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How to be a super-ager

What is it that cancer, heart disease, stroke, dementia and osteoarthritis all have in common? The sad fact that your chances of getting any of them increase as you age

Scientists and super-agers themselves reveal the secrets to living longer, healthier lives.

Stay active 
Forget toxic ambitions like bikini bodies or the ‘perfect’ size ten, exercising keeps your body and your mind healthy at every life stage. People who exercise tend to have improved immune and digestive functioning, better blood pressure and bone density, and a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. The list goes on. Exercising regularly and challenging yourself with new activities helps to maintain and retain mobility, flexibility, and balance.

Recent studies have shown that moderate, varied exercise can actually stave off the ageing process.  An enzyme called telomerase can add DNA to the ends of chromosomes to slow, prevent and partially reverse the shortening that leads to the major conditions and diseases of ageing.

Exercise your mind 
Ageing well is about exercising the mind as well as the body.

Research suggests that one in three cases of dementia could be prevented if we were to take better care of our brain health throughout life. Exercising our grey matter by exploring fresh interests and learning skills keeps minds active and neural pathways firing into older age.  

Stay socially connected 
The health benefits of social connection and participation are important for our mental and physical wellbeing at every life stage.

Loneliness can decrease life expectancy by 14 percent, according to research by psychologist John Cacioppo. Cacioppo found that lack of meaningful connection with others can lead to elevated blood pressure, increased stress, lowered immune system and increased depression.

In an era of our lives in which we are retiring from jobs, losing friends and partners and seeing family members move away, it is particularly important we make an effort to fortify our ‘social capital’.

Cacioppo recommends ways that older people can avoid the consequences of loneliness, which include staying in touch with former co-workers, taking part in family traditions, and sharing good times with family and friends.

Eat a healthy diet 
In a society always on the hunt for a quick fix, it’s important to remember the basic, but significant, benefits of a balanced diet with lots of whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits and grains.

Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, who received a nobel prize for her research into the anti-aging enzyme telomerase, discovered that an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids related to better telomere maintenance.

Cultivate curiosity 
A curious mind is a hallmark of the super-ager, it seems.

A growing body of research shows that older people’s cognitive capabilities and wellbeing are improved by some forms of learning. Research by the Alzheimer's Society shows that those involved in educational pursuits delayed the onset of the disease. Learning during the later stages of life has significant benefits in terms of improving people's mental health and reducing their reliance on medication.

Evidence from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, shows correlation between participation in ‘music/arts/evening classes’  and wellbeing, especially for older women.
 
Reduce stress 
Many studies looking at people under severe chronic stress find their telomere shortness relates to how severely they are experiencing stress. Chronic stress in adults increases the risk of heart disease, increases blood sugar , increases high blood pressure and causes insomnia.

Stress in adults, especially older adults, has many causes. You may experience it as a result of managing chronic illness, losing a spouse, being a caregiver, or adjusting to changes due to finances, retirement, or separation from friends and family.

Reducing exposure to stressful situations and stress management tools, such as meditation, yoga, listening to music and therapy can be effective ways to stop your cortisol levels from shortening your lifespan.  

Positivity can help you live longer 
Research shows that how you perceive ageing affects how long you will live.

In a study of 660 people, those with more positive perceptions of their own ageing lived an average of 7.5 years longer. This effect remained after other factors such as age, gender, income, loneliness, and health status were controlled.

A 30-year study of 447 people at the Mayo Clinic also found that optimists had around a 50 percent lower risk of early death than pessimists.

The expert consensus is that staying active of both mind and body is at the heart of every super-ager. Something to bear in mind while we’re waiting for scientists to come up with a cure all wonder drug for never-ending youth.

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