8 steps to age without 'aging'

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Keys to aging gracefully

The Baby Boomer generation is redefining the meaning of aging. No longer are men and women in their 40s and 50s considered "over the hill" --especially not when a growing percentage of the population is living more than a century. In fact, by conservative estimates, in a mere 50 years there will be 70 million Americans with senior citizen status.

But a longer life doesn't taste as sweet if it's not a healthy one. Improving one's health span means living a healthy, active life for as long as possible. There are many tips for how to live longer while living healthier, as the following "8 Steps to Aging Gracefully" will show.

1. Serve Up Good Nutrition
It may not have the sizzle of a miracle dietary supplement, but the fact is that a consistently healthy diet is a large part of a long, healthy life. Studies that examine the diets of populations that are long-lived repeatedly find the same cluster of diet choices: fewer total calories, less saturated fat, less cholesterol, and tons of vegetables, fruits, and fiber.

Although the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) are the same for everyone over age 51, the aging process alters the use and requirement of several nutrients, according to Frederick Tripp, R.D., in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. As metabolism slows down with advancing years, and activity levels wane with the passage of time, people tend to eat less food. This means that each bite has to count, since smaller portions of food are now responsible for supplying all of the essential nutrients.

2. Broad-Spectrum Protection
Every single one of the essential vitamins and minerals is indispensable for replenishing supplies in an aging body. As such, a multiple vitamin/mineral supplement is the best starting point of an anti-aging supplement program.

Even so, there are certain nutrients that an older person is more likely to be lacking, and such marginal deficiencies can contribute to a less successful aging process. Intakes of folic acid, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12 are often low -- which can result in anemia, impaired immunity, heart disease, and dulled mental function. Other red flag nutrients for older people include: vitamins C, D, and E; calcium; magnesium; and zinc, according to nutrition surveys reviewed by Katherine Tucker, Ph.D., in Nutrition Reviews. It makes sense to pay particular attention to these trouble-spots.

3. Use It or Lose It: Exercise is the Key
Muscle strength seems to waste away as the years add up. But it doesn't have to be this way. In fact, William Evans, Ph.D., and fellow researchers from Pennsylvania State University report that "reduced muscle strength in the elderly is a major cause of their increased prevalence of disability ... [but] ... changes in body composition and aerobic capacity that are associated with increasing age may not be age related at all." In other words, sub-optimal fitness and form, in the elderly, can't be blamed on "aging."

A two-pronged exercise approach that includes both cardiovascular work-outs and strength training can curb the loss of muscle mass in the elderly and preserve physical abilities.

4. Go to the Gym ... & Maintain Vitamin D Levels
Intriguing research recently reported in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation acknowledges the wellknown, but unfortunate, fact that muscle strength declines with age, but suggests that this might result from a vitamin deficiency.

The elderly adults in this study who had weaker muscles were more likely to be among the 12 percent of women and 18 percent of men with sub-optimal vitamin D levels.

Previous research has determined that older individuals are prone to vitamin D deficiency as a result of less exposure to sunlight (vitamin D is made in the skin in response to light), an impaired ability of the skin to create vitamin D, and the consumption of fewer vitamin D-rich foods.

5. Antioxidants to the Rescue
For many years, scientists struggled to unlock the mystery of why living creatures, including people, age and eventually die. "In the course of these debates, a number of scientists have rallied around a set of ideas called the 'free-radical theory of aging': loosely, the belief that damage by reactive oxygen species [free radicals] is critical in determining life span," reports leading free-radical researcher Bruce Ames, Ph.D., from the University of California, Berkeley.

Free radicals are formed in the body as a by-product of the necessary actions of breathing oxygen and burning food for energy. Youth-sapping free radicals are also lurking in air pollution, tobacco smoke, ultraviolet (UV) sun rays, and rancid fats.

Antioxidants disarm dangerous free radicals before they have a chance to damage proteins, fats, and the genetic material of cells -- damage that ultimately leads to aging and death.

Some key antioxidant nutrients are: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, and coenzyme Q10. Fruits and vegetables --particularly cruciferous vegetables -- are rich sources of antioxidants, which may account for why people with diets rich in these foods tend to live longer and healthier lives.

6. Spice Up Later Years: Garlic
Throughout history and continuing through today, many people have relied on garlic as an anti-aging food. Aside from its antioxidant properties, garlic has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of cancer, and enhance immunity -- all of which contributes to a long, healthy life. Research with animals has already demonstrated that those which supplement with garlic live longer and show enhanced mental function.

7. Toast to Old Age: Red Wine
It might sound too good to be true, but simply enjoying a glass of wine with dinner can add a few years to your life. But just because some alcohol is good, doesn't mean that more is better. There is a point of diminishing returns -- wine over dinner is one thing, but daily binge drinking is quite another. In fact, there is a horseshoe-shaped curve for the effects of alcohol on health. Moderate drinkers have the lowest mortality rates, but the ends of the spectrum -- abstainers and boozers -- both have increased mortality.

Also, the type of alcohol matters -- wine appears to be the health-enhancing elixir, rather than beer or spirits. And even the type of wine makes a difference, with red wine being the more closely linked to good health than white wine.

8. Another Toast: 'To Green Tea'
Another beverage that should have you lifting your cup to toast a long life is green tea. The antioxidants in green tea, which belong to the polyphenol family, help quell the free-radical onslaught that otherwise accelerates the aging process.

The overall health-promoting effect of polyphenols may account for green tea's role in longevity. Green tea's polyphenols have been shown to stimulate immune function and lower the risk of heart disease and cancer.

PHOTO (COLOR): Victoria Dolby Toews

PHOTO (COLOR): Serve Up Good Nutrition

PHOTO (COLOR): Use It or Lose It: Exercise is the key

REFERENCES
Beckman, K.B., Ames, B.N. "The free radical theory of aging matures," Physiological Reviews 78:547581, 1998.

Bischoff, H.A., Stahelin, H.B., Urscheler, N., et al. "Muscle strength in the elderly: Its relation to vitamin D metabolites," Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 80:54-58, 1999.

Evans, W.J., Cyr-Campbell, D. "Nutrition, exercise, and healthy aging," Journal of the American Dietetic Association 97(6):632-638, 1997.

Gronaek, M., Deis, A., Sorensen, T.I.A., et al. "Mortality associated with moderate intakes of wine, beer, or spirits," British Medical Journal 310:1165-1169, 1995.

Moriguchi, T., et al. "Prolongation of life span and improved learning in the senescence accelerated mouse produced by aged garlic extract," Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin 17 (12): 158994, 1994.

Sadakata, S., et al. "Mortality among female practitioners of Chanyou (Japanese "tea-ceremony")," Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine 166;475-477, 1992.

Tripp, F. "The use of dietary supplements in the elderly: Current issues and recommendations," Journal of the American Dietetic Association 97(Suppl 2):S181-S183, 1997.

Tucker, K. "Micronutrient status and aging," Nutrition Reviews 53(9):S9-S15, 1995.

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By Victoria Dolby Toews, M.P.H.

Adapted by M.P.H.

Victoria Dolby Toews, M.P.H., is a health and nutrition writer who lives in Oregon. She takes a comprehensive look at the history and health benefits of green tea in The Green Tea Book (Avery, 1998). The latest book by Victoria is The Common Cold Cure (Avery Publishing, 1999), written with co-author Ray Sahelian, M.D. To order books, ask your retailer to call: 1-800-548-5757.

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