September is Healthy Aging Month.
The press has been breathlessly reporting on studies of a process that reverses two genetic markers of aging. For the study, subjects had to sit in a hyperbaric chamber where they were given pure oxygen for 90 minutes. They did it five times a week for three months.
Before you go out and buy a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, consider what the research really shows. The tests the researchers used on the subjects were purely genetic. Nobody got tested for memory, hearing, metabolism, flexibility, or strength.
Lifestyle Trumps Genetics
In fact, the people who know the most about this subject estimate that about 25 percent of human longevity is determined by genetics. That means that even if you found and modified the genetic key to aging, you cannot extend life by more than 25 percent. Doesn’t it make sense to focus more on the remaining 75 percent? Especially since we already know quite well how to extend life through lifestyle.
What we already know is summarized by the National Institute on Aging, which offers four guidelines to maintain health and function as you age.
Guidelines for Healthy Aging
1. Keep a Healthy Weight. Extra weight taxes all your subsystems. That’s why overweight people are more likely to have cardiovascular and orthopedic problems. Overweight people are more subject to diabetes, too. But “healthy weight” excludes underweight as well. In a study, older people with a BMI below 19 had a higher mortality rate than those who were normal weight or even those who were obese. Determine a healthy weight for your height, age, frame, body size, and activity level. Then try to keep yourself at that weight through diet and exercise.
2. Eat Thoughtfully. In one research project, healthy eaters were those with “the highest intake of foods like high-fiber cereal, low-fat dairy, fruit, nonwhite bread, whole grains, beans and legumes, and vegetables, and low intake of red and processed meat, fast food, and soda.” Of all the diets the researchers studied, that of the healthy eaters correlated with the lowest gains in BMI and waist circumference. See Guideline number one, above.
3. Stay Active and Exercise. I have cited a lot of studies on exercise and health in this blog. This time I will just give you an anecdote to show just how easy it is maintain your health through activity. One of my former athletes no longer does triathlon, but at the age of 74, he continues to ride his bicycle for fun about 6-8 hours per week. Garmin Connect, the website that collects his activity data, estimates his VO2 Max (the most direct measure of cardiovascular fitness) from on an algorithm based on his heart rate, power output, speed, and body weight. Even with only 6-8 hours of cycling per week, his VO2 Max is 44. Garmin Connect, which has VO2 Max estimates for millions of users around the world, puts his “fitness age” at 25. Find an activity you enjoy and use it to raise your heart rate 6-8 hours per week, and you can remain healthy at least into your 70s.
4. Do Something You Enjoy. A study of older adults found those who “participated in social activities (for example, played games, belonged to social groups, attended local events, or traveled) or productive activities (for example, had paid or unpaid jobs, cooked, or gardened) lived longer than people who did not report taking part in these types of activities.” Doing things you enjoy not only makes life worth living, it allows you to live longer.
To the Institute’s guidelines, I would add this advice. Consider a recovery lifestyle. Peak Recovery & Health Center can help.
Photo: “Spruce Creek Senior Games 2008” by Peter Long is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .