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Healthy aging 101: why good genes aren't enough

By Medisys on February 24 2018 | Dr. Vivien Brown, News

It's never too late, or too early, to start putting your health first! 

What makes us unique and one of a kind is in our genetic make up.  Our genes are why family members look alike.  It is also why some diseases such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease run in certain families.   These genes are the ones we are born with and cannot change.  As a physician, when we assess an individual’s risk for chronic diseases, we take that genetic makeup, or family history into account.

Our genetic make up is a gift from our parents, and it is not modifiable (there is a no return policy). However, it is often the modifiable risks, the ones we can change, that will make the biggest difference in our lives and in our health. We don't just want to live longer, but also, we want to live those golden years in an active and healthy way, independent and with all of our cognitive abilities.

While you may feel that "getting old" is so far in the distant future for you that you don't need to think about it today, it is never too early (or too late) to start thinking about healthy aging.  A healthy future starts today, and it's time to make adjustments to your lifestyle so that you can live a long and healthy life and act as a role model to your family.

Here are a few healthy aging strategies I counsel my patients to practice:

  1. Eat a healthy diet of calcium rich foods such as leafy greens and dairy products or soy-based products if you are averse to dairy. Calcium from food products is ideal and we aim for 1200 mg per day from all sources. If you are eating well, you may be getting enough calcium in your diet and supplements are not needed.  While it's important to get enough calcium from food sources, it's easy to get too much calcium from supplements, which can be dangerous. When it comes to supplements, generally speaking, we in Canada all need Vitamin D supplements as we get little direct sunlight and that is the common source of Vitamin D. Take Vitamin D daily–400-1000 IU’s for adults under 50 and 800-2000 IU for adults over 50.  That is a must! If you are like 80% of Canadians, you are not meeting your daily recommended intake of essential vitamins and minerals through food sources. Take charge of your health. Take the 4 week mico-nutrient challenge today!
  2. Eat healthy.  There are hundreds of diet fads out there, the ketogenic diet, the low carb high protein diet, the anti-inflammatory diet, the list goes on and on.  Different diets work for different people. I recommend following a Mediterranean Diet or the "MIND" diet, both which are rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes and lean meats.  Research suggests that as many as 53% of Alzheimer's cases could be prevented through diet modifications. Women who eat more vegetables experience less risk of cognitive decline than their peers who eat fewer vegetables. The rate of cognitive declines the lowest in women who eat the most cruciferous vegetables and dark leafy greens. Also, there is a positive correlation between BMI (body mass index) and the rate of cognitive decline.
  3. Exercise.  For bone health, include weight-bearing exercises that use your body weight such as walking, running, weight lifting to help to strengthen both bones and muscles, as well as to improve your balance. Balance and core strength becomes increasingly important as you age because of the increased risk of falls and fractures.  In addition to weight bearing exercise, include aerobic exercise for both cardiovascular health, and brain health.  Also, exercise with purpose. Rushing up and down the stairs doing countless loads of laundry is not the same as going for a jog.  You need to exercise to raise your heart rate a minimum of three to five times a week for at least thirty minutes to get the most benefit. Also, if you have a desk job and you sit for most of the day, you need significantly more exercise than someone who naturally gets more steps and activity in their job or day-to-day life. 
  4. Stay socially connected. It is important to stay socially active and connected with your friends and family.  Doing Sudoku at home alone might be a good brain exercise, but it is not the same, and doesn't offer the same brain health benefits as playing scrabble with a group of friends, or attending an interactive seminar on a topic of interest, for example. Research shows that individuals who are socially connected live longer have stimulation to protect brain aging and overall have a better quality of life.
  5. Reduce stress. While some stress can be a good thing and helps the brain cope with life-threatening situations, too much stress is harmful.  If the stress is long term, it can raise the levels of cortisol, leading to weight gain. Chronic unrelenting stress, ages our telomeres, those caps that protect our cells. Mindful meditation and other relaxing activities that reduce stress has shown benefits such as an increase in the flow of oxygen rich blood to your brain. It is not only helpful to reduce stress for your emotional well being, it actually has a measurable physical impact.

 

Make a promise to yourself and your loved ones to stay healthy and follow the strategies I’ve outlined above. Taking care of yourself is not selfish, it is selfless as you will be there to take care of the ones you love…..and that’s the best gift of all.