Six Critical and Controllable Factors for Healthy Aging
By Dr. Nataniel Viuniski, Pediatrician and Nutritional Expert ~
Aging is a natural process which many of us would like to stop or at least slow down. The truth is, we can. While 30% of aging is tied to genetics, a massive 70% is in our own hands and tied to our lifestyle, according to a Stanford University study. With a focus on healthy aging, we can’t stop the hands of time, but we can decrease their velocity.
There are six controllable factors that contribute to the aging process, and they are all equally important and interconnected. Improving one area will impact other areas, so I recommend that you take a holistic approach and work to be conscious of all of these areas.
1. Healthy Diet
A healthy diet is likely the first thing you think about when you think about healthy aging. The key to a healthy diet is consuming food that is nutrient dense. These are foods that are high in nutrients but relatively low in calories, including vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, beans and nuts. Balancing a diet rich in protein, unrefined carbohydrates and healthy fats can often translate to having more energy. The most critical nutrient to healthy aging is protein, and the longer you live, the more protein you need. Also, make sure you eat five to seven smaller balanced meals per day for optimal health benefits.
2. Physical Activity
The earlier in life you begin a regular fitness routine, the easier it is to make it second nature, but it’s never too late to be active. We all need a balance of strength and cardio for healthy aging, and every small contribution counts: walk your pet(s) daily, take stairs instead of elevators, and park further away from your destination. Our body was created for movement. Exercise leads to lower weight, healthy joints, lower cholesterol and a boost in dopamine and serotonin which results in better moods.
3. Body Composition
Tied into physical activity is your body composition, or the ratio of muscle to fat, that makes up your weight. The older we get, the ability to maintain muscle and decrease fat is key to health. Each decade of life decreases our muscle mass by 10%, so at 70, you have 40% less muscle than at 30 – and this is preventable. A strong body composition increases both the quantity and quality of life through the ongoing gift of mobility.
4. Mental Activity
The day you don’t learn something is the day you become older. Never stop learning, as curiosity is the most powerful tool to empower your brain and keep it healthy. Learn another language or hobby, visit a new travel destination, read enthusiastically. Even simply choosing new paths to get somewhere keep your brain learning. The mind-body connection is strong, and we all want to keep sharp minds as we enter our silver and golden years to maintain a good quality of life.
While there are plenty of healthy food options today, there are also plenty of unhealthy ones, and we often find ourselves in places that don’t offer healthy alternatives. Supplementation is not an option – it’s a necessity for healthy aging. The most important supplements to ensure you’re getting are:
- Protein: Whey or soy, or a combo of both for a morning shake will go a long way
- Fiber: Linked to longevity, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 25-30 grams of fiber a day
- Calcium: One of the most powerful enemies of healthy aging is osteoporosis, we need to fight it with calcium
- Multivitamin: This will ensure powerful antioxidants are working for you and fighting the oxidation and free radicals that come with aging
6. Social Life
Many studies have now shown the importance of strong social connections to overall wellbeing in older age. Having a network that gives you a reason to live and enriches your life should not be underestimated. We have to have a purpose, so volunteer, get involved with a community, stay engaged. You will be glad you do.
Our life and our aging are largely in our control, and we all should take steps to age with health. I hope you all get a gold medal in healthy aging. I for one want to be 120 and still playing soccer and chess to get my physical and mental workouts in, who wants to join me?
About Nataniel Viuniski, M.D.
Dr. Viuniski is a pediatrician and nutritional expert whose main areas of interest are weight management and childhood obesity. He is also an advisor to Brazil’s Health and Education Ministry for Childhood Obesity, a professor of human nutrition in graduate course work and director of nutrition service for Unimed Hospital in Rio Grande do Sul. He is the author of “Childhood Obesity – A Practical Guide” as well as other published works. Viuniski holds a medical degree from the Escola Médica da Universidade de Passo Fundo (Medical School of Passo Fundo University) in Rio Grande do Sul; a postgraduate degree in pediatrics from Hospital Infantil Conceicao de Porto Alegre (Children Hospital Conceicao de Porto Alegre); a postgraduate degree in nutrition from ABRAN (Brazilian Association of Nutrition); and a master’s degree in weight control and physical activity from Rio Grande do Sul Federal University.