Healthy Ageing Month sets out to celebrate and promote a positive lifestyle as a means to ensuring a more gradual and healthy ageing process for everyone.
When we think about ageing we tend to focus on the external, physical signs of ageing, such as the crows’ feet and laughter lines or the general aches and pains in our joints that makes us feel old on the outside. However, recent research has shown that the way we live our lives day-to-day, as we get older can have a dramatic effect on our body age, and, if we don’t look after ourselves, can make our body age significantly higher than our actual age.
I came across this amazing study last week whilst watching a BBC documentary in which leading health experts from the Institute of Ageing at Newcastle University undertook some research with some volunteers to uncover the shocking differences between their body age and their actual age.
The university put the volunteers through rigorous tests to ascertain their actual body age, which for many turned out to be an astonishing 15-20 years more than their birth age! The volunteers were then given a complete lifestyle overhaul in an effort to bring their body age back down to their birth age.
A change for the better
Poor lifestyle choices such as bad diet, poor sleeping patterns and lack of exercise can age people, but thankfully a change in lifestyle habits to enable good choices to be made about physical activity, nutrition and sleep can really fight the ageing progress. As a result some of the volunteers were able to cut more than a decade off their body age during the 12-week period and continue to reduce their body age by making these changes a way of life.
How stress can affect body age
Whilst the majority of volunteers reduced their body age by exercising more and eating a better diet, for others it was their mental wellbeing that needed to be addressed. The tests on a 54 year old female volunteer revealed she had very high blood pressure and high stress and anxiety levels which gave her an actual body age of 74. Her attempts to exercise at the start of her 12-week lifestyle overhaul didn’t work, she didn’t like exercising and it was making her more stressed. She was therefore sent on a mindfulness course and her anxiety and stress levels came back down to the normal zone with a significant reduction in her blood pressure. Once she started on her Mindfulness programme, she had to tools to enable her to tackle her exercise and weight issues.
It is crystal clear that a healthy ageing process requires a blend of lifestyle changes, all within our grasp. Here’s a checklist of the most important ones to consider:
Eat balanced diet – one rich in good fats, low in sugar, with plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans and pulses
Exercise regularly – some fairly vigorous physical activity for half an hour a day should do the trick, but the brain muscles need to be flexed too. This could involve doing a daily puzzle, writing a blog or learning a new skill, anything that stretches the grey matter a little.
Get some quality sleep – around 8 hours a night for most people, not forgetting that ‘the hours before midnight are precious’!
Stay positive – having a positive outlook on life can be instrumental in staying at heart. Hanging out with positive friends who can make each laugh and cheer you up is also helpful too.
Be Mindful – giving yourself some head space is now known to be hugely effective in combating stress and anxiety, so taking time out to meditate, even for just 5 minutes a day is extremely worthwhile.
The old axiom that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” still holds true today in relation to our ageing health. How much more empowered would we all be to make these lifestyle changes if we were tested in the same way as the volunteers in order to reveal our actual body age? Early warning signs could prevent diabetes, strokes and heart problems to the benefit of both the individual and the health service.