Good ageing is about being increasingly resilient to the stuff life throws at us – able to process it and keep bouncing back, ready to try new things. What makes us resilient? An active life with a good diet and enough sleep, a sense of life-satisfaction and self-esteem, positive brain stimulation, satisfying human interaction and spiritual sustenance. The good news is that resilience doesn’t decline with age – older people are at least as resilient as younger adults, studies suggest.
7 TIPS FOR AGEING BETTER
BE MORE ACTIVE
Experts find it tricky to tell the difference between physical changes related to age and those resulting from lifestyle. The takeaway message is that we can reset our bodies with exercise. Whatever our age, being more active and resistance training halts declining muscle mass and aerobic capacity. In the famous Dallas Bed Rest and Training Study, 50-somethings regained the cardio fitness they had as 20-year olds, reversing the effects of 30 years not exercising... in just six months.
EAT MORE… PLANTS
The principles of eating healthy are the same regardless of age, but after 50 we need to eat a little less – we tend to be less physically active, lean body mass decreases, body fat increases and hormones change, slowing metabolism. That means the foods we consume should be super nutrient-dense. Plants are key – our metabolism and physiology is primed to thrive when we eat masses of vegetables because that’s the way our species adapted to survive. Diversity also matters – of colours on the plate and variety of foods. Eating the same things day-in day-out can deplete our nutritional status and gut biome, triggering ailments associated with ageing.
Continuing education is one of the most helpful brain preservers – the more educated we are, the better our protection from brain-ageing. A university degree seems to slow ageing by up to 10 years, protect against dementia and be associated with a longer life. No college degree? No problem. Continual brain stimulation from an intellectually demanding job or pastime – puzzles, reading, engaging with ideas – trains memory and intelligence so well that in tests older people perform as well as the young.
KEEP THE FAITH
People with spiritual beliefs seem better at coping with stress, experience less pain and recover from illness more quickly as they age. Spiritual awareness – that we are not alone but part of something greater – also helps us come to terms with the facts of ageing, offering continuing purpose in life and a more compassionate understanding of what it is to be alive.
MAKE NEW FRIENDS
Having a good social life and supportive networks keep us in good spirit as we age and prevent cognitive decline. Social relationships influence mortality as much as smoking. And if we can’t stop time, we can change how it feels by exposing ourselves to new people and experiences. Why do the first few days of a holiday seem to last forever? Because the brain fires off in reaction to all the novelty, laying down lots of memories. When we look back, all that extra texture lengthens our perception of time.
Scents transport us back in time to relive experiences. Smell is closely connected to the part of the brain linked with memory and emotion, and twice as many memories are triggered by scent than other sensory stimuli. They also tend to stay with us as we age. Laying down future memories is as simple as wearing a new perfume in a new place.
Yoga is brilliant as we age – for bone and muscle strength, coordination, flexibility, breathing and circulation. It keeps the brain active and mind conscious, promotes relaxation and sleep, hormonal balance and a positive outlook. It makes us more responsive to changes in body and emotions and promotes sensory awareness. It’s also reputed to tune us into the spiritual powers associated with wise older women – insight, intuition, clarity of vision – liberating us from the negativity associated with ageing.
Susannah Marriott is an author who specialises in health and mindful living. She takes inspiration from her practice of yoga, her three daughters, and the countryside and sea near her home in Cornwall. She is the author of 24 books, which have been translated into 17 languages; they include Stay Young Naturally, Everyday Wisdom, Total Meditation and Beads of Faith. As an editor she has worked with BKS Iyengar, Swami Saradananda, Deborah Bull and Penelope Leach.
Her writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, The Times, the Telegraph, Marie Claire, Zest, Shape, Top Sante, Healthy and She. She has broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and lectures on writing at universities and with her company, the Professional Writing Academy www.profwritingacademy.com
In her 50s Susannah draws her youthful energy from her yoga practice and sea swimming, her organic vegetable garden and her massive love of jazz, dancing and dresses.