Healthy Secrets: Avoiding the Ravages of Age

The process of aging is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Although your genes seem to be the most important influence, there are some changes you can make that can help you age in a healthy way.

"Lifestyle factors can influence how the aging process will occur and express itself in your lifetime," says Karlis Ullis, M.D., author of several wellness books, including Age Right: Turn Back the Clock With a Proven, Personalized Anti-Aging Program . "Healthy habits can modify gene expression to ultimately slow your physiological clock."

The following strategies can help you avoid the aging fast track.

Eat less meat

Meat contains saturated fat, which increases the LDL ("bad") cholesterol and total cholesterol levels in your blood, two factors associated with an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. Avoid large amounts of lamb, mutton, beef and pork; instead, choose chicken, turkey or fish.

Getting your protein from chicken, fish, low-fat or fat-free dairy and beans, and fortifying your diet with plenty of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains, including whole-grain breads and cereals, promotes good health.

Downsize stress

Psychological and social variables such as anxiety, chronic duress and depression can affect your physical and mental well-being.

"Stress, in particular, is a hormonal chain of events that can directly affect your health," says Dr. Ullis.

Cortisol, a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands, can save your life by helping you react to dangerous situations. "But if you're under stress and in survival mode all the time, it can wear you out mentally and physically," Dr. Ullis says.

A chronic elevated cortisol level can lead to diabetes, osteoporosis or depression. It can also cause memory problems because cortisol can modify and age cells in the hippocampus, an important memory-relay center of your brain.

To find an outlet for stress, consider meditation, yoga, biofeedback, tai chi and regular exercise. At the very least, allow yourself several 10-minute segments of down-time daily so you're not on the go constantly.

Challenge your mind

To fight the aging process, "you have to keep your brain stimulated your entire life," says Dr. Ullis.

Besides challenging your mind intellectually, you should learn new motor skills. "I recommend learning ballroom dancing, swing dancing or salsa. They're all good for coordination, balance and socialization," Dr. Ullis says.

Stay active

Regular exercise decreases the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases, obesity, type 2 diabetes, weak muscles and bones, stress disorders, anxiety, depression and many other medical and psychological maladies, according to Dr. Ullis.

"When you do a 20- to 30-minute workout with weights, you elevate growth hormone and testosterone, which will stimulate your muscles to grow new tissue," says Dr. Ullis.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report recommends 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. This may include weightlifting, walking, jogging or other forms of exercise.


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