5 Essential Strategies to Combat Aging
How to keep your mind sharp and your body young
Most of us protest against the idea of aging in the way our parents did and vow to fight the process as long as possible. We are looking for a safe, convenient, medically sound way to live longer, empower ourselves, and remain healthy and fulfilled throughout that long life – what I refer to as “quality longevity.”
To achieve quality longevity, we have more control than we think. Genetics accounts for only one-third of what determines our health as we age. That means that simple everyday lifestyle choices have a major impact on how well and how long we live.
Empowering ourselves for the future requires learning new skills as well as honing the ones we already have.
Try some of these strategies to live longer and feel and look younger.
Strategy 1: Sharpen your mind
With a sharp mind, we’re more inclined to stay fit, have good relationships, eat well and live a healthy lifestyle. Doing mental aerobics can improve memory and lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. A recent UCLA study found that when we keep our minds active, brain efficiency increases dramatically, even after just a few weeks.
Consider these tips to sharpen your mind:
Try different approaches to expanding your mental horizons, whether it’s traveling to new destinations, learning a musical instrument, taking up ballroom dancing or going back to school.
Learn and use the three basic memory techniques:
Look – focus attention on what you want to remember
Snap – imagine a mental snapshot of the information
Connect – link the snapshots together in your mind’s eye
Stay mentally active through puzzles, games, reading and other stimulating hobbies, but be sure to train and not strain your brain find the level of challenge that keeps you interested without frustrating or exhausting you.
Strategy 2: Cultivate healthy relationships
Socially connected people have longer life expectancies than isolated individuals. Cultivate intimacy with your partner since good sex makes for a longer life. Not only does it bring people closer together, it lowers blood pressure, reduces pain, promotes restful sleep and boosts the immune system so we are better able to fight off infections.
Empathy – our ability to understand another person’s emotional viewpoint and to express that understanding – is the social glue that keeps us together. Although not everyone is an empathy expert, we can improve our skills through simple exercises that teach us to express our empathic responses.
Try this attentive listening exercise:
Ask your mate or friend to talk about a feeling or issue important to him and just listen without interrupting or interpreting. Maintain eye contact and stay focused. After five minutes, talk to each other about how it felt.
Strategy 3: Reduce stress
We can’t completely eliminate stress from our lives, but we can learn healthier responses to it.
Here are some steps we all can take to minimize stress to live longer and better.
Control clutter in your home and in your life. Sometimes we have people cluttering our lives that we need to cut loose so we have more time for those we really care about.
Get more realistic about how much you take on each day. Try eliminating just a few items from your to-do list.
Watch for multitasking. Slow down and take one thing at a time.
Learn to meditate. Regular meditation not only reduces stress but boosts the immune system and promotes healing of various medical conditions, from arthritis to chronic pain.
Empower yourself with the word no. When we don’t say no enough, we take on too many responsibilities and feel anxious, resentful and trapped. When you say no to a request, you are saying yes to something else that is more important to you.
Strategy 4: Think positive
Optimists have a greater life expectancy than pessimists
Make an effort to see the cup half full. Recent studies show that we can learn optimism when we set our minds to it.
Discover your spiritual life. Attending a house of worship once a week is associated with a seven-year-longer survival compared with never attending.
Take care of your needs. Satisfied people are twice as likely to survive compared with dissatisfied individuals.
Strategy 5: Manage your environment
Our environment has a big influence on how we feel and how long we live. Whether it’s traffic, noise, smog or other aspects of the environment at large, or more personal environmental issues such as aesthetics or bedroom temperature, our quality longevity requires that we not only adapt to these influences but learn to shape them to meet our individual tastes and needs.
Consider the following personal solutions for environmental issues.
Bear in mind function and aesthetics when designing your home and work space. Control clutter and noise and arrange the bedroom in a way that enhances sleep and restfulness.
Minimize your exposure to sun, smoke, mold, smog and other airborne toxins.
Stay safe on the road – let someone else drive if you can’t handle it.
Make your workplace safe and comfortable: Consider ergonomic designs for comfort and safety.
Manage your technology to avoid information overload.
Gary Small, MD, is director of the Memory and Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior at UCLA and the author, with Gigi Vorgan, of The Longevity Bible: 8 Essential Strategies for Keeping Your Mind Sharp and Your Body Young.