In Parts 1 to 3, we looked at society’s interpretation of aging, how it manifests itself physically, and processes that accelerate aging including inflammation and oxidation.
In this final installment, we consider some nutrition and lifestyle choices that can combat symptoms of aging. Perhaps with their help we can live up to the expectations of anti-aging specialist Ron Rosedale: “You can slow the rate of aging. There is some pretty good evidence that even in humans we still retain the capacity to control lifespan at least partially. We should be living to be 130 to 140 years old routinely.”
Exercise is credited with prolonging life, even when only adopted in mid- or old age. Given that oxidation is strongly triggered by aerobic exercise, we’ll focus here on resistance training as the recommended mode of exercise.
One of the biggest anti-aging benefits of resistance training is its boosting of the metabolism. Muscle mass is a fuel guzzler, so much so that a decline in muscle tissue is largely responsible for a 2-5%-per-decade decrease in our resting metabolism.
By increasing muscle mass, resistance training therefore jacks up the metabolism in very short order. One 1994 study of men 74+ years found just three months of resistance training increased muscle strength by up to 21%. (Although not specified, one can assume that some credit goes to development of muscle tissue.)
Increases in muscle are important in light of the findings of UK researchers studying mice and aging. They discovered that the most metabolically active of the mice lived 36% longer than the least metabolically active, and suggest the discovery has relevance for humans, too.
At the very least, strength training reverses the reduction in muscle fiber size that accompanies aging and inactivity, and has been shown conclusively to increase insulin sensitivity. Many studies agree that resistance training is superior to aerobic exercise in improving insulin receptor sensitivity. It also lowers insulin levels.
Additional benefits of exercise include elevation of good HDL-C cholesterol (lowering the risk of heart disease), and possible resistance from age-related mental decline -- even possible protection against Alzheimer’s.
With excess carbohydrates spiking insulin levels – leading to cell division and insulin resistance – and their triggering of protein glycation, anti-aging provides yet another argument for carb moderation.
By 1999, the American Dietetic Association says, the average American was consuming about 158 pounds of added sugar per year. As Statistics Canada puts it, the average Canadian consumes about 23 teaspoons of added sugar every day – though that’s just from sugars, honey and maple syrup and doesn’t factor in all the other added sugars we get from corn sweeteners, fruit juices, etc.
It’s time that consumers get a little more “carb savvy” so we can make wiser choices, beginning with terminology. “Simple” and “complex” carbohydrates are antiquated, irrelevant terms – we speak today instead of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load.
The Glycemic Index (GI) came first, measuring how specific food raises blood sugar levels. Numerical ratings are assigned on a scale of 1 to 100: the higher the number, the more quickly the conversion occurs. Depending on the index used, the 100 rating represents either white bread or glucose; in either case, recommendations are made to choose fewer high GI foods (those ranked 70 and higher) and eat predominantly low ones (55 or less) to keep blood sugar moderate and minimize storage of body fat.
Recently, discrepancies have been discovered between the anticipated and the actual insulin response to some foods. Carrots, for example, score 92 on the GI, yet a typical serving of carrots barely raises blood sugar. A similarly perplexing discovery was made with watermelon, classified as high with its GI rating of 72. And conversely, pasta (perceived in GI terms as a moderate 55) causes blood sugar levels to skyrocket.
The problem, it was discovered, lay in serving sizes. The GI based its tests on 50 grams of available (non-fibrous) carbs. However with foods like watermelon and carrots, a typical serving might contain only 6 grams of carbs, causing nowhere near the blood sugar conversion of the quantity studied.
This led to the development of the Glycemic Load (GL) system, which factors in serving size by taking the assigned GI number, dividing it by 100, and then multiplying it by the actual grams of carbs in a particular serving size. (You can calculate the GL of any serving size you eat based on this method.) Low GL foods rank at 10 or under, while high is considered 20 and higher. Under the new GL system, carrots are among the foods redeemed with a GL of 5.5, and a standard serving watermelon similarly reclassified at 4. Foods like pasta conversely fall out of favour with a GL of 27.5.
The goal, then, is to select mainly carbs with a low GL as they are less likely to raise insulin, and therefore less likely to trigger fat storage and the diseases of aging addressed in earlier sections of this article.
In addition to consciously choosing low GL carbs, we also need to become expert label interpreters, avoiding food containing hidden sugars. Watch out for the following forms of sugar: corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup (the daddy of all detrimental sugars), molasses, honey, fruit juice concentrate or fructose, sugar (ie brown, raw, or cane), dextrose, turbinado, amazake, sortitol, carob powder, sucrose, and maple syrup.
And when weighing the merits of a self-promoted “healthy options” meal, consider: one teaspoon of refined sugar equates to 4 grams. So a product that contains 16 grams of non-fibrous carbs per serving equals 4 teaspoons of sugar.
As defenders against havoc-wreaking free radicals, it’s no surprise that optimum quantities of antioxidants can dramatically slow the aging process. Because the body’s production of antioxidants decreases over time (with the brain possibly being particularly vulnerable since it‘s relatively deficient in antioxidants to begin with), supplements are valuable. Use a variety of types for multiple levels of protection – antioxidants have unique properties but are synergistic when combined.
Antioxidants are plentiful in vegetables and fruits, such as antioxidant powerhouses garlic and blueberries. Antioxidant supplements include: beta carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, selenium, zinc, CoQ10, R-form Alpha Lipoic Acid, ginkgo biloba, and grape seed extract.
Given the influence of inflammation on so many diseases, adopting anti-inflammation strategies is strongly advised. Early intervention may both stop and reverse the cognitive decline associated with aging.
Anti-inflammatories include the following supplements: vitamins C, E, and D, resolvin-rich Omega-3 fish oil, GLAs (evening primrose, borage, and black currant oils), Curcumin, Holy Basil, Ashwaganda, Neem, Reiki Mushroom Extract, ginger, and zinc. Anti-inflammatory foods include vegetables such as kale, seaweed, and greens, and fruits such as coconut, blueberries, olives, avocado, papaya, and pineapple. But bear in mind avoiding excessive sugar is also recommended, be it from fruits or even grain-fed beef.
Although somewhat controversial, calorie restriction to slow aging has many supporters. Historical data is cited, claiming a dramatic decrease in mortality from diseases such as cancer and Type 2 diabetes in areas of food shortage during the World Wars. Alternately, the calorie-restricted diet of the Japanese island of Okinawa is cited, where an atypical number of residents have passed the century mark.
The key to the success of calorie restriction, proponents hasten to emphasize, is to ensure you are getting sufficient nutrients and not simply starving yourself. They often advocate foods that are less calorie-dense but more filling (such as fiber-rich sources) and, to keep hunger at bay, have more volume. Furthermore, more protein may be needed, as doing so has been found to decrease the loss of muscle tissue and other bodily proteins.
Even among researchers who agree the benefits of Caloric Restriction with Optimal Nutrition (CRON), there is much disagreement as to the reason. Some liken it to hibernation whereby the physical processes that cause wear and tear on the body are drastically reduced. In particular, one popular theory says metabolising fewer calories means a reduction in oxidative stress and therefore free radical production, which in turn minimizes cellular pollution. Another school of thought believes that in possibly reducing sugar intake, calorie restriction lowers insulin production and the resultant cell division that is linked to cancers.
As one cautionary note about calorie restrictions: some researchers found performance of athletes was improved by increasing daily caloric intake. The low-calorie diets in this Southern Illinois University School of Medicine study were found to be nutritionally deficient.
Sleep deprivation afflicts 47 million Americans -- nearly a quarter of adults. The 2002 Sleep in America poll of American adults by the National Sleep Foundation discovered that 74% have a sleeping problem a few nights a week or more, 39% get less than 7 hours of sleep each weeknight, and 37% are so sleepy during the day that it interferes with daily activities.
Such sleep deprivation may accelerate or amplify age-related conditions. Consider the following study findings:
* Just a week of sleep deprivation alters hormone levels and the ability to metabolize carbs
* Sleep-deprived men have higher concentrations of cortisol at night which, as typically found in older people, may be involved in age-related insulin resistance and memory loss
* The blood sugar levels of these subjects took 40% longer to drop following a high-carb meal, compared to well-rested periods. And their secretion of and response to insulin plummeted 30%
So how much sleep is needed? Researchers agree that most of us would thrive on 9 hours of sleep. And for those of us who have amassed a sleep debt thanks to the rigors of shifts, long working hours, and stressful city life, researchers believe spending longer than 8 hours in bed can repay the debt, restoring the body’s chemical balances.
Exercise. Carbohydrate control. Antioxidants. Anti-inflammatories. Calorie restriction. Sleep. Cancel your chemical peels, throw away your sheep placenta capsules, and buy a holiday instead of a face-lift. Look instead to these natural concepts for the true Fountain of Youth.
Anna Kukhta specialises in peri-menopausal lifestyle and fitness training. She is located in London, England, and is contactable through Bernhardt@Amarantos-Fitness.com She is presently completing her level 2 PICP certification.