and at inkwellcoaching.com. Opinions expressed are the writer's.