5 Simple Tips for Living Longer, Better — And Improving Your Mood!
From moving more to boost brain health to tapping into the benefits of fasting, the lockdown is a great time to explore some expert-approved longevity strategies. Photo: Flashpop/Getty Images
We have had to slow down, stay home and, for many of us, take stock during this pandemic. But regardless of the global health situation, our overall personal health and well-being is just as important now as it was before we started donning masks and socially distancing. As such, we turned to some experts for five simple ways we can help ourselves live longer, better — and with a great attitude to boot!
Aerobic Exercise for the Win
“I’ve always exercised but I now am so convinced that aerobic exercise on a daily basis is really protective against so many diseases that I’m trying to do that every day,” says Camilla Cavendish, an award-winning British journalist and author of Extra Time: 10 Lessons for an Aging World.
To back up the advice, she cites a report by London’s Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in which researchers concluded that 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise, five times a week, can reduce the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, some cancers and even dementia. (Incidentally, those all appear in the top ten leading causes of death in Canada.)
Move for Your Mind, Too
With his latest book Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives, best-selling author and retired McGill University professor Daniel Levitin offers strategies for living our best life after 60. He notes that staying active also helps keep our memory sharp.
“You know, if you’re sedentary you’re going to forget things more. We know that now from research. So avoid sedentarism. It’s about movement and oxygenation of the blood, which keeps your [brain] circuits healthier.”
Eat Better, Feel Happier
Levitin also scoured the science on nutrition and boiled it down to: avoid diet fads. Eat a variety of healthy whole food each day. It’s good for the body — and your brain.
“Just like your circulatory system has to work with the brain, the digestive system has to create hormones and nutrients and neurotransmitters.
“In fact, 95 per cent of the serotonin in the body — important mood neurotransmitters — is created in the gut. I think it’s helpful to just realize that like the Jedi masters say, ‘Sound body, sound mind.’”
Fast for Longer Life
Longevity researcher David A. Sinclair practices intermittent fasting (IF) and advocates it in his book Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To. He does IF most days by eating just a yogurt until having a late lunch. A geneticist and Harvard Medical School professor, Sinclair has spent 30 years working on how to increase lifespan by improving health span — staying disease-free for longer.
“We’re taught that three square meals a day is what we should be having, with snacks in between. That, in my field, has been thrown out the window. It doesn’t agree with the last 20 years of research on aging.
“Your body should be a bellwether and your doctor should let you know if fasting is fine. But if you are in good health, I really couldn’t recommend anything better for long-term health than being hungry a little bit during the day.”
Retire (or Not) With Purpose
All three authors align on staying engaged as we age.
“I think that my father is a role model, being in his eighties and doing all the things he always wanted to do in life,” Sinclair says, crediting his father’s stamina to regular exercise.
“We recently got back from Uganda and he was hiking the mountainous rainforests, visiting the gorillas with his grandkids. That’s what we should strive for.”
Although Levitin retired from teaching, he continues researching and writing. “You don’t have to be engaged with work, although that’s a path that works for many. But you should at least be engaged with something meaningful to you,” he says.
“I moved back to California for part of the year and I realized that I know all the birds that come around my garden because I grew up here. But I didn’t know the insects. And so I got a field guide to insects and I’ve been learning about them. To me, that’s staying engaged.”
Cavendish holds up Japan, home to one of the world’s Blue Zones, for a country-wide program through which people over the mandatory retirement age of 60 can participate in casual work; from guiding tours to tidying local parks. She says it contributes to what the Japanese call ikigai, or “reason for being.”
For people who enjoy their work and miss the social contact it offers, their health can actually suffer after retirement. “We need to shift our attitudes about what age is. Look at the presidential primaries in the U.S., my god, the age of some of the candidates,” she says. “I think we’re breaking the stereotype simply by having people in public positions that are obviously an awful lot older than they used to be.”
A version of this story was published on June 9, 2020