We’ve all heard the infamous saying “black don’t crack.” Just look at Diahann Carroll’s flawless skin, Tina Turner’s fit legs and Denzel Washington’s killer physique. But contrary to these “ageless” celebrities, we all grow older—and the results are more than skin deep. Biologically, the aging process influences the health of our organs, our ability to heal and function effectively and our overall vitality. Not everyone’s body ages at the same rate; recent research shows that it’s possible to be 45 years old and have the physical limitations of a health-challenged 60 year old.
But don’t worry. While you can’t dive into a magic fountain of youth, you can take everyday steps to slow the aging process and, in some cases, even reverse its symptoms. RH offers these stay-young tips.
FACT: We lose nearly 40,000 nerves throughout our bodies each day. By the age of 65, about one tenth of our brains cells are gone.
- Be a professional student. Health experts from the American Association of Retired People (AARP) report that people who keep learning and stay mentally active increase their odds of retaining good brain function as they age. If you don’t use your brain, you’ll lose your ability to think effectively. Scrabble or sudoku anyone?
- Snack on nuts and berries. These healthy treats can help improve brain cognition. The omega-3s in almonds and the antioxidants in blueberries can keep your brain constantly in high-performance mode. Research shows that omega-3s can relieve inflammation that might lead to dead brain cells. Walnuts and nuts in general replace lost melatonin hormones, which are necessary for healthy brain activity. Just don’t overdose on them—they’re high in fat, so snack on a handful each day.
- Channel your inner Chris Rock. In the book You Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty, coauthors Mehmet Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD, say there’s evidence that humor affects memory. The doctors wrote: “You have to be able to play mental hopscotch from one word to another to make sure that the story, joke, riddle or pun combines a set of expected circumstances and unexpected ones. Humor is a sign of intelligence.” So get to crackin’ them jokes!
FACT: Age is a huge factor in bone loss. After age 35, you need more dietary calcium because your bones begin to thin. This could create more serious issues, such as bone density loss and osteoporosis (tiny holes in the bones).
- Boost B-12 intake. As we age, the body loses its ability to absorb vitamin B-12 and that increases the risk of osteoporosis. Keep your bones strong by eating foods that contain B-12, a vitamin found in fish, chicken, pork, dairy products and eggs. B-12 also helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells and is needed to generate DNA.
- Work it out. When you push yourself in the gym, your bones respond by becoming stronger and denser. Growing bones are particularly responsive to weight-bearing, muscle-stretching exercises. Try strength training; it’s an effective way to build solid bones and guard against osteoporosis. And, don’t forget to get regular aerobic exercise for the body’s all-important cardiovascular health.
- Stay balanced. Hormonal balance is key for both men and women. Not only does the hormone estrogen regulate your monthly gift, ladies, but it also promotes healthy bones. For men, testosterone is a bone-protecting hormone. Nonmedical conditions such as menopause and medical illnesses such as prostate or testicular cancer can affect the flow of these hormones and lead to bone loss. As a precaution, ask your doctor about bone health and whether you need a bone mineral density (BMD) test.
FACT: Aging greatly diminishes the body’s ability to detox, repair DNA and produce new cells—a process known as methylation. Reduced methylation is associated with heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
- Get some shut-eye. All-nighters may have seemed cool in college, but a report published in Hypertension, an American Heart Association (AHA) publication, says a lack of sleep can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. Around one quarter of people ages 32 to 59 who slept for five or fewer hours a night developed hypertension, compared with 12 percent of those who slept for seven or eight hours.
- Eat less salt. About 80 percent of the salt in our diet comes from processed and prepared foods in our grocery stores. Reducing salt intake prevents strokes, heart attacks and other problems in people who don’t have clinical high blood pressure. The AHA suggests that African Americans, especially those with hypertension, and middle-aged and older people consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. Translation: This Includes the sodium that Mother Nature, chefs and food manufacturers already put in drinks and foods. That means go easy adding table salt to your food.
- Get your T’ai Chi on. Several studies have looked at the ways ancient martial arts affect people with chronic health problems, including heart disease. Doctors who analyzed this data found that tai chi—a Chinese martial art that uses graceful, fluid movements and focuses on breathing—lowers stress and boosts flexibility. Tai chi also benefited cardiovascular and respiratory function in patients who had coronary artery bypass surgery, increased CD4 cells in people living with HIV and lowered blood sugar levels. Find a class in your area at taichinetwork.org or tai one on at home with the T’ai Chi Beginning Practice DVD (Gaiam, $15).
Remember: Aging is inevitable, but with proper diet, exercise and healthy living habits, your best days are still ahead.