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Research Identifies Keys to Living Longer Featured

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Healthy_Aging-older_coupleIf you're hoping to live to a healthy 100, good genes help. But just because a parent lived to be 100 doesn't mean that you will. Likewise, if your parents died in their 60s, it doesn't mean that you won't live to be 100.

Research suggests it's a complex mix of your heredity, environment and lifestyle that determines your life span. The way you manage your body, mind and spirit today affects how you'll feel as you age.

The December issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource offers these tips for healthy aging:

Have a positive attitude: Research suggests a positive view of aging can mean living a longer, healthier life.

Eat well: A healthy diet is key to preventing diseases, slowly the effects of aging and increasing your quality of life while alive.

Eat colorful fruits and vegetables. Colorful fruits and vegetables are often a good source of antioxidants -- substances that may help protect your brain cells from damage over time.

Alcohol can make you age faster and can shorten your life span as well. In terms of how alcohol causes one to age faster, alcohol has effects on all of your organ systems. So for those individuals who drink above these recommended limits, they may experience problems with sleep, depression, anxiety, stomach problems such as gastritis or heartburn. The problems listed above are short term consequences. If one continues to drink above these limits for a long period of time, e.g. several years or more, one can experience further and more serious health consequences such as high blood pressure, neurological damage, memory loss, depression, enlarged heart, and have greater risk of stomach, liver, and pancreatic cancer. Alcohol's effects are magnified with age.

Avoid tobacco: Tobacco use can cause premature aging. Tobacco use most commonly to diseases affecting the heart and lungs, with smoking being a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and cancer (particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer). Tobacco use also causes myocardial infarctions, peripheral vascular disease and hypertension, all developed due to the exposure time and the level of dosage of tobacco. Smoke contains several carcinogenic pyrolytic products that bind to DNA and cause many genetic mutations. Tobacco use also can lower your immunity and increase your risk to many other diseases and conditions. It's never too late to stop smoking. Many of the negative effects can be reversed if you stop smoking.

Keep physically active: Exercise is probably the best prescription for combating disease and aging. There are numerous studies that indicate that exercise can reduce the risk to several life threatening conditions including but not limited to: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and hypertension.  Exercise also helps control cholesterol, reduce the risk for several types of cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, dementia and Alzheimer’s. Your brain also stays in better shape if you work out. Exercise increases blood flow to all parts of your body, including your brain and might promote cell growth there. A recent study of 5925 women over the age of 65 found that the most active women had a 30 percent reduced risk of cognitive decline as they aged.  The study revealed that even moderate levels of physical activity can serve to limit declines in cognition in older adults. To reap the most benefits, exercise at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week.

Exercise your brain: Use it to keep it strong. Lifelong learning is key.

Control stress: Manage stress. When you're stressed, your brain releases hormones that can damage your brain with long-term exposure.  Stress hormones divert blood glucose to exercising muscles, therefore the amount of glucose – hence energy – that reaches the brain's hippocampus is diminished. This creates an energy crisis in the hippocampus which compromises its ability to create new memories. That may be why some people can't remember a very traumatic event, and why short-term memory is usually the first casualty of age-related memory loss resulting from a lifetime of stress. Studies done by Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky, Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, showed that lots of stress or exposure to cortisol accelerates the degeneration of the aging hippocampus, the part of the limbic brain which is central to learning and memory. And, because the hippocampus is part of the feedback mechanism that signals when to stop cortisol production, a damaged hippocampus causes cortisol levels to get out of control – further compromising memory and cognitive function. The cycle of degeneration then continues. (Perhaps similar to the deterioration of the pancreas-insulin feedback system.).  Chronic over-secretion of stress hormones like cortisol adversely affects brain function. Too much cortisol can prevent the brain from laying down a new memory, or from accessing already existing memories. Using magnetic resonance imaging, Mayo Clinic researchers found that specific changes in the hippocampus were linked to changes in behavior associated with aging and Alzheimer's disease. "When certain parts of the hippocampus shrink or deteriorate, specific, related memory abilities are affected," says neurologist Ronald C. Petersen, the principal author of the study. Furthermore, individuals with a shrunken hippocampus tend to progress more rapidly towards Alzheimer's. Stress, over time, also increases risk of cardiovascular.

Stay socially connected: Stay socially connected. Staying socially connected has shown to reduce risk of depression and also slow down cognitive decline. Social engagement and maintaining a positive attitude are also powerful tools in deterring the arrival of dementia. Individuals who are optimistic, agreeable, open to experience, conscientious, positively motivated and goal-directed are more likely to experience successful aging. Animal research supports these findings. These studies show that exposing animals to enriched or complex environments (usually including running wheels, a multitude of toys and objects to climb, and animal companions) yields several physiological benefits, including neuronal changes in the brain. Consider volunteering and staying connected with friends. Having a dependable group of friends and family is one of the most reliable predictors of longevity.

Nurture your spirit: No matter what you call your source of inspiration, it's important to nurture spirituality.

Plan ahead: You don't have to be rich to be happy, but try to look ahead to budget for activities and a lifestyle that you value.

Last modified on Monday, 23 December 2013 15:06
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