HEALTHY AGING – IT’S NEVER TOO LATE FOR A FRESH START:
Five Healthy Steps at Any Age
Chef Robert E. Graham, MD, MPH
It’s never too late to adopt healthy habits that can help you live a longer, happier and healthier life. Longevity is influenced by several factors and here’s the breakdown by percentages: Genetics is 30%; social circumstances is 15%; healthcare is 10%; environmental exposure is 5%; and lifestyle and behavioral choices make up 40%. That’s good news because it means we can live longer by choosing to make healthy choices. Despite the well-known benefits of having a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking, only a small proportion (less than 8%) of adults follow these healthy lifestyle patterns.
According to a scientific study, men who led a healthy lifestyle in their 70’s were more likely to live into their 90’s and had a better quality of life. What’s even more interesting is in studies of twins, genetic factors account for just 25% of the variation in total lifespan. These findings reinforce the importance of adopting healthy lifestyle choices as the best medicine for longevity.
Take that as inspiration, aspiration and perspiration: You’re never too old to adopt new and healthful habits. The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, which tracked more than 6,000 people ages 44-84 for over seven years concluded that those who made lifestyle changes, like quit smoking, followed a Mediterranean-style diet, got regular exercise, and maintained a healthy weight, decreased their risk of death in the time period by 80 percent.
Six years ago, I founded FRESH Medicine and created a “recipe,” or Rx (Latin for recipe) for health, because I realized there were five important “ingredients” in a patient’s overall health: food, relaxation, exercise, sleep and happiness. The FRESH 5 will not only keep you healthy but can also help slow down the aging process. Remember, FRESH is an acronym for the five ingredients and here’s my prescription, or Rx, for each:
Food: Eat More Plants
When it comes to food, eat more plants. Populations where people eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day live longer lives. It’s not about dieting, but instead eating foods that truly nourish you. A Mediterranean-style diet is ideal for anyone hoping to avoid heart disease, diabetes, dementia as well as minimize other health risks. It’s about eating real foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, olive oil, and some fish, and avoiding too much meat, dairy, sugar and processed foods. FRESH Food Rx: Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
Relaxation: 10 Minutes A Day
Stress is an inevitable part of life, so be sure to take time to just relax--through meditation and/or by walking, painting, cooking, or anything else that brings you a sense of calm--for 10 minutes a day. Ten minutes is enough time to tap into your own innate relaxation response-- discovered by Herbert Benson, MD--the opposite of the “fight or flight” or stress response. Practice deep breathing and mindfully living in the present moment. FRESH Relaxation Rx: Take several deep breaths throughout the day.
Exercise: 30 Minutes A Day
If you could bottle exercise as a medication, it would be the best drug you can take. The science has shown that exercise lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, some cancers, and death. It essentially means you stay healthy longer in your later years, as compared with someone who spends the final five or 10 years of life battling chronic illness. How much exercise? Some is better than none, and more is better than some. If you haven’t started exercising, speak to your doctor first, but you should strive for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. FRESH Exercise Rx: Walk in one direction for 15 minutes and then turn around.
Sleep: 7-8 Hours A Night
From time-to-time, we all have a restless night’s sleep, but this should be the exception not the rule. Lack of quality sleep has a profound negative impact on your overall health. In fact, sleeping less than six hours a night raises your risk of early death by 16%. And as we age, we still need the same amount of quality hours of sleep: 7-8 hours is ideal. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “most sleep problems are a result of snoring, medication side effects and underlying medical conditions, such as acid reflux, depression and prostate problems.” Addressing those issues with your doctor is a good start. You can also enjoy more satisfying sleep by creating a calming space, dedicating enough time for sleep and practicing relaxation techniques before bedtime. FRESH Sleep Rx: Go to bed at the same time every night—weekends included.
Happiness: “Other People Matter”
The field of Positive Psychology, the science of happiness and well-being, can be defined in three words: “other people matter.” According to the famous Harvard study of almost 80 years, embracing community helps us live longer and happier lives. Study director Robert Waldinger, MD concluded, “The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health … taking care of your body is important but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.” FRESH Happiness Rx: Spend time with your favorite people.
Conclusion: People in the United States live about 80 years on average, but some individuals survive and thrive for much longer. Remember, your personal choices account for the largest piece of the lifestyle pie. We hope our “FRESH 5 Recipe for Health” can remind you that you are never too old to start a new habit: your life depends on it. To learn more about my FRESH 5 recipe to health, go to www.freshmedu.com and enroll in our “Free Guide to the FRESH 5” course and use the coupon code HIPSILVER for 20% off our other course offerings. Stay FRESH, everyone!