Take years off your skin p.1
We used to think our fate was in the cards--or in the stars. Now, thanks to research unlocking the secrets to living longer and better, we know different. It turns out that 70% of the factors influencing life expectancy are due to good choices and good luck--not good genes.
1. Stay the weight you were at 18
"Next to not smoking, this is probably the most important thing we can do to stay healthy and live longer," says Walter Willett, MD, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Leanness matters, because fat cells produce hormones that raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. They also make sub-stances called cytokines that cause inflammation--stiffening the arteries and the heart and other organs. Carrying excess fat also raises the risk of some cancers. Add it up, and studies show that lean people younger than age 75 halve their chances of premature death, compared with people who are obese.
2. Take the dynamic duo of supplements
They're what Bruce N. Ames, PhD, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, swears by: his daily 800 mg of alpha-lipoic acid and 2,000 mg of acetyl-L-carnitine. In these amounts, he says, the chemicals boost the energy output of mitochondria, which power our cells. "I think mitochondrial decay is a major factor in aging," Ames says--it's been linked to diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes.
In his studies, elderly rats plied with the supplements had more energy and ran mazes better. "If you're an old rat, you can be enthusiastic," Ames says. "As people, we can't be sure until clinical trials are done." (They're under way.) But the compounds look very safe--the worst side effect documented in humans is a rash, Ames says--and "the data in animals looks really convincing," says S. Mitchell Harman, MD, PhD, president of the Kronos Longevity Research Institute in Phoenix.
3. Skip a meal
This one move could have truly dramatic results. Rats fed 30% less than normal live 30% longer than usual--and in a recent study at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the hearts of the leaner human calorie-cutters appeared 10 to 15 years younger than those of regular eaters.
In other research, calorie restrictors improved their blood insulin levels and had fewer signs of damage to their DNA. Eating less food, scientists believe, may reduce tissue wear and tear from excess blood sugar, inflammation, or rogue molecules known as free radicals.
Edward Calabrese, PhD, and Mark Mattson, PhD, have opted for "calorie restriction lite." Calabrese, a professor of toxicology and environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, dumped the midday meal. Mattson, chief of the laboratory of neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, has done without breakfast for 20 years.
Skip a meal a day. You don't need to try to cut calories; Mattson's research suggests you'll naturally consume less that day. Or try fasting one day a week. Just drink plenty of water.
4. Get a pet
Open up your home and heart to Rover or Boots. Owning a pet reduces the number of visits to the doctor, prolongs survival after a heart attack, and wards off depression, says James Serpell, PhD, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. (His family has a cat, a dog, a large green iguana, a bearded dragon, and a dozen fish.)
Pet ownership also protects against a major problem of aging: high blood pressure. In one standout study at State University of New York, Buffalo, stockbrokers with high blood pressure adopted a pet. When they were faced with mental stress, their BP increased less than half as much as in their counterparts without animal pals. But pick your pet with care. There is nothing stress-reducing about a dog that chews the baseboard to bits.
5. Get help for what hurts
Studies suggest that continuous pain may dampen the immune system--and evidence is clear that it can cause deep depression and push levels of the noxious stress hormone cortisol higher.
So enough with the stoicism: Take chronic pain to your doctor and keep complaining until you have a treatment plan that works, says Nathaniel Katz, MD, a neurologist and pain-management specialist at Tufts University School of Medicine. Your mood will improve--and your immune system may perk up, too.
6. Take a hike
To make the walls of your arteries twice as flexible as those of a couch potato, just walk briskly for 30 minutes, 5 days a week. That's what Hirofumi Tanaka, PhD, an associate professor of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas, advises after tracking the elasticity of people's blood vessels using ultrasound.
With age, blood vessel walls tend to stiffen up like old tires--the main reason two-thirds of people older than age 60 have high blood pressure. Exercise keeps vessels pliable. Mild exercise also reduces the risk of diabetes, certain cancers, depression, aging of the skin, maybe even dementia. That excites exercise researcher Steven N. Blair, past president of the nonprofit Cooper Institute in Dallas. He's run nearly every day for almost 40 years. "Not bad for a 66-year-old fat man."
7. Fight fair
Nasty arguments between couples increase the risk of clogged arteries. In a recent University of Utah study, women's hearts suffered when they made or heard hostile comments; men's hearts reacted badly to domineering, controlling words.
"It's normal to have a fight with your spouse--it's a matter of how you fight," says Ronald Glaser, PhD, an immunologist at Ohio State University. What he and his wife, Ohio State clinical psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, put off-limits: "Getting nasty, sarcastic, or personal, or using body language like rolling your eyes. It's better to simply agree to disagree."
8. Stop and plant the roses
Gardening or being around plants bears fruit. In one study, blood pressure jumped in workers given a stressful task--but rose only a quarter as much if there were plants in the room. And patients who had a view of trees as they recovered from surgery left the hospital almost a day sooner than those with a view of a brick wall.
9. Hoist a few (weights, that is)
Everyone knows cardio exercise is key to slowing the advance of time. More surprising: Strength-training is crucial, too. That's because after their mid-40s, people lose ľ pound of muscle mass a year, gaining fat in its place.
But, says Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, an associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, "For a couple of decades, you don't have to lose any muscle, if you do the appropriate exercises." Even people well into their 90s can regain muscle, she's found. Just lift weights 2 or 3 days a week, for a minimum of 30 minutes.
The payoff: more endurance, stronger bones, less risk of diabetes--and better sleep and thinking. Nelson rock climbs and does plenty of other weight-bearing exercise.
10. Do a good deed
Pick up trash in the park or shop for a neighbor who needs help, says William Brown, PhD, a lecturer of psychology at Brunel University, West London. He studied people in Brooklyn and found that those who had a denser social network and gave more to their friends and family than they received--whether the gift was in the form of money, food, advice, or time--reported feeling healthier than others, even when he factored in activity levels.
Another study, at the University of Michigan, looked at 423 elderly married couples; after 5 years, the pairs who were more altruistic were only half as likely to have died. "Many people grow up thinking it's a dog-eat-dog world," Brown says. "But there's a lot of data that suggests the best way to be healthy is to be kind to others."
11. Eat a rainbow...
...made of vegetables, says Peter Greenwald, MD, director of the division of cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute. Their cancer-preventing abilities are unparalleled. Remember: Aim for nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
12. Sup from the sea
Don't just slap anything with fins onto your plate: You want fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, and lake trout. They contain the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which many studies show help prevent sudden death from heart attack. Omega-3s may also help ward off depression, Alzheimer's disease, and age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness--and maybe some cancers, although evidence is mixed.
To get more of the benefits of good fats, snack on an ounce (a handful) of walnuts a day. Use less corn oil, and more canola and olive oils. Greg Cole, PhD, a professor of medicine and neurology at UCLA, also avoids cookies, margarine, and snack foods such as chips, which are loaded with unhealthy trans fats. On his menu: two tuna sandwiches plus a couple of DHA-enriched eggs a week. He takes 2 g of fish oil daily.
13. Belt out a tune
Exposing yourself to music might help boost your immune system: In a study done by Robert Beck, PhD, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Irvine, levels of an infection-fighting antibody called IgA increased 240% in the saliva of choral members performing Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.
14. Drink a cuppa
Intrigued by studies (of mice, cells in lab dishes, and people) that say tea may fight prostate and breast cancer and heart disease, researcher Anna Wu, PhD, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, downs at least 3 cups daily. Green is best, although black tea confers some benefits, too.
Don't get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.