Body, Mind & Spirit: Expert Tips for Staying Healthy and Happy as You Age
Creating art can boost brain health as you age. Photo: Photo: Caia Image/Getty Images
From brain boosters to healthy eats, experts weigh in on ways to stay healthy and happy as you age.
When Dr. Michael Roizen, the chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic and a co-author of the book The Great Age Reboot, spoke at the Global Wellness Summit in Boston late last year, the 75-year-old made the case that, in our 40s, 50s and 60s, we can manipulate our genes to extend our prime years – when we’re in peak physical and mental condition — by as much as 30 years, taking us into our 90s.
Here’s what it boils down to:
1. Do your brain teasers and physical exercises as quickly as you are able (with your doctor’s consent). The speed adds a form of stress that helps one of our genes to drastically reduce the chances of developing dementia.
2. There’s bad stress too, of course, but it can help build resilience. “Managing stress, [through] friends and purpose, is the most important thing in aging,” Roizen says in an interview; he makes the point that it doesn’t matter what your purpose is, as long as you have a passion for it.
3. Know what he calls your “normals,” which include blood pressure, LDL (bad) cholesterol, body mass index and blood sugar, and keep them within what your doctor tells you is your normal range.
“If you do all of those,” Roizen says, “you’re more likely to live younger, longer.”
Healthy eating helps our cardiovascular system, weight and blood pressure and provides us with antioxidants, all of which may have cognitive benefits. Berries in particular are high in flavonoids, plant chemicals that have been linked in long-term research to a lower rate of dementia. The MIND diet (a variation on the Mediterranean diet, designed to reduce dementia risk) recommends at least two servings of berries a week.
Now, a study from researchers at England’s University of East Anglia, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, suggests eating cranberries regularly may help older brains. In the experiment, people aged 50 to 80 were given either a daily dose of freeze-dried cranberry powder (equivalent to a cup of fresh berries) or a placebo. It was a small study of just 60 people and funded by the U.S.-based Cranberry Institute, but the results were nevertheless significant: After 12 weeks, the cranberry group demonstrated improved memory and cognitive function. There were also signs of better blood flow to the brain – good news, considering this often decreases as we age and can lead to mental decline.
Cranberries are high in fibre and vitamin C and thanks to their low sugar content, they can be used in both sweet and savoury recipes.
When Nate Laurie, 77, retired as an editorial writer at the Toronto Star, he wanted to continue being creative – but without the desk job and deadlines. So he started painting. “It’s a very relaxing form of creativity,” he says. “I can paint where I want, what I want. I can start something and don’t have to finish tomorrow or ever.”
It’s also good for his brain. “That calm state of creating art can positively contribute to brain health as we age,” says Kate Dupuis, the Schlegel Innovation Leader in Arts and Aging at Sheridan College’s Centre for Elder Research in Oakville, Ont. “De-stressing is beneficial, because the stress hormone cortisol can negatively impact memory function.” Also, as the clinical neuropsychologist notes, “Creating art can be stimulating cognitively, emotionally and spiritually.”
For Laurie, who has always enjoyed working with his hands, it’s a feel-good exercise. He is extremely patient, he says, and can go over and over his work, “until I’m happy with it.” He paints scenery and portraits of his grandchildren, usually from photographs. “The hard thing is deciding what to paint and, after that, it’s a piece of cake.” The best part is looking at his art and thinking, “Oh, I did this?” That feeling, he adds, is enormously rewarding.
A version this article appeared in the August/September 2022 issue with the headline ‘Body, Mind & Spirit: The Latest Wellness Advice for Health and Happiness’, p. 34.