Once I hit 50 I started to think about aging a lot more.
What kind of life do I want to be living when I’m 75? When I’m 85? Will I live to be 95?
There is a lot of research around this. The field of “longevity” is very popular right now.
There are two angles to this…some research looks at “mortality” and others look at quality of life and incidence of disease.
I think both are important.
There are a few things that have become quite clear overall from research. One is that consistent, moderate physical activity is good for anti-aging and living a longer life. (1)
Regular physical activity appears to reduce the overall mortality rate by more than a quarter and to increase the life expectancy by more than two years compared with the sedentary population’s average.— DR. J. MICHAEL MCGINNIS OF THE OFFICE OF DISEASE PREVENTION AND HEALTH PROMOTION (U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES)
Another is that sleep is very important for quality of life (in particular relating to dementia) and poor sleep habits can contribute to disease and early mortality. (2,3)
And we know that social interaction is key to living a longer, healthier, happier life. (4)
The research around nutrition is a lot more convoluted. But we do know some things.
Protein absorption declines as we age (we absorb and assimilate less protein from the food we eat). (5)
Protein is important for maintaining muscle, skin, and bone health (and pretty much everything else). So, it makes sense that we have to pay attention to protein intake.
As we age, muscle mass is a better predictor of mortality than body fat percentage. I will repeat that.
As we age, muscle mass is a better predictor of mortality than body fat percentage.
We have learned that muscle is protective and body fat matters less and less the older we get (except for those people with extreme highs and lows of body fat). (6,7)
People who eat more polyphenol-rich food seem to be protected from many of the diseases associated with aging (8) and have an easier time maintaining their weight. (9) And polyphenol-rich foods help protect lean muscle mass as we age. (10)
So, what are the takeaways?
If you want to experience “dynamic aging”, which means aging feeling strong, active, and happy, I recommend doing the following things:
- Be active every day, aiming for at least 30 minutes of concentrated movement daily
- Do strength training 3 times per week
- Eat enough protein for your body size
- Eat polyphenol-rich foods at every meal
- Give yourself at least 7-9 hours of sleep opportunity each night
- Be kind to yourself as often as possible
- Understand your needs for social interaction
Some notes about the above list:
- There is a “sweet spot” with exercise. Exercising too much or too little are both bad. You don’t have to go crazy with working out. Even just 30 minutes of walking, 5 days a week can make a world of difference to your health and your aging process. You could also do gardening, take a swim, ride a bike, or play with your dog. All of that stuff is really good for you!
- Strength training is essential for slowing down the inevitable gradual but persistent loss of muscle we all experience as we age. Do not skip the strength training! And be gentle to yourself in the process. You can slowly build up your strength. Injuries can put a screeching halt to progress so be careful and ideally work with a fitness professional.
- The goal for protein is .6 to .8 grams of protein per pound of your target body weight. If you weigh 200 pounds but you feel your best at 170, then use that as your target. In that case, you would multiply 170 x .6 for your minimum amount of protein. That comes to 102 grams of total protein from all sources per day! The more strength training you do, the higher your protein needs will be. So if you are consistently training 3-4 times/week then increase the amount to .8 grams of protein per pound of your target body weight.
- All plant-based foods contain polyphenols (which are magical plant nutrients that have all kinds of benefits). Some contain more than others. Some of the big wigs include coffee, matcha green tea, extra virgin olive oil, red onions, strawberries, capers, parsley, celery, radicchio, garlic, and turmeric. There are many more!
- There is also a sweet spot when it comes to sleep. The goal is 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Once you go below 6 and above 10 you are almost guaranteeing long-term trouble. Poor sleep is a contributing factor to many chronic diseases. The most notable is dementia! So good sleep is crucial for healthy aging! And remember that just because you are in bed, it doesn’t mean you are sleeping. Those numbers are for actual sleep. If you take a long time to fall asleep or wake up a lot, you are getting less. I recommend giving yourself 8-9 hours of “sleep opportunity” each night for optimal sleep amounts.
- I hope I don’t have to convince you to be kind to yourself. But I probably do. We beat ourselves up in so many, many ways. And it’s quite insidious. Even just trying to be healthy and live your best life can be a subtle form of not being kind to yourself (pushing yourself too hard to eat a perfect diet for example). Here is a podcast episode about this that I think is particularly important to listen to.
- Loneliness kills us. We need social interaction and that can range from a short chat with a neighbor or the check-out clerk at the grocery store to long deep conversations or hugs from loved ones. We need some of all of that!
- In order to promote optimal wellness and dynamic aging, we need social interaction and if we don’t get it and we feel lonely, it can increase our risk for depression (11), metabolic syndrome (12), mortality (13), high blood pressure (14), dementia (15), pain, and fatigue (16).
So, there you have it!
The basics of aging healthfully, gracefully, and with pleasure!
If you feel you need some assistance with this, please check out our “Dynamic Aging” program by clicking below.
- Yin J, Jin X, Shan Z, Li S, Huang H, Li P, Peng X, Peng Z, Yu K, Bao W, Yang W, Chen X, Liu L. Relationship of Sleep Duration With All-Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Events: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017 Sep 9;6(9):e005947. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.117.005947. PMID: 28889101; PMCID: PMC5634263.
- OʼSúilleabháin PS, Gallagher S, Steptoe A. Loneliness, Living Alone, and All-Cause Mortality: The Role of Emotional and Social Loneliness in the Elderly During 19 Years of Follow-Up. Psychosom Med. 2019 Jul/Aug;81(6):521-526. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000710. PMID: 31094903; PMCID: PMC6615929.
- Gorissen SHM, Trommelen J, Kouw IWK, Holwerda AM, Pennings B, Groen BBL, Wall BT, Churchward-Venne TA, Horstman AMH, Koopman R, Burd NA, Fuchs CJ, Dirks ML, Res PT, Senden JMG, Steijns JMJM, de Groot LCPGM, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJC. Protein Type, Protein Dose, and Age Modulate Dietary Protein Digestion and Phenylalanine Absorption Kinetics and Plasma Phenylalanine Availability in Humans. J Nutr. 2020 Aug 1;150(8):2041-2050. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa024. PMID: 32069356; PMCID: PMC7398787.
- Han, S.S., Kim, K.W., Kim, K.-I., Na, K.Y., Chae, D.-W., Kim, S. and Chin, H.J. (2010), Lean Mass Index: A Better Predictor of Mortality than Body Mass Index in Elderly Asians. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 58: 312-317.
- Liu, M., Zhang, Z., Zhou, C., Ye, Z., He, P., Zhang, Y., Li, H., Liu, C., and Qin, X. (2022) Predicted fat mass and lean mass in relation to all-cause and cause-specific mortality, Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, 13, 1064– 1075
- Fraga CG , Croft KD , Kennedy DO , Tomás-Barberán FA . The effects of polyphenols and other bioactives on human health. Food Funct. 2019 Feb 20;10(2):514-528. doi: 10.1039/c8fo01997e. PMID: 30746536.
- 1, Rimm EB2, Mukamal KJ3, Hu FB2, Willett WC2, Cassidy A4. Dietary flavonoid intake and weight maintenance: three prospective cohorts of 124,086 US men and women followed for up to 24 years. BMJ. 2016 Jan 28;352:i17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4730111/
- Adam P Sharples,1 David C Hughes,1,2 Colleen S Deane,3,4 Amarjit Saini,5 Colin Selman,6 and Claire E Stewart1. Longevity and skeletal muscle mass: the role of IGF signalling, the sirtuins, dietary restriction and protein intake. Aging Cell. 2015 Aug; 14(4): 511–523.
- Golden J, Conroy RM, Bruce I, Denihan A, Greene E, Kirby M, Lawlor BA. Loneliness, social support networks, mood and wellbeing in community-dwelling elderly. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2009 Jul;24(7):694-700. doi: 10.1002/gps.2181. PMID: 19274642.
- Whisman MA. Loneliness and the metabolic syndrome in a population-based sample of middle-aged and older adults. Health Psychol. 2010 Sep;29(5):550-4. doi: 10.1037/a0020760. PMID: 20836610.
- Steptoe A, Shankar A, Demakakos P, Wardle J. Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality in older men and women. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Apr 9;110(15):5797-801. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1219686110. Epub 2013 Mar 25. PMID: 23530191; PMCID: PMC3625264.
- Hawkley LC, Thisted RA, Masi CM, Cacioppo JT. Loneliness predicts increased blood pressure: 5-year cross-lagged analyses in middle-aged and older adults. Psychol Aging. 2010 Mar;25(1):132-41. doi: 10.1037/a0017805. PMID: 20230134; PMCID: PMC2841310.
- Holwerda TJ, Deeg DJ, Beekman AT, van Tilburg TG, Stek ML, Jonker C, Schoevers RA. Feelings of loneliness, but not social isolation, predict dementia onset: results from the Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (AMSTEL). J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2014 Feb;85(2):135-42. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2012-302755. Epub 2012 Dec 10. PMID: 23232034.
- Jaremka LM, Andridge RR, Fagundes CP, Alfano CM, Povoski SP, Lipari AM, Agnese DM, Arnold MW, Farrar WB, Yee LD, Carson WE 3rd, Bekaii-Saab T, Martin EW Jr, Schmidt CR, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Pain, depression, and fatigue: loneliness as a longitudinal risk factor. Health Psychol. 2014 Sep;33(9):948-57. doi: 10.1037/a0034012. Epub 2013 Aug 19. PMID: 23957903; PMCID: PMC3992976.