We live in an ageing population with more and more people surviving into their 70s and beyond. By 2050, it is estimated that 25% of Americans will be over the age of 60. Due to medical advances, most older people are just as fit and active as when they were younger, making 50 undoubtedly the new 40!
Compared with our grandparents’ generation, modern 50-year-olds no longer expect to work their entire life and retire at the age of 65 to potter in the garden or take up a sedate hobby. The ‘job for life’ culture is disappearing and many people are choosing to retire early, or to take on a second career. Youthful vigour will not last forever, and it can come as a shock to realise just how insidiously the ageing process creeps up on you. Fifty is not too young to start preparing for future health, so you can make the most of your free time in later life.
Benefits of physical exercise
Exercise has a number of beneficial effects on long-term physical and emotional health. It: Lowers cholesterol levels, triglycerides and blood pressure. Can reduce the risk of developing a type 2 diabetes, stroke, a heart attack and even certain cancers. Reduces anxiety and tension. Improves energy levels, concentration and sleep quality. Stimulates release of brain chemicals (endorphins) that reduce pain perception, promote relaxation and lift your overall mood and sex drive. Strengthens bones.
Taking regular exercise can also prolong your life. A study of more than 10,000 men found that exercise reduced the number of age-related deaths from all causes by almost a quarter – even if exercise was not started until middle age. In particular, deaths from coronary heart disease (CHD) were reduced by over 40%, independent of other risk factors such as overweight, high blood pressure or smoking cigarettes. Always start an exercise programme slowly, building up the length and intensity as you get fitter. Aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk exercise five times per week – and preferably every day.
Tips: To increase your physical activity levels, painlessly
Walk or run up stairs rather than taking the lift or escalator. Choose one evening a week when you don’t watch TV – go to the gym, kick a ball around or go cycling/ swimming with family or friends. Take up an active hobby such as ballroom dancing, bowls, swimming, golf, rambling, cycling or horse-riding and make new friends. Dig out an old skipping rope, pogo stick, trampoline or other exercise equipment you once bought to gather dust; use it while watching the evening news. Walk or cycle reasonable distances rather than taking the car. Cycle or walk to a local park or a country pub at the weekend. When staying at home, put more effort into DIY, cleaning and gardening. Reinstate the old tradition of a family walk after Sunday lunch – kick leaves, skim stones, throw a frisbee and have fun!
Benefits of mental exercise
As you get older, it is natural for your memory to become less like a filing cabinet and more like a sieve – facts get harder to store and retrieve. To boost memory power, exercise your brain – do crosswords or other word/number puzzles regularly, write down your memoirs or read books that stretch you. Games such as Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit are excellent for testing memory skills.
Tips: To boost your memory
To remember an important fact, keep repeating it silently to yourself. Write memory-jogging notes of things to do and place them within easy sight. Try to learn at least one new fact, or memorise a snippet of poetry, every day. Associate a fact to be remembered with a visual image, eg when introduced to someone who is an artist, picture him or her holding an enormous painting brush. If the name is Baker, picture them eating a large loaf of bread. The more outrageous or unusual your images, the easier you will remember them. If you can’t recall someone’s name, try to remember where you met them, what they were wearing, any unusual physical characteristic or mannerism and what you talked about – this will often jog your memory. Think up a mnemonic involving the first letter of each word when remembering a list. A good example is that used to remember the colours of a rainbow: Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). It is easier to remember the sentence and work out the colours, than to remember the colours alone. If you keep losing something (eg keys) form a mental photograph of where they are every time you put them down. Get plenty of rest and sleep.
An anti-ageing diet
Eating your food raw seems to be the best way to absorb dietary nutrients for an optimum, anti-ageing effect. As well as avoiding the heat-destruction of vitamins, enzymes and other beneficial substances, the body is better able to digest and absorb nutrients in their raw state.
Tips: To gain the optimum anti-ageing protection from your food
Choose organic fruit and vegetables as much as possible. Eat fresh produce, consumed within a day of purchase. Eat at least three servings of fresh fruit per day. Eat at least three servings of raw or lightly steamed vegetables per day. Eat a large raw-food salad per day, including as wide a variety of plants as possible, eg avocado, fennel, chicory, mixed baby leaves, watercress, spinach, grated carrot, peas, tomato, cucumber, sweetcorn, grated beetroot, grated broccoli, nuts, seeds etc. Avoid foods that are smoked, pickled or salted. Cut out all polyunsaturated fats, margarine, vegetables shortening and hydrogenated fats – only use extra-virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil.
For those who love their food, it is disappointing to learn that calorie restriction prolongs life by 10% to 300% in animals. Unfortunately, staying lean and eating a high-antioxidant, low-energy diet is still one of the best ways known to slow the ageing process.