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Improve with Age

This is page 1 of a two-part article.

Wine & Cheese 2.jpgSome things definitely improve with age.  Take cheese and wine, for example. I'm not big on wine, but I do love a nicely aged cheddar. Some people also improve with age, becoming wiser and happier.

Of course, many people see aging as a process of decline rather than improvement.  When I turned 50 several years ago, I became aware that my body just wasn't quite as healthy as it used to be.  I didn't sleep as well or have as much energy, and I was developing more little aches and pains.

This realization didn't send me into resignation, however. It caused me to develop a keen personal interest in learning all I can about anti-aging, bringing it “center stage” in my personal research and practice. My plan has always been to live to a “ripe old age” and to be healthy and active until the day I die.  I want to die “in the field with my boots on,” not wasting away in some old nursing home.  Of course, if my life is cut short because of some accident, that's okay; I just don't want any of this slow “wasting away” from chronic and degenerative disease that I see happening in so many people my age.

I've always had a healthier lifestyle than the average American, but that's not good enough anymore. The little signs of aging I noticed in my body told me that my program is less than optimal, so I've been tweaking and improving it. Anyone who tells you that you don't need to adjust your lifestyle for maximum health and that you just need to take some supplements doesn't know what they're talking about. Supplements can help, but 80-90% of staying healthy is all about lifestyle.

Chronic Illness Doesn't Have to Be Part of the Aging Picture

There is a common misconception that you don't realize you're developing chronic and degenerative diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental deterioration, etc. until they “take you down.”  This is because most people (including medical doctors) don't recognize the “early warning” signs that tell you your lifestyle is unhealthy.  They think the little aches and pains, constipation, digestive upset, headaches, joint stiffness, waking up at night to urinate, gaining weight around the abdomen, etc. are just natural parts of “growing older.”

I reject that hypothesis. In fact, the more I've researched the subject, the more I realize that the extra weight I was carrying around my middle (which I gained under a period of great stress) was a serious indication that my metabolism was out of whack. And, when I see people in their 70s and 80s who are active and healthy, I know that we aren't meant to deteriorate from degenerative disease as we age.

My reading on this subject has lead me to believe that there are four major factors which contribute to the development of chronic and degenerative disease as we age. These factors are:

  1. Free Radical Damage
  2. Chronic Inflammation
  3. Hyperinsulinemia (metabolic syndrome)
  4. Stress (excess or diminished cortisol)

All of these factors are interrelated because each contributes to the others. So, it's not just about correcting any one of them; it's about simultaneously working to prevent all four.  But, let's take a brief look at what we need to do for each.

1. Use Antioxidants to Counteract Free Radical DamageAntioxidants 2.jpg

Scientists now recognize that oxidative stress, also known as free radical damage, is a major cause of degenerative disease and premature aging. Since rust is an example of oxidative stress, you can think of this free radical damage as causing us to slowly “rust” on the inside.

Antioxidants prevent this “rust,” thereby slowing the aging process and preventing degenerative disease.  The primary way to get more antioxidants is to eat 5-9 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. 

The only difficult part of this is that it requires a little food preparation time to cook vegetables yourself rather than opening up a can or a package of frozen vegetables.  But even if you don't have time to cook, what stops you from eating carrot and celery sticks, raw fruits, or using some of the organic pre-packaged salad mixes?  Come on, it's not that hard.

You can also use antioxidant supplements.  One of my favorites is Thai-Go from Nature's Sunshine Products.  It has been independently tested and bears a seal of certification from an independent lab about it's high antioxidant value—the best product in it's class. But personally, I think that the best way to get antioxiants is to simply eat fruits and vegetables daily.

2. Use Anti-inflammatory Remedies to Prevent Chronic Inflammation

Years ago I learned that inflammation is the body's response to tissue damage of any kind.  Of course, the inflammatory process is supposed to end with the tissue repairing itself and returning to normal function.  This doesn't always happen, so chronic inflammation sets in and causes tissue breakdown. 

Chronic inflammation and free radical damage are closely related processes, so the same 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables also help to reduce chronic inflammation, but there are some additional factors that target inflammation more specifically.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids are missing in almost all American diets. These fatty acids help produce chemical messengers that control inflammation.  When they are lacking, tissue damage doesn't heal properly and turns into chronic inflammation.  Omega-3 fatty acids are also critical to brain function, as the brain is 50% fat and most of that is omega-3 fatty acids.

Another key to reducing chronic inflammation is to eliminate refined carbohydrates from your diet.  I'm taking about eliminating refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour and polished rice from your diet as much as possible.  It's okay to use whole grains and natural sweeteners in moderation.  The primary carbohydrates in your diet should be fruits and vegetables.

Finally, the primary source of both oxidative stress and the tissue damage that causes inflammation is environmental toxins.  As much as you can, avoid chemicals.  If you don't buy pre-packaged foods loaded with preservatives, food colorings, etc. that's a start, but you should also look for natural household cleaning products and personal care products.

3. Keep Your Blood Sugar Stable

The best way to do this is to avoid simple carbohydrates like refined sugar, white flour and polished rice.  Instead, opt for whole grains and natural sweeteners.  However, as previously noted, even whole grains and natural sugars can be overdone. 

If you experience a lot of sugar cravings, it's because you aren't getting enough good quality fat and protein in your diet.  To get the fat and protein you need, start the day with a breakfast that includes good quality eggs, turkey breakfast sausage, organic bacon, organic beef, avocados, a shake with protein powder, some coconut milk or coconut oil, etc.  Then, eat regular small meals throughout the day.  This helps keep you from getting on the blood sugar roller coaster that leads to chronic inflammation. 

I've found that Super Algae (an NSP product) and licorice root help reduce sugar cravings.  Take two capsules of each at breakfast, two more at lunch, and two more in mid-afternoon if you start to experience a slump. 

4. Manage Stress

Stressed 1.jpgTelling someone to avoid stress is ridiculous because stress is an unavoidable part of life.  However, we can learn to manage our stress, and the best way to do that is to deliberately create pleasurable experiences for ourselves every day.  Pleasurable experiences such as taking a hot bath, getting a massage or a foot rub, taking a walk in nature, enjoying a wonderful meal, and other activities that engage the body and the senses are great ways to counteract stress.  This is because the positive benefits of pleasurable experiences have a greater impact on the mind and body than the negative effects of stressful experiences.

Adaptogenic herbs can also be used to help reduce stress levels.  These herbs often have the added benefit of helping to keep blood sugar balanced, too.  Adaptogens include Eleuthero root, rhodiola, suma, ginseng, astragalus, schizandra, and many other tonic herbs.  These herbs can often help with inflammation and oxidative stress as well.

My favorite adaptogenic herb is still just plain Eleuthero root. I also really love the Nervous Fatigue Formula from Nature's Sunshine Products. It helps people who feel “burned out” from stress to sleep better, have more energy, and feel more relaxed.

Another thing that benefits both blood sugar levels and reduces stress is regular exercise.  This doesn't mean you have to go to the gym.  You can take a walk, bounce on a mini-trampoline, or just lift some light weights three or four times per week.

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