Getting older. It’s something we all do, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
According to one survey, 41 percent of women wished they looked younger, one in three (32 percent) felt under pressure to look young, and two-thirds used anti-aging products. Nearly two-thirds also admitted that being told they “looked young” gave them the biggest confidence boost.
Of course, we want to feel younger too, but then those aches and pains come up, or we head out for that basketball game and discover we just can’t go at it as long as we used to without having to pay for it later.
Meanwhile, we see those people around us who seem to have it down. They’re aging but not aging. They’re getting older but not looking older and certainly not acting older. How do they do it?
Below are seven secrets that can help you to defy your age too.
1. Exercise, Exercise
This one is listed first for a reason — exercise works from many angles to keep your body looking and feeling young. Research has found that those who remain committed to regular exercise as they age have bodies that act like younger bodies.
In one recent study, scientists recruited both older and younger cyclists and tested their muscle capacity and immune function. They found that cyclists as old as 79 had bodies that were just as healthy biologically as participants aged 20 to 36 who didn’t exercise. The older cyclists had healthy cholesterol levels, good muscle mass, and robust immune systems too.
In other research, scientists found that participants between the ages of 45 and 64 who engaged in moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise for four or more days a week for two years were able to turn back the clock — their hearts looked more like those of 30- or 35-year olds. Adults age 35 to 69 who increased their daily steps felt younger than those who didn’t.
Exercise also keeps the brain acting younger. In 2013, researchers found that just 15 minutes of stationary cycling improved performance on tests of working memory.
Best of all, exercise is linked to a slower rate of aging at the cellular level. Scientists analyzed data from more than 5,800 adults and found that those who were sedentary had the shortest telomeres. Telomeres are the protein caps on the ends of our chromosomes, and they are highly correlated with age. The older we get, the shorter the telomeres are. People who were “highly active,” however, had much longer telomeres than those who weren’t.
What about looking younger? Exercise helps with that, too. Scientists analyzed data from volunteers aged 20 to 84. About half were active, engaged in at least 3 hours of moderate or vigorous exercise every week while the other half were sedentary, exercising for less than an hour a week.
Results showed that after the age of 40, those who had exercised frequently had skin that looked and acted more like the skin of 20- and 30-year-olds, even if they were over the age of 65.
2. Eat More Leafy Greens
If you want to keep your brain acting young, make sure you’re piling your plate high with leafy, green vegetables. You know they’re good for you, but studies have found that they can actually slow brain aging.
Researchers from Rush University in Chicago and the Tufts Human Nutrition Research Center in Boston analyzed data on diet and cognitive tests for about 960 older people. All of them were free of dementia at the start of the study. During a period of about 5 years, they all underwent a system of testing to check their memory and cognitive function.
Results showed that those who ate more leafy greens like cooked spinach, kale, collards and other greens and raw lettuce had a slower rate of cognitive decline. Those with the highest consumption (about 1.3 servings a day) actually had brains that acted 11 years younger than those with the lowest intake at less than one serving a day.
3. Cut Back on Sugar
If you want to stay looking young, go easy on the sugar, because scientists have found that it can damage skin and lead to premature aging. Inside your skin are proteins called “collagen” and “elastin” that help skin keep its shape. As we age, these proteins become damaged, which results in more sagging, bagging and wrinkles.
Sugar accelerates this process. It causes the collagen fibers to “cross-link,” which makes them harder to repair. Glucose and fructose link with the amino acids present in collagen and elastin and produce advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that damage skin. The more AGEs, the less skin can repair itself, and the more aging occurs. In 2015, researchers found that as we consume more sugar in the diet, more of these AGEs form.
It’s not just the skin that suffers, however. Too much sugar can age the rest of the body too. Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages may create the worst effect. Scientists reported in 2014 that consuming 12-ounce one soda a day corresponded to 1.9 years of additional aging while drinking a larger, 20-ounce serving each day corresponding to 4.6 years of additional aging — similar to the aging effects of smoking.
4. Stay Strong
We lose muscle naturally as we age unless we do something about it. Most of us engage in regular strength training to look and feel good, but studies have indicated it may also help us to stay young.
When comparing older volunteers against younger ones, scientists found that resistance training reversed some aspects of aging at the genetic level, helping to improve the muscle’s longevity. Other researchers also discovered that strength training could encourage the production of growth hormone and testosterone in individuals, regardless of age.
In a study of 80,000 adults age 30 and older, scientists found that combining strength training with aerobic exercise created a greater reduction in the risk of premature death than aerobic exercise achieved on its own. Two sessions a week of weight-bearing exercises like push-ups or weightlifting without any aerobic exercise still reduced the risk of premature death by 23 percent and cancer-related death by 31 percent.
5. Get 7 to 8 hours of Sleep per Night
Regularly getting six hours or less of sleep per night can not only make you feel older but it can also make you look older. In 2013, researchers reported that sleep quality affects skin aging. They tested skin on about 60 premenopausal women between the ages of 30 and 49. About half of them were not sleeping well.
The scientists found significant differences in the skin between the two groups. Those who weren’t sleeping well had more signs of skin aging like fine lines, uneven pigmentation and sagging than those who were sleeping well. Researchers concluded that poor sleep accelerated skin aging and weakened skin’s ability to repair itself.
Lack of sleep can also cut your life short. Several studies have linked poor sleep with premature death, and recent research showed that just one night of partial sleep deprivation activated processes in the body consistent with biological aging.
6. Do Something New and Different
We can all get in a rut sometimes. When you find yourself in one, get out as soon as you can because novelty keeps you young.
The brain needs new things to think about. When it’s challenged, it acts like a younger brain. If you’re just going through the motions every day, though, your brain gets lazy and may age faster too.
Researchers tested the idea on female volunteers with an average age of 67 who were considered at risk for cognitive impairment. The women completed about 32 hours of training and then worked 15 hours a week helping students and teachers in the classroom. After six months, scientists found that the women’s scores on cognitive tests improved by 40 percent.
When scientists tested adults aged 60 to 90 who either learned a new complex skill like digital photography or quilting or engaged in simpler activities like crossword puzzles, those who learned the new skill had a wide range of improvement in overall memory compared with those who did the crosswords.
7. ‘Think’ Younger
There is a lot of power in your thoughts. Try to be as optimistic as you can as negative thinking has been linked to faster aging. In an analysis of 16 studies involving more than 7,200 participants, researchers found that people suffering from depression had telomeres that were significantly shorter than those who were happier in general. Other studies have found that hostile thoughts can shorten telomeres while pessimistic thoughts not only shortened them but also increased the risk of cancer and heart disease.
While you’re trying to be more optimistic, however, don’t suppress your negative emotions. It’s important to find healthy ways to express them as shoving them under the rug is linked with premature aging too. That’s why it can be helpful to use therapy, meditation, exercise and journaling to process those negative emotions, so you can let them go and feel good again.
Remind yourself regularly about all the good things associated with aging. One study found that having a positive attitude about it helped keep older adults from becoming frail and helped keep their minds sharp. Another one reported that people who had more negative views of aging had a greater age-related decline in the area of the brain associated with memory and had more brain abnormalities connected with Alzheimer’s disease than those who were more positive.
Could it be that if you think you’re younger than you are, you actually could be biologically younger than most people your age? It’s possible. Using MRI brain scans, researchers found that elderly people who felt younger than their age actually had younger-looking brains — the brains showed fewer signs of aging than in those who felt they were older than they were.
Does this mean the individuals felt younger because their brains were younger or because they felt younger their brains and bodies responded? Scientists don’t know yet; however, it’s worthwhile to realize you may have more control of how you feel than you think. Turn on the tunes you enjoyed as a young age, do some dancing, go out and try something new and embrace life again, and you may find that for you, age is, as they say, only a number.
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