Healthy Ageing and Longevity.

What should we eat?

I’ve always been interested in longevity as I, for one, want to live my longest, healthiest life possible (I am still in my twenties!) – I’ve got to say, it’s never too early to think and prepare for these things! Ever since I started getting interested in Nutrition seriously, I have been doing my best to help my family members to introduce nutrition and lifestyle changes to improve their quality of life. My grandma is 80 and due to life’s hardships she developed a few herniated disks in her spine and suffers with osteoporosis, which means that she has to wear a corset permanently. Yet, she makes sure to start her day with some stretches and exercises. I also taught her to have a protein shake every now and then! 

So what actually happens when we start to age? And when?

Ageing is a process of gradual physiological deterioration that all living beings experience with time. [1]

The research I’ve seen indicates that gene expression changes involved in neuronal function, mitochondrial fitness (this is how our body gives us energy to perform daily functions), DNA repair, antioxidant activity, and stress response occur at around 40 years old. [2]

However, we all age at different rates, depending on our DNA, external factors such as smoking, the environment and our social and economic position.

How can this manifest itself?

  • Development of disease
  • Lower (lack of) Vitamin & Mineral absorption
  • Hormonal changes
  • Onset of sarcopenia – gradual loss of the muscular skeletal mass
  • Reduction in cognitive capacity
  • Obesity and sarcopenic obesity
  • Undernutrition/Malnutrition 
  • Frailty 

It’s not all ‘doom & gloom’ thankfully, as there are a number of dietary and lifestyle changes you can make on the way to healthier ageing!

Vitamins and Minerals

Photo by Anna Tukhfatullina Food Photographer/Stylist on Pexels.com

Diversify your meals – start now by welcoming new fruits, vegetables, pulses, seeds and nuts that perhaps you have never had before?

Research suggests that at around 50 years old, we stop absorbing B12 and B9 as well as we used to, which can cause a number of unpleasant gastrointestinal issues. Supplementing with a Multivitamin that contains B vitamins might be a good idea. However, don’t ever ignore any new symptoms and check with your GP to rule out anything more serious.

Protein

Protein is a building block in our body, it’s the main structure of everything and as such has many functions, to name a few:

  • Muscle and bone health
  • Immunity support
  • Wound healing and recovery
  • Hair, nails and skin health
  • Digestive enzymes 
  • Hormone Function

When it comes to the ageing population, studies have shown a blunted response to protein synthesis hence lower absorption.  Sharp decline of muscle mass is also noticed after menopause. [3]

This can, in time, lead to Sarcopenia, the consequences of which are often severe in older adults, as the strength and functional declines can in turn contribute to a number of adverse health outcomes, including loss of function, disability, frailty and depression. [4]

The good news is that our understanding of Sarcopenia has been growing and evolving. The key message from the body of research is to aim to consume in the region of 25-30g of protein per meal combined with daily physical activity. [5]

To give you an idea what that would look like:

  • a piece of steak (40g), 
  • a chicken breast (35g), 
  • 200g Greek Yogurt 0% fat/ Cottage Cheese (28g), 
  • 3 large eggs (22.2g)
  • a scoop of protein powder in your porridge or yogurt would give you between (25-30g)
  • quorn Mince 100g (14.5g)
  • a pint of whole cow’s milk (18g), Soy milk (14g)
  • 200g Quark (18.2g)
  • 200g Alpro Greek Yogurt (11.6g)
  • one slice (28g) of cheddar cheese (7g)

I would suggest hitting that first protein goal at breakfast as you will have a full day ahead of moving around and/or exercising, providing that all important stimuli for the muscle protein synthesis to occur.

It would also help having a couple of protein rich sources at each meal to give you a greater chance to hit that desirable goal of 25-30g of protein. 

Calorie Restriction

Research into Calorie Restriction and Intermittent Fasting offer an intriguing promise in the areas of ageing, longevity, disease and even cancer treatment. So far though, only animal studies seem to offer any conclusive evidence. There are some human studies that show metabolic improvement in fasting trials. [6]

During fasting, cells start to restore themselves and enhance intrinsic defences against oxidative and metabolic stress, providing an anti-ageing effect. This process is called ‘Autophagy’. It is our body’s way of cleaning out its damaged cells in order to generate new, healthier ones. 

We now know that Autophagy reduces with age [7] and so we need to find ways to give ourselves every opportunity to ‘tidy up’! Having lighter days calorie wise during your week and exercising may help things move in the right direction and induce autophagy. 

Bear in mind though, it is quite difficult to change your eating patterns drastically as we are very much accustomed to eating 3 meals per day plus snacks. 

If this is something you might want to try (and there are no medical conditions preventing you to) I would suggest approaching this method with some careful planning and consideration. 

Personally, I think it’s worth trying to slowly work towards extending your natural window of the overnight fast, when practical. If you can, try having breakfast later than usual and then have an early dinner with no more food until the morning. This would gradually help you move towards a 15-18 hour fasting window. You don’t have to worry sticking to this rigidly but having a couple of ‘fasting days’ a week is better than none!

Movement and Exercise 

Resistance Training has been studied so extensively in connection with healthy ageing and if you don’t own a set of dumbbells and/or resistance bands in your house – go get them now! Ask for some help from a professional on how to perform some of the trickier exercises properly but for some of the simpler ones, just use your common sense.

Of course, we all need to start somewhere so try doing what you can now, bearing in mind your own strengths and weaknesses. Do some gardening, climb those stairs, find a hobby that would increase your physical activity, buy a treadmill or a step to get the exercise done indoors (as I can fully sympathise with those self-isolating these days).

Losing our mobility can have devastating effects on everyday life, not just physically but also mentally. Doing everything we can now to prevent significant physical deterioration down the line is key. After all, health is never just about the absence of disease but a multifaceted state of both complete physical, mental and social well-being. [8]

Look after yourself and motivate others to make positive steps toward a healthier and longer life. 

Blue zones 

Blue zones are places with a high population of centenarians – Okinawa Japan, Ikaria Greece and  Loma Linda, California.

More recently Blue Zones have become a movement in itself, where people and even communities are adopting changes from this lifestyle. Are you up for taking up this challenge? (if so, let me know)

The data comes from years of observations and typically they eat meat (except for the Loma linda community, they are vegetarians), dairy, plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  Physical activity is the main connecting factor between these groups. I will never forget seeing a BBC documentary about Japanese grannies (in their late 80 and early 90s!!!) diving in the water to catch eels. They looked fit as a fiddle, I tell ya! 

Here are some common themes connecting the Blue Zones communities:

  • No overeating/calorie restriction 
  • Food grown and cooked locally
  • Regular consumption of wholegrains and pulses
  • Physical activity
  • Afternoon siestas
  • Sun exposure
  • Minimal stress
  • Cleaner environment
  • Meaning of life, belonging, religion, community

Supplements

If you find yourself confused with the choice of health supplements available these days, I’ve compiled the following list of basic supplements anyone can consider for optimal health:

  • Multivitamin, B vitamins + Calcium – preventing deficiency. 
  • Fish Oils – preventive and controlling measure of cardiometabolic risks, hormone and brain function
  • Vitamin D – bone health, support of the immune system, improvement of depressive symptoms 
  • Whey/or plant based Protein Powder and Leucine [9] – to help hit the protein goal
  • Creatine – data suggests can aid with cognitive function on top of bone and muscle density 

*Your GP can prescribe a corrective dose if you are particularly deficient in a specific element.

Final thoughts 

In conclusion, I feel that we just need to go back to the basics, use what we have around us (seasonal veg), strive for a healthy balance (we all know what it looks by now!) and keep as active as possible. As the blue zones have shown us, extended life span comes not only from physical health but from social factors and tradition as well.

I guess what we can draw from that is that our body is adaptable and flexible as long as we give it space and time for movement, healing and nourishment. Seek self-fulfilment and family/community support to strive together.

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