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Strategies for Staying Young Longer
Written By : Syble James 
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Like it or not, we begin to age the moment we are born. But considering that our bodies are designed to be productive past the age of one hundred, this should not be an issue. And although we are living longer, we are not aging better. There was a time when even doctors thought that a bent spine, painful joints, melancholy, and mental confusion were just a normal part of getting old. Today, we know these to be symptoms of disease - osteoporosis, arthritis, depression, and dementia or others - and we are trying to prevent and treat them.

Although aging is still not completely understood, most scientists define it as the accumulation of random damage to the building blocks of life -- especially to DNA, and to certain proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Free radicals cause some of the damage. Our lifestyle and the mix of genes we inherit also influence the amount and the results of damage. The body's self-repair mechanisms fix some of the damage, but not all. Our lifestyle also helps repair some of the damage. But as we grow older, the repair mechanisms don't work quite as well, leaving cells, tissues, and organs to become impaired and exposing us to diseases. Among the discomforts that are NOT necessarily part of normal aging are: Hypertension, congestive heart disease, arterial sclerosis, stroke, dementia, arthritis, diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, osteoporosis, menopause, graying and hair loss, wrinkled skin, fatigue, weakness, loss of muscle and tone, diminishing vision, smell, and hearing; overweight; digestive problems and loss of appetite.

Average life expectancy today is 77 years. The oldest recorded human died in 1997 at 122 years old. Can this life span be extended? Even more importantly - can a person's "health span" - a term which means, "living longer, healthier, and more active lives" - be extended?

In the absence of a magic pill, here are six disease-prevention and anti-aging strategies - things you can do now to stay young and prolong your life.

1. Eat More Fruits and Veggies. The secret to a longer life could be hiding in your refrigerator. Specific chemicals in the foods you eat affect your genes. For example, Sulforaphane, a phytochemical in broccoli, works with your genes to build up your body's self-repair mechanisms, helping to inactivate toxins and free radicals before they can do the damage that leads to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even premature aging.

By eating more of the foods that contain nutrients that support the body's defense systems, you can prevent or repair the damage before it leads to disease. Scientists studied the diet of the world's longest-lived people - the men and women of Okinawa, Japan. During 25 years of study, researchers have found that Okinawans have healthier arteries, lower risks for breast and prostrate cancer, stronger bones, sharper minds, lean, fit bodies, and excellent emotional health. The Okinawan diet consists mainly of high-carbohydrate, low-calorie, plant-based foods.

So the advice to eat more fruits and vegetables is based on real-life research. As a matter of fact, the USDA recommendation of at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables is not enough. Eating 9 to 15 daily servings decreases your risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, and obesity. For example, Lycopene, the pigment that makes tomatoes red, also appears to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people 55 and older. While fresh tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, the most absorbable forms are found in cooked tomato products, such as spaghetti sauce and soup. Pink grapefruit, guava, red bell pepper, and watermelon also contain Lycopene.

Sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, and other orange fruits and vegetables boost your intake of beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A, essential for healthy skin and eyes, and which may also reduce the risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. Lutein and Lycopene are also found in orange foods.

Blueberries, red grapes, plums (fresh or dried), purple grape juice, blackberries, and red cabbage contain Anthocyanins, the chemicals that give these fruits their deep purplish color, are absorbed into the brain's membranes and can improve memory and cognition.
Broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower contain Sulforaphane, which increases the production of enzymes that clear toxins from the body.

2. Manage your weight. Restricting calories is a proven way to prolong life and vitality. Calorie restriction is the most studied anti-aging method. It is a diet high in nutrients and very low in calories (about 30- 40 percent lower than a maintenance level of calories). By eating fewer calories, your body will create fewer free radicals and improve glucose efficiency.

You don't have to do ultra-strict calorie restriction, but following a diet such as the Okinawa program above, in which plant-based foods comprise two-thirds of your diet; you'll be on your way to a healthier longer life.

3. Increase your activity. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, add some regular activity to your routine, such as walking or biking at least 4 days weekly for at least 45 minutes. Please speak with you doctor, if you have any diagnosed medical condition before starting any exercise program. Regular exercise is one prescription that can immediately enhance the quality and length of your life.

4. Get regular check-ups. If you catch problems early, by having basic screening exams such as mammograms, Pap smears, colonoscopy, bone-mineral density scans, and any blood tests you should have, you increase your chances of early detection and recovery.

5. Don't smoke. But you already know this.

6. Drink fresh water. You need to adequately hydrate the body. You don't necessarily have to follow the eight-glasses-a-day recommendation. Drink enough so that your urine is clear.

References:

- Ultimate Anti-Aging Program, Gary Null, Ph.D.

- The Okinawa Program: How the World's Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health

- and How You Can Too, Bradley J. Wilcox, MD, and D. Craig Wilcox. Ph.D.

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