Aging healthy, happy and with grace. Isn’t that what everybody wants?
Many people think that having more pain and illnesses, gaining body fat and losing all your muscle is inevitable when growing older.
But numerous people and studies have proven that, even if nobody can stop nature from going its natural course, some people age more ‘gracefully’ than others.
Today’s blog is going to explore the nutritional, training, lifestyle and mindset strategies that you can implement in order to slow the signs of aging and possibly even reverse some of the damage you may already have done.
“The realization of healthy longevity is possible, but to achieve a longer and a healthier life, increased attention must be placed on lifestyle choices, particularly the diet.” (1)
“Aging is a process or group of processes occurring in living organisms that with the passage of time leads to a loss of adaptability, functional impairment, and eventually death. Healthy aging is a desirable path that is worth pursuing for every individual. Factors that determine healthy or successful aging are avoiding disease (e.g., obesity), engagement with life (e.g., social activities), maintaining high cognitive and physical function through, for instance, proper diet, and sufficient physical activity.” (2)
This blog is split into 4 Categories:
→ Physical Activity
→ Hormones & Aesthetics (to follow in part 2)
→ Lifestyle & Mindset (to follow in part 2)
So let’s get right into it!
1. Engage in MODERATE amounts of RESISTANCE TRAINING
One thing that everybody is 100% clear on is that RESISTANCE training of some sort should be part of your fitness regime.
Aside from it being the single most important factor when it comes to retaining muscle mass as you age, the cognitive and coordinative benefits are undisputed.
Of course, the hardest part here is finding the right kind of training and the right amount of training over the course of your life.
Naturally, this is going to depend on your time commitment and what style of training actually brings you joy as well, but to give a recommendation that suits for everybody something along the lines of 2-4 days of resistance training would be advisable.
More is not necessarily better as this also means more stress on your joints.
In a 2019 study, participating in any strength training was associated with better scores on measures of balance, mobility, body fatness, and better perceived health, and healthy aging. (4). They concluded that physical activity guidelines should place a greater emphasis on strength training, especially for older adults.
2. Make an effort to keep active throughout the day (NEAT)
The majority of people have desk jobs nowadays. Most of us don’t “naturally” move much throughout the day outside of the gym. Make an effort to get to your 8-10k steps a day. Aside from this adding to your calorie expenditure, it also provides benefits for your blood circulation, blood pressure, metabolism etc.
When looking at some of the cultures where people live the longest and healthiest on average, they all kept active throughout the day in some way. For example, by going places by foot, gardening, bread kneading, cleaning their houses etc. Their movement was engineered into their daily lives. (5)
This might not come natural to you, so put the effort in and keep track of your steps with a movement tracker, park further away at the grocery store, walk while you are on the phone…
3. Include moderate amounts of cardio in your training regime
Cardio is good for heart health, we have all been told that many a times, but as with everything we tend to push things a bit too far from time to time. What is NOT helping your healthy aging is Ultras and making cardio the foundation of your training. Think about how much pressure these repetitive movements place on your joints. NOT ideal.
Another extreme that we encounter frequently at the moment is too much HIIT cardio. High intensity interval training can be a good way to get your heart rate up, BUT too much of that or too high of an intensity given your life stress may elevate your cortisol (stress hormone) chronically and therefore contribute to faster aging! (6)
4. Work on mobility
Something that seems to be one of the first things to go with aging is mobility. Just compare a toddler to a high school student and how easily they squat (most of the time anyway).
To upkeep mobility you have to put in work. There is no way around it.
Although we cannot change our biology or chronological age we can definitely reverse/slow down the pace at which we age by including more mobility practices.
A 2017 study showed improvement in cellular aging and longevity after a Yoga and mobility based lifestyle intervention (7). They concluded that “making Yoga and mobility work an integral part of our lifestyle may hold the key to delay aging or aging gracefully, prevent onset of multifactorial complex lifestyle diseases, promote mental, physical, and reproductive health, and prolong youthful healthy life.”
It usually doesn’t have to be much and 5-10 minutes per day or one weekly yoga class could already be a good start.
5. Implement some physical recovery methods
Even though the actual physical benefits of most recovery methods have been disproven or at least been questioned, many recovery methods simply help lower your perceived stress and help with recovery from a mental perspective. (8) Things that might help you recover better and relax more also include massages, hugs, physical touch, laughing etc.
Nonetheless, there are a large amount of studies showing particular anti-aging benefits of ice baths and regular dry sauna visits. However, most state that further studies are needed to determine the optimal frequency and duration of these methods for targeted health effects (9).
6. Move in a way that is fun to you!
Make sure you train in a way that you actually find enjoyable and also add in movement outside of training that is fun to you. Always being afraid of hurting yourself and never going skiing, surfing or hiking, because you think you might twist an ankle is not the way to go, but of course you should consider risk and reward. Recklessly jumping off cliffs or attempting a double backflip without doing a single first is likely not the smartest thing to do, likely leads to injuries and therefore faster aging.
There are actual studies linking happiness, and finding joy in the things you do to longer lives regardless of marital status, socioeconomic status, census division and religious views. Happiness and feeling joy throughout your day is considered a stand- alone indicator of well being. (10)
7. Take the time to work on nagging injuries and be patient with acute ones
Not letting acute injures heal properly before returning to training or regular function will not just slow the recovery process, it will also likely lead to recurring pain in that area or affect other areas around it long term that are trying to compensate for the affected area. Be patient during injury recovery (that does not necessarily mean not moving at all) and make sure to tend to nagging injuries and areas that are affected by chronic pain.
Pain is not ‘normal’, not as we age either. In an epidemiological study, more than half of the elderly people assessed reported chronic pain for older adults (11). But does that mean it is just part of aging? No. On average, the people that did not report chronic pain had suffered the same amount of injuries as the other group. The difference was that across the board they reported putting an effort into the healing of the injury and also tending to pain that flares back up from time to time..
The definition of healthy aging on its own includes diet quality and eating habits as essential components. (12). A better diet has been shown to lead to a better quality of life, physically and emotionally, in older adults. There seems to be a clear association between a ‘nutritional adequacy’ and a better functional status and life satisfaction in older adults.
8. Maintain healthy body fat levels
In research it is very clear that maintaining healthy body fat levels is an essential aspect of healthy aging. Too much visceral fat, so fat around the organs, has been identified a risk factor for disease and earlier death.
‘In the Hawaii Lifespan Study, being overweight in midlife was associated with a significantly reduced probability of healthy survival to age 85 or older among men.’ (13)
‘Adiposity in early adulthood and midlife has been associated with decreased probability of healthy survival at age 70 or older in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS). Compared with lean women (BMI 18.5–22.9), obese women (BMI ≥ 30) had 79% lower odds of healthy survival to the age of ≥70 (95% CI 71–85%). Even a moderate weight gain of 4–10 kg was significantly associated with reduced odds of healthy survival.’
‘It is well established that diet and exercise-induced weight loss improve metabolic and cardiovascular health. Data from experimental studies show that dietary restriction and avoiding the excessive energy intake that leads to overweight and obesity, is the most powerful intervention to extend healthy lifespan in mammals (Weindruch & Walford, 1988; Masoro, 2005; Fontana & Klein, 2007). However, the ideal body weight, percent adiposity, and metabolic profile associated with healthy longevity and the lowest risk of developing chronic disease remain unknown. ‘
Of course, the other extreme of under-eating or being too lean for too long is not conducive to longevity either …
‘It is clear that being underweight is associated with increased mortality and consequently reduced life expectancy. For example, from survival curves of patients with anorexia nervosa, it can be calculated that a person suffering from this disorder since the age of 15 years will endure a life-shortening effect of 25 years.’ (14)
9. Prioritize foods high in antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that the body produces as a reaction to environmental and other pressures.
Some of the foods highest in antioxidants are:
→ Sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, carrots
‘An excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin A (mainly in the form of beta-carotene) and a good source of antioxidant vitamins C and E, and other anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, sweet potatoes are potent food sources of free radical quenchers’ (15)
→ Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach etc)
→ Cruciferous Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts…)
→ Blueberries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Cranberries, Bilberries, Gooseberries, Gojiberries
→ Walnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, …
→ Unpasteurized, free range eggs (whole)
→ Artichokes, Avocado
→ Wild caught fatty fish, grass fed red meat (16)
→ Beets, cabbages
→ Tomatoes, Bell peppers,
→ Turmeric/ Curcumin, Garlic, Rosemary
→ Red beans, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans
→ Apples, plums, red grapes
10. Avoid endocrine disrupting pesticides by buying some fruit and vegetables organic
Don’t worry, you don’t need to spend all your hard earned money on buying nothing but ‘organic’ things from now on. The truth is though, that a high exposure to pesticides can lead to hormonal issues, which would become even more prominent as we age. Therefore it does pay off to buy the fruits and vegetables that are most heavily laden with pesticides organic. (17)
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) brings out a list every year of the foods most heavily laden with pesticides, aka ‘Dirty Dozen’ and a list of those foods that are absolutely not worth buying organic, aka ‘the Clean 15’. Check this list out HERE.
11. Practise 90/10
This means that the clear majority of your diet should come from whole foods. Nonetheless, for most people it is very important to leave a little wiggle room for some foods that they crave or that have an emotional value to them, in order to make their way of eating sustainable. Adherence and sustainability have been identified as the main foundations of any successful diet, weight management a healthy relationship with food and we have already stated how important these are for healthy aging and longevity.
‘Setting realistic goals for weight loss is important. Successful diets involve slow and steady changes. An even more important goal is weight loss maintenance and prevention of weight regain. The ideal weight loss maintenance diet should be continuous and easy to comply with. Eating high-quality fats, proteins and carbohydrates in the setting of a balanced diet cannot only promote weight loss, but also prevent coronary heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases.
In general, scientific evidence about what constitutes a healthy diet is both consistent and straightforward: a healthy diet is a varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products and high-quality proteins and low in added sugar, refined grains, and highly-processed foods.’ (18)
12. Consume adequate amounts of protein
This is a bit of a fine line, as moderate – higher protein diets are beneficial for body composition muscle retention, but super high protein diets can put a strain on your digestive system over the course of the years. So for healthy aging and longevity it is likely a good idea to consume ample high quality protein, but keeping periods of extra high or extra low protein, especially processed protein (powders, bars etc) to a minimum. A rough guideline could be between 0.7-1.1g of protein per pound of body weight per day.
A 2014 research review concluded that ‘Overall, the important shared features of these healthy dietary patterns include: high intake of unrefined carbohydrates, moderate protein intake with emphasis on vegetables/legumes, fish, and lean meats as sources, and a healthy fat profile (higher in mono/polyunsaturated fats, lower in saturated fat; rich in omega-3).’ (19)
Which leads me to our next point…
13. Focus on healthy fat sources
As we touched on earlier already, a healthy hormonal profile is one of the main foundations for health, happy aging. Focusing on consuming ‘the right’ kinds of fats and limiting harmful ones plays a big role in that. Monounsaturated fats (like extra virgin olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats, especially omega 3s, have anti-inflammatory properties and improve cholesterol levels, heart health, brain health… (20). Refrain from long term extra-low fat diets that can mess with your hormonal profile and therefore accelerate aging.
14. Match carbs to suit your activity level and find the carb sources that work best for you
Over the course of your life, this is likely the macronutrient that should fluctuate the most. Are you a high school teenager that plays all kinds of sports 6 times a week and is in a growth spurt? Likely that you have a higher carb/energy requirement than 15 years later as a sedentary office worker who hits the gym 3 times a week or than laborer who also trains for an iron man. Adjust carbs to keep body fat levels healthy, but also to support performance, brain function and gut health. Periods of extra high carb uptake (for example after a competitive season of CrossFit) should ideally be followed by lower carb phases to give your digestive system a bit of a break and also to reset insulin sensitivity. Carbs are not always carbs, so try to keep super inflammatory processed carbs like refined sugars (that contribute to faster aging through inflammation) to a minimum and find the ones that work best for you, your digestion and activity level. More rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats etc for active individuals with a good base of vegetables and some fruit. Find out if you can easily tolerate gluten or not (or if this causes you distress) and what level fiber works best for you and your digestion.
15. Make sure you hit your Leucine Threshold
Muscle sarcopenia, so faster breakdown of muscle mass as we age, is a natural process that we cannot inhibit, only try to work against as best as we can. Key pointers here are
→ Resistance training (to keep setting the muscle growth stimulus)
→ Consuming enough calories
→ Consuming enough protein
AND: Hitting your Leucine Threshold so we can be sure that muscle protein synthesis gets stimulated.
Only when we consume a certain level of leucine (an amino acid) in one meal does the muscle growth trigger ‘get pulled’. This threshold is estimated to be around 20g per meal for most adults. That means it makes sense to spread protein out evenly across the day to ensure we build muscle all day long. It is likely that this threshold increases as we age.
A 2016 study concluded that ‘the optimal dose of protein for maximal stimulation of MPS (muscle protein synthesis) during exercise recovery is greater for older compared to young adults and whey protein has been shown to stimulate a greater response of MPS compared with soy protein during exercise recovery, but not at rest (21). Timing protein intake in close temporal proximity to exercise is recommended, although not critical, for stimulating a maximal response of MPS. Coingesting CHO with a suboptimal dose of amino acids/protein may be an effective strategy for “rescuing” a submaximal response of MPS associated with a suboptimal dose of amino acids/protein. However, no additional benefit is gained from adding CHO to a dose of amino acids/protein known to saturate the response of MPS.’
Another research review agreed that ‘elderly adults are less responsive to the anabolic stimulus of low doses of amino acid intake compared to younger adults. However, this lack of responsiveness in elderly adults can be overcome with higher levels of protein consumption (22)
16. Implement daily fasts and occasional periods of calorie restriction
Intermittent fasting is one of the more recent ‘diet trends’. Aside from it simply being a way to shorten the eating window and therefore often an easy strategy for people to cut down on calories, there is really nothing magical about it. The talk about the benefits of Intermittent Fasting for gut health, cell autophargy and insulin sensitivity are only half true. Research shows that the same benefits apply when you give your gut a ‘break’ of 10-12 hours every night and that there are actually no increased benefits by extending that fast to 16 or even 20 hours. However, occasional fasts of 24hours or longer do indeed show more benefits (23).
So an easy way to apply this long term would be ensuring a nightly fast of 10-12 hours and potentially considering monthly or annual longer fasts.
It has also been shown that some shorter periods of calorie restriction (so controlled diets, not yoyo-diets!) throughout the year have a positive effect on longevity and healthy aging.
‘Overall, the results from multiple studies show that both reduced calories intake (CR) and the ratio between macronutrients, namely the protein to carbohydrates ratio, positively impact lifespan. Amongst others, the CR-positive effects on inflammation have been demonstrated by the reduction of inflammation and insulin resistance.’ (24).
17. Focus on the social aspect of social gatherings
Being socially active is a big part of leading a long and happy life (more on that later under mindset). However, oftentimes it is exactly these social gatherings where we overeat and/or disregard meal quality. It is important to remind ourselves that it does not need to be that way and that we are always in control of what and how much enters our body.
→ Be the person that brings a healthy dish to a social gathering and who encourages movement (for example through a ball game or walk in a group) throughout the day.
→ Balance out your day and make sure you still include some nutritious foods, high in micronutrients, fiber and protein.
→ Focus on the reason you are actually being social – the people around you, the cause to celebrate, catching up with others, laughing etc
→ Practise moderation!
A study on the Blue Zones has found that the longest-lived people have strategies to keep themselves from overeating, such as stopping to eat when you feel 80 percent full. There is clinical evidence that strategies such as stopping to say a prayer before meals, eating slowly so that the full feeling can reach the brain, not having televisions in kitchens, or eating with family lead to a decrease in food intake. (25)
18. Consume mostly homemade foods
Restaurants and food manufacturers usually have two goals: for food to taste good, so that you are a) satisfied and b) want more of it. They would usually also prefer this to happen in a cheap way and with the food lasting a long time in storage.
Because of this, many of their food creations contain added sugars, high amounts of sodium, processed oils, preservatives…
That means, on average restaurant food is going to be more harmful to your health and therefore conducive to aging than foods that are homemade.
In addition to poorer meal quality, these foods are often also higher in calories and contribute more easily to excess body fat levels.
A large population-based cohort study showed that
‘Those eating home cooked meals more than five times, compared with less than three times per week, consumed 62.3 g more fruit (99% CI 43.2 to 81.5) and 97.8 g more vegetables (99% CI 84.4 to 111.2) daily. More frequent consumption of home cooked meals was associated with greater likelihood of having normal range BMI and normal percentage body fat.’ They concluded that eating home cooked meals more frequently was associated with better dietary quality and lower adiposity. (26)
Another study went as far as saying that preparing your own meals is an even better indicator of ‘higher diet quality, including significantly more frequent intake of vegetables, salads, fruits, and fruit juices. Spending less than 1 hour/day on food preparation was associated with significantly more money spent on food away from home and more frequent use of fast food restaurants compared to those who spent more time on food preparation. (27)
19. Stay hydrated
We are all well aware of the fact that we would die more quickly from dehydration than from starvation.
Hydration is a crucial part of healthy aging in basically all aspects:
→ Removal of toxins from the body
→ Creation of new cells
→ Blood flow and blood pressure…
But also from an aesthetic standpoint. Without proper hydration our skin is likely to look more haggard, our hair and nails tend to be more brittle, eyesight diminishes more easily…
There is pretty much no aspect in the body that is not affected by proper hydration.
Not to mention how that affects our ability to think and perform (which then affects our happiness and that again has the power to extend our life).
Don’t underestimate what proper hydration can do for you short and long term. (28).
A minimum of 80-100oz (or 2-2.5l) would be a good place to start for most people. Avoid sugary beverages and juices as well as an excess in caffeinated beverages.
20. Alcohol in moderation
Going back to the Blue Zones, the zones in the world where people lived the longest on average, four of these five zones showed that people consumed moderate amounts of alcohol in social settings and with food, good quality wine for the most part. Moderate amounts were classified as about 2 glasses per day. Of course, don’t see this as an encouragement to consume alcohol daily (especially if you are trying to lose weight), instead it shows again that moderation is key, that they valued the social settings and a natural, good quality product, rather than a sugary mixed drink consumed on a binge night at 4am on a Saturday morning. (29)
21. Supplement with Omega 3 Fatty acids
We have already discussed the importance of healthy fats for healthy aging, particularly of some monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Omega 3 fatty acids hold a special place here.
Unmatched with any other fatty acid, omega 3 fatty acids and their anti-inflammatory benefits are one of the best things you can add to your diet in order to prevent disease. Likeliness of you consuming enough omega 3 fatty acids through your diet alone are slim, even if you consume fish on a regular basis. This is one of the few supplements we recommend to almost everybody, especially if you want to improve your performance and recovery, are looking to get pregnant or want to improve your cognitive function…
If you want to read full details on omega 3 fatty acids check out this blog HERE. If you are looking for a high quality product we recommend this brand HERE or you can check your own product on www.examine.com or find independent ratings and reviews on www.labdoor.com
22. Buy high quality animal products
Continuing along the lines of healthy fats – animal products are a very controversial topic. However, research clearly shows that HIGH QUALITY animal products (containing the disputed saturated fats) actually have a great nutritional profile that can support your cell health through iron, vitamin B, healthy fatty acids etc. Emphasis on HIGH QUALITY though. This is one place in your nutrition where you should not skimp and try and save a couple of dollars here and there. The difference in the nutrition profile between organic free range eggs and eggs from caged hens for example is HUGE and well worth the extra money (30). That doesn’t mean you should not consume animal products if you can’t afford organic, grass fed or wild caught, but in any case it means that highly processed animal products (like most commercial sausages), or meat containing antibiotics, should be minimized. If you choose to live a more plant based diet, make sure you educate yourself about what micronutrients you might be missing. (If you want to read our blog on how to get jacked as a vegan click HERE).
23. Consume Pro- and Prebiotic foods
More and more research on gut health is only just emerging. We are learning that our gut is much more than just our digestive system and that immunity, mental health, brain function etc are all closely linked to our gut health.
Even more reason to take care of it and to try and solve our digestive issues.
Pro- and prebiotic foods can help balance our gut bacteria. Whether you should add these through supplementation or just focus on consuming these naturally depends on personal preference, your lifestyle, health history (for example consumption of antibiotics) etc.
‘Gut microbiota have a strong impact in human physiology and, therefore, on the health status in the elderly and age-related diseases. Its immunomodulatory properties could help in two main aspects of aging as immunosenescence and inflammaging. Aging can be considered as an immune disorder. (…) Age-related changes in nutritional behaviour and microbial diversity during aging result in a higher susceptibility to infections and diseases. Likewise, the presence of some beneficial microorganisms in the gut could help to prevent or delay some age-associated diseases by improving the immune response, or by the production of bioactive metabolites as equol, enterolignans, and urolithins. The evidence for intake of probiotics along with age specifically oriented diet to improve health during aging is promising.’ (31)
24. Optimize your fiber intake
Fiber is another aspect of nutrition that greatly affects our digestion. Fiber is defined as ‘the edible parts of plants or analogous carbohydrates that are resistant to digestion and absorption in the human small intestine, with complete or partial fermentation in the large intestine’ (32). Some fiber is good, too much probably causes issues. The thing with fiber is that it is one of the things that is so person dependent and it is hard to give specific guidelines. Many people recommend something along the lines of at least 10g of fiber per every 1000cal consumed per day. Some people feel best on the higher end of that, others can hardly tolerate this level, yet alone fibrous foods that are high in FODMAPS. If you want to find out how you can find the ideal fiber level that helps you feel best and keep bloating or digestive issues to a minimum check out THIS blog.
25. Take Creatine
Healthy aging obviously also includes maintaining muscular strength, but also cognitive function. One of the most researched supplements out there can help you maintain/improve both of these things – Creatine!
Once believed to just be a supplement for strength sport athletes, now we know that Creatine can do much more, even for children and in the way of preventing things like Alzheimer’s or dementia.
‘Creatine has the potential to elicit positive effects in muscle strength, memory, and has further influence on neurodegenerative conditions.’ (33)
26. Include other supplements when needed
Are you currently experiencing high levels of stress? Might be a good idea to include a Zinc supplement. Are you travelling often and you are not always sure if you can get your veggies in? Maybe include a Greens Drink? Or you are trying to get pregnant, which means you should include a pre-natal. It’s flu season? Stay on the safe side with some extra Vitamin C. Not eating much red meat right now or feeling low on energy? Help out with Vitamin B and Iron. Inside for work? Take some Vitamin D. Vitamin D in particular has shown to provide some great benefits in anti-aging medicine (34).
Supplements should be exactly what they are called – a way to supplement your diet with the things you are having a hard time getting enough or or need more of right now. Our lives change constantly and so do the demands for the supplements we should be taking. Check out our all inclusive supplement guide HERE.
Here we have the very best tips to slow down your body’s aging through optimal nutrition and training protocols. However, our aging is affected by many other external influences, such as the beauty products that you use, how frequently you go out in sunlight and what sort of stress you are exposed to at work. In addition to that, let’s not forget the importance of lifestyle factors such as sleep, the people you surround yourself with and what your daily habits look like.
In the second part of this blog we will go into detail on how you can support healthy aging with practices that keep your hormones healthy, support your aesthetics and what really plays a role for longevity when it comes to mindset and lifestyle (rules #27-50).