Staying Healthy As You Age

staying healthy, Mediterranean diet

Recently I was asked to give a talk to the local chapter of Women Who Sail, on Staying Healthy Aboard. I was thrilled that my wellness talk was so well received! So I’m sharing the main points here since it really applies to everyone, whether on land or at sea. This post is a bit longer than usual, but well worth the read as it’s packed full of great info to help you with staying healthy as you age.

What does “Staying Healthy” mean?

There are two ways you can look at staying healthy. Immediate self-care helps with your day to day health, like dodging colds and flu. And long-term lifestyle choices help you avoid chronic dis-ease as you age well. While they go hand in hand and both are important when it comes to staying healthy, it’s ultimately the long-term lifestyle choices that will make the biggest impact on aging well.

One hundred years ago the number one cause of death was infectious disease.

But luckily, with the advent of better sanitation and antibiotics, infectious disease is much less of a threat to most people these days.

“Today, forty-one million deaths a year are caused by chronic disease (mostly caused by diet), which is 71 percent of all deaths on the planet… That’s more than any war or virus!” — Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D.

And chronic inflammation is at the root of all chronic diseases. But the great news is that 85-95% of chronic disease is preventable or reversible with modifications to diet, lifestyle, and environment. So what is chronic disease and how can we prevent it?

What is Chronic Disease?

The natural state of the body is homeostasis or wellness. So chronic inflammatory “dis-ease” is a sign the body is out of balance.

There are two types of inflammation, acute and chronic:

  • Acute Inflammation is the body’s natural response to any injury, a sprain, a cut, a broken bone. You can usually see this type of inflammation. It causes redness, heat, and swelling to protect the damaged area. Once the body heals, acute inflammation goes away and the body returns to homeostasis (balance.)
  • Chronic Inflammation is usually internal, you can’t see it. The body gets injured internally due to stress, environmental toxins, poor diet, and lifestyle choices, and internal inflammation gets out of control leading to dis-ease (e.g.: a build-up of plaque is the body’s natural response to repair chronic inflammation in the arteries.)

Chronic inflammation causes chronic diseases including metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and more… All things we’d like to avoid getting, right? New research shows that many of these chronic illnesses proceed others and are directly linked, so all the more reason to nip chronic inflammation in our bodies.

Metabolic syndrome ⇒ pre-diabetes ⇒ diabetes ⇒ cardiovascular disease ⇒ dementia

A recent study asking people how they felt, showed the majority answered “fine.” Wow, I find that shocking, and sad… how about you? How do you feel on a daily basis? My hope is that you’re feeling GREAT, AMAZING, FANTASTIC, and WELL. If so, these tips will help keep you feeling that way as you age. But if you’re one of the majority feeling “fine”, or worse, these tips will definitely help you to feel much better and reach your full potential each day.

So what causes chronic inflammation?

Garbage in, garbage out. Our bodies haven’t evolved over 300,000 years to eat the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) of processed, artificial, chemical-laden “foods” and added sugar that we’ve been feeding them for the last 100 years. In fact, our bodies have not evolved to deal with exposure to all the toxins we’re throwing at them on a daily basis either.

80% of the “food” on your grocery store shelves contains artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, synthetic preservatives, artificial sweeteners, or added sugar.

  • 80% of what’s found in the grocery store today is toxic to your body.
  • The food we digest, assimilate, and absorb creates the building blocks for our cells to function and keep our bodies healthy.
  • Our cells literally don’t know what to do with artificial ingredients, so they become chronically inflamed, causing “dis-ease”, while our bodies try to fight for their lives (e.g.: by laying down plaque to repair inflamed arteries.)
  • Our skin, the largest organ in our body, is like a gigantic mouth, absorbing everything we put on it, from toxins in our shower gels and laundry soaps to toxins in our body lotions and sunscreens. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin. It’s really that simple.
  • Constant stress from fast-paced lives, commuting hours each way, sitting for hours a day, keeping up with the Joneses, making sure our kids are doing every possible activity while we’re taking care of our aging parents and working full time, the “badge of busyness” is actually killing us.

So how can we turn chronic inflammation around? There are seven main foundational components to staying healthy and aging well.

7 Fundamental Components to Staying Healthy As You Age

These components to staying healthy are all equally important, and they are interrelated. So if one is out of balance, it generally throws the others out of whack too.

1. A Healthy Diet

And by “diet” we’re not talking about “going on a diet”, but what and how you eat on a regular basis. What you eat on a daily basis is a lifestyle choice. And lifestyle choices are just that, choices that can be changed. In fact, here’s a great reason to eat healthier: poor diets now directly cause more deaths per year than tobacco!

Interestingly, research now shows that the molecules of the food you eat communicate directly with your gut microbiome and your brain. As soon as that food is on your tongue, your body knows if it’s garbage crap-food or healthy food, and your body starts making plans to revolt (immune response) or embrace it as healthy nutrition.

So what foods are best?

Following a Mediterranean Diet with plenty of the following foods will go a long way towards fueling your body with nutrition that it needs for staying healthy over the long haul.

  • Fresh vegetables and fruits, organic when possible. Eat the rainbow. 75-80% of your plate should be vegetables and fruits. Eat more green vegetables than root vegetables, and when possible (if they are organic) eat fruits with the skins on. Eating fruit with skins helps slow digestion and prevents blood sugar from spiking. Check the Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 for top foods to eat organic.
  • Clean healthy proteins, legumes, wild-caught fish, free-range, organic, grass-fed, meats. Conventionally raised meats are one of the most unhealthy things you can eat as they are pumped full of antibiotics, hormones, and artificial preservatives that are toxic to your body. Plus animals that are raised inhumanely are full of stress hormones that you don’t want to ingest, and conventionally raised meats and farmed fish are also very hard on the planet.
  • Healthy fats including nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and fruit oils (avocado oil, olive oil, and coconut oil.) And no, healthy fats don’t make you fat.

What foods to crowd out?

Read labels, read labels, read labels. Toxins hide everywhere. Even if it’s a product you’ve bought before and you think you “know” the ingredients, read the label. I can’t tell you how many times a tried-and-true product has suddenly changed their ingredients on me!?

  • All Processed foods, artificial flavoring, artificial coloring, artificial preservatives (like BHT, BHA, Sodium Benzoate, Nitrites, Sulfites)
  • Sugars (including High Fructose Corn Syrup, corn sugar, and agave.) Sugar hides under more than 65 different names! Aim for no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar a day. (One can of Coke has 33 grams, or almost a day-and-a-half worth of sugar, no bueno!) Now that new labeling laws are in effect, you can see added sugar on all packaged foods. So no excuse to not know how much sugar you’re eating. The average American eats ⅓ cup of added sugar a day, this is one place where you do NOT want to be average.
  • Artificial sweeteners like aspartame have been linked to health risks. Plus, because they don’t contain any calories, your brain doesn’t get the signal from your stomach that you’re full, so artificial sweeteners actually tend to make people eat more food. Yikes!
  • Trans fats, recent research has shown that Trans fats are THE most deadly “food” you can eat. In 2015 the USFDA finalized its decision that trans fat is not safe in any amount, and set a three-year time limit for complete removal of trans fat from all foods. It’s unclear if this is actually being policed.
  • Canola oil and soy oil (generally GMO and full of glyphosate) and other nut and seed oils like peanut, sunflower, safflower. These oils turn rancid very quickly and rancid fats and oils cause free radicals which damage our DNA and can lead to cancer.
  • Saturated fats (except coconut oil which is a medium-chain triglyceride, and healthy.) Saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature, think Crisco, lard, and butter.
  • GMO foods, which can contain glyphosate and have the potential for allergic reactions.

If you’re still confused about WHAT to eat, I highly recommend reading Dr. Mark Hyman’s book Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? It is very enlightening and goes into more detail on all of this.

2. Good Hydration

Staying well-hydrated is key to staying healthy. Your body is 60% water, and water plays a critical role in all of its functions. New research shows that your fascia, a thin membrane of connective tissue encasing your muscles, plays a major role in staying hydrated. If you have tight muscles or knots they can act like dams, not allowing hydration to pass through your body. So getting regular bodywork, massage, or foam rolling can go a long way towards keeping your fascia moving and your hydration flowing throughout your body. Who knew?!

  • Take the Skin Pinch Test for dehydration
  • Dehydration causes your brain to shrink, and blood to thicken (and potentially clot). Don’t worry, when you rehydrate your brain will expand again, but who wants a shrunken brain? That can lead to cognition issues!
  • Clumsiness is one of the first symptoms of dehydration… trip, stumble, run into the wall or desk? Down a glass of water ASAP.
  • Alcohol and caffeine are both very dehydrating. Aim to drink one glass of water for every cup of coffee or alcoholic beverage you drink, to prevent dehydration.
  • Drink coconut water every day to replenish your body with natural electrolytes.
  • Ditch the bottled electrolyte drinks, they contain loads of sugar, Electrolit (3 tsp) and Gatorade (9 tsp) remember a maximum of 6 tsp a day add sugar is your goal.

3. Quality Sleep

It’s shocking to me that 80% of American’s don’t get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep a night! I hope you’re not in that 80%, but if you are these tips will help you sleep better. I have made getting 8 hours of sleep a night my #1 priority in my life. Yes, sometimes to the detriment of missing out on other things, but quality sleep is critical for me to feel well and maintain good energy throughout the day.

Why Sleep is Critical to Overall Health:

  • Did you know your body only repairs itself when you’re asleep?
  • And your brain gets “washed” with spinal fluid every night while you’re sleeping, removing dead cells and detritus from your brain.
  • Your brain stores and categorizes memories during the night when you’re sleeping. This is one of the reasons poor sleep can exacerbate dementia and memory issues.
  • Your liver cleans house, detoxes and repairs while you sleep each night.
  • Poor sleep can mess with your hormones making you pack on the pounds too.

Good Sleep Hygiene for Better Sleep:

  • No “blue light” 1 hour before bed. That means turn off your phone, tablet, computer, and tv screens, or use blue-blocker sunglasses (yes at night!), or turn on the red-screen option on some devices. Blue light disrupts your body’s production of melatonin, a critical hormone to help you sleep.
  • No food 3 hours before bed. You can’t sleep well while digesting, and laying down while there’s still food in your stomach can lead to acid reflux.
  • Sleep on your left side, stomach, and heart are down and the esophagus is up. This is easier on the heart muscle and will help to prevent acid reflux too.
  • Try Yoga Nidra (guided meditations) for sleep, check out the free app Insight Timer

If all else fails, taking herbal remedies for sleep issues are a much safer option than sleeping pills. Check with your health care practitioner if you’re currently taking any medication, to be sure these herbs don’t adversely interact.

  • Ashwagandha – for people who tend to wake between 1-3am and can’t fall back asleep
  • Skullcap – for quelling a “monkey-mind” that keeps you from falling asleep
  • Passion Flower – for anxiety, insomnia, menopause, and ADHD
  • Valerian – for insomnia, anxiety, and psychological stress
  • CBD Oil – for help with falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Lavender Essential Oil – rub on bottoms of feet before bed (this is one of the only essential oils that should ever be used “neat”, applied directly to the skin, learn more about essential oil safety.)
  • Eat a Kiwi or drink Tart Cherry Juice before bed, both contain phytochemicals that promote sleep.

7 Fundamentals of Wellness for Staying Healthy As You Age

4. Daily Exercise ~ Move it or Lose It!

The importance of daily exercise or MOVING your body daily can’t be overstated. It’s really one of the keys to staying healthy as you age. And for me, this is my biggest area of weakness. I don’t like to exercise for the sake of exercise, so I need to make sure I’m doing something FUN to move my body every day, like hiking, kayaking, or dancing. There’s good news if you’re like me… recent studies show doing 10-minutes of exercise three or four times throughout the day can be just as effective as a 30-40-minute workout.

Key reasons to keep on moving every day:

  • Exercise boosts your brain health, lymph, and immune system
  • Movement helps to reduce stress
  • Movement naturally lubricates your joints
  • Exercise increases the length of your telomeres

Move in ways you enjoy, not just exercise for exercise sake, try:

  • Walk, Hike, or Urban Hike
  • Swim
  • Kayak
  • Yoga
  • Hulahoop
  • Dance Party!
  • Zumba

So maybe you fit in 10 minutes of dance-party while you’re getting ready for work in the morning, a 10-minute walk on your lunch break, 10 minutes of cardio or weights after work, and another 10-minute walk after dinner. Congratulations, you’ve just worked out for 40-minutes today!

Also important to note: Working out for one hour in the morning before work and then sitting at your desk all day can negate your workout! You really need to move your body throughout the entire day.

5. Avoid Toxins

As I mentioned above, our bodies are being bombarded with toxins on a daily basis. From constant EMFs, to blue-light from our devices, to toxins in our air, water, and food, to the myriad of chemicals we slather on our bodies in the form of sunscreens and health and beauty products, our bodies are crying “Uncle” the only way they know how, with chronic inflammation and disease.

The best way you can help your body is to read labels and ditch the toxins. My rule of thumb for food or other products with ingredients labels is this: I aim for five or fewer ingredients, if I can’t pronounce it, I don’t buy it, if my grandmother wouldn’t have recognized it, I don’t buy it.

10 ingredients to avoid

(Courtesy of Neal’s Yard Remedies.)

  1. MEA/DEA derivatives – a type of surfactant used to produce a foaming effect, these derivatives are associated with known carcinogens.
  2. EDTA – a powerful chelator that strips impurities from products to help prevent spoilage, but doesn’t biodegrade well.
  3. Parabens – synthetic preservatives with safety concerns for their synthetic estrogen-like activity.
  4. Phthalates – used as a plasticizer to create flexibility in hair sprays and nail polish and to stabilize fragrances, phthalates are very toxic and have been banned from use in the EU (but not in the US yet.) They are also endocrine disruptors and can cause unwanted weight gain.
  5. Silicones – these synthetically produced emollients are often used in haircare and skincare products, also look for ingredients ending in ‘-thicone’ and ‘-oxane.
  6. Genetically Modified (GMO) ingredients – not enough is known about the long-term implications. Many GMO ingredients are designed to withstand high levels of pesticides like glyphosate.
  7. Synthetic fragrances – often hidden under the term ‘Parfum’ or ‘Fragrance’ on ingredients lists, synthetic fragrances can trigger allergies and asthma, and are also endocrine disruptors mimicing estrogen and other hormones, and causing unwanted weight gain. See Fragrance, the New Second Hand Smoke? for more info.
  8. BHT – this petroleum derived ingredient is used to prevent products from oxidizing, it’s a potential carcinogen, and it’s also toxic to the aquatic environment.
  9. Mineral oil – often found in baby oils and balms, mineral oil is derived from petroleum – a non-renewable resource from a polluting industry.
  10. Triclosan – an antimicrobial and antifungal preservative often used in deodorants/antiperspirants, mouthwashes and toothpaste, contributes to antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Helping people avoid environmental toxins is one of my biggest passions. They lurk everywhere, and sadly many companies get away with not disclosing them. When we read labels and vote with our dollar to use non-toxic, organic ingredients, we’re not only helping our own health but that of animals and the planet as well. If you’re looking for a truly toxin-free brand of personal care, health, and beauty products, check out U.K.-based Neal’s Yard Remedies.

6. Stress Reduction

Stress is one of the biggest factors contributing to chronic inflammation, so finding ways you can unwind, de-stress, and relax in our busy, work-a-day world is key to staying healthy. Getting out in nature or a daily meditation practice is a great way to start.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to:

  • Boost immune system
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Turn off Sympathetic Nervous System (Fight, Flight, Freeze)
  • Turn on Parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest & Digest)
  • Increase telomere length

Meditation Resources:

7. Happiness & Joy

“It is not happy people who are grateful.
It is grateful people who are happy.”

  • Write down 3 things a day you are grateful for, studies show it promotes a stronger immune system and more overall happiness.
  • Check out my new book Food, Mood, & Gratitude Journal, it’s a fun way to keep track of your gratitudes each day.
  • Gratitude Check! What are 3 things you’re grateful for today? Kirk and I call out “gratitude check” to each other several times during the day, and every night before bed. When someone says “gratitude check” the other person has to stop whatever they’re doing and say three things they are grateful for at that moment in time. We try to ensure that we’re not just repeating the same gratitudes over and over again, but consciously think of new ones each time.
  • Do something every day that puts a smile on your face. And share that smile with others! Smiling really is contagious. I play a little game walking down the street, smiling at everyone I pass, looking to see how many frowns I can turn upside down! Try it, it’s fun!
  • Laughter is the BEST medicine! Watch funny videos or movies, read funny books or comics, get together with friends and play games. Get your belly laughter on! We used to love playing Cards Against Humanity, laughing our heads off… but lately, that game seems a little too “real” and not as funny any more… so we’re looking for a new FUN game, let us know your favorites?
  • Happiness is a choice, is your glass half-empty or half-full? It turns out that only 50% of your happiness factor is hereditary, the other 50% is totally on you. Like the other lifestyle choices mentioned above, you get to choose a half-full glass. Or as one person said, “I’m just grateful to have a glass.”

There are so many factors that go into staying healthy as we age, but these seven will go a long way towards getting you there. Check out my series on Aging Well for more info on environmental toxins and more tips for staying healthy as you age.

Please leave a comment to let us know your biggest takeaway? And please share with your friends and family who’d like to be staying healthy as they age too.

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