We will all die.
“We are going to die of something” is a phrase I often hear. They’re right: we are all going to die of something. The only things guaranteed are death and taxes. I typically like to respond with, “So don’t you want a better quality of life when you do go?” Yes, we will get older and yes, eventually things are not going to work as well or will flat out break down. But if you are good to your body, it just might be good to you back.
The easiest way to be good to your body is to feed it well. I’m not talking about gourmet foods at every meal (unless you want to), but feeding it nourishing meals is key. There is an old saying that goes, “You will either feed the disease or you will feed your health.” I tend to simplify it: if you put crap in you get crap out. When you consistently eat a diet filled with processed foods, your body might not respond how you would like it to.
One of the biggest culprits to not aging gracefully are free radicals. Free radicals are responsible for many of the effects of aging on both the body and mind when left unchecked. The term “free radicals” is thrown around a lot with very little explanation as to what they are. Most people will tell you that they are bad, but this actually isn’t always the case. Free radicals are needed for some basic body functions such as the immune system and your detoxification process. They are created when you breathe, when your cells react, they help process your food, and other such functions (1). Free radicals exist in pairs and they become dangerous when they start robbing electrons from each other. When they start stealing from others, the ones that were stolen from can no longer work normally. This leads to your immune system destroying healthy cells because it can’t tell the difference any longer.
Another term you might have heard is “oxidative stress.” This occurs when free radicals are oxidized within the body, much in the same way that metal rusts. The amount of oxidation in your body is your oxidative stress. Oxidative stress creates inflammation within your body and that affects every organ and system in your body. There are very few prevalent chronic diseases that are not linked to inflammation. Oxidation creates the basis for the growth of free radicals and damage to cells, tissue, muscles, and organs. Oxidative stress has been linked to many of the diseases we see as we age, such as Alzheimer’s disease, arteriosclerosis, cancer, heart disease, advanced aging, and diabetes. The good news is that there might be some help within the very foods you should be consuming. Because who wants to age faster? I certainly don’t.
The more we age, the less antioxidants our bodies produce (2) and increasing your antioxidant intake is crucial. Antioxidants are often called anti-aging compounds. Antioxidants help protect from age-related diseases that are partly caused by the inflammation from raging free radicals. There is no magic cream or food that will stop the aging process, although many people try with surgery that just serves to make you look weird! With a diet rich in antioxidants, quality proteins and fats, and whole food carbohydrates, you can potentially slow down the aging process. Improving your eating habits is something that is easily done and can be appetizing. There is a stigma attached to eating healthy, but doing so may end up being the magic bullet to aging gracefully.
There are some key foods that provide the most bang in the antioxidant department. I often tell people to “Eat the Rainbow”—(much different than “Taste the Rainbow”)! The more color on your plate the better. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables like pumpkin, squash, carrots, spinach, bell peppers, kale, tomatoes, and berries are among my favorite recommendations. My other favorite suggestions: red wine and dark chocolate!! Green tea has a high concentration of antioxidants, as do many herbs and spices. Turmeric, oregano, cinnamon, and ginger in your dishes not only help enhance flavors but also help to combat inflammation.
Foods are not the only way to help combat inflammation and aging. Exercising is a great tool as well. You don’t have to join a big fancy gym or hire a trainer to get the benefits. A nice walk outside or spending 30 minutes a day strength-training can work wonders. Walking in nature can help calm you after a stressful day and strength-training helps keep your bones strong. A little physical activity a day goes a long way in helping to slow the aging process. Physical activity is an important piece that should not be overlooked!
You might be reading this and thinking to yourself that you have a family history of certain chronic diseases, but your genes do not always determine your future. You either feed your disease or you cure it, literally. What you eat and the toxins you put into your body matter. There is a fascinating new line of study called epigenetics. The theory is that you can turn certain genes on and off, which is really fascinating, but not something that can be covered in a few paragraphs. I mention it to remind you that what you surround yourself with matters, and what you eat matters. This can determine whether you die at an old age doing what you love or at an old age not able to get around. It’s like choosing to drive across the country in a car or fly first class: the choice is yours.
(1) Cheeseman, KH1and Slater, TF. (1993, Jul). An introduction to free radical biochemistry. British medical bulletin. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8221017
(2) Mayo Clinic. (2019). Antioxidants. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/multimedia/antioxidants/sls-20076428? utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=housecall