Protect yourself against common age-related conditions with top advice from our experts
Getting older can often be a cause for worry, but there are holistic ways you can help your body transition through the years with ease. The idea of staying active and eating a healthy diet may not necessarily be the quick antiageing miracle cure many of us seek, but evidence has shown these really are two of the best ways to maintain our health, and the power of small lifestyle changes should not be underestimated. But, just how exactly can food and exercise help reduce our risk of specific conditions, and what else can we be doing? We delve into the facts and ask the experts…
Eat well: Plenty of research has shown what we eat can have a significant impact on our brain health and in recent years the MIND diet has been developed by scientists to illustrate foods that help slow cognitive decline. A combination of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, this recommends upping your intake of green leafy vegetables, berries and nuts, lowering your meat consumption and making sure you’re eating at least one portion of fish a week. Nutritionist Kate Garden (kategarden.co.uk) agrees this combination is a powerful one. “Dark blue or purple berries such as blueberries, black grapes and blackberries, for example, are high in antioxidants called flavonoids that have been shown to improve memory and cognition,” she says. “They improve blood flow in the brain, while protecting it from free radical damage.”
Move regularly: We all know that exercise is good for our heart, weight and mental wellbeing – and this means it’s also good for our brain. “The evidence surrounding the effects of exercise on your risk of developing dementia is compelling,” says Professor Mike Loosemore from the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health (iseh.co.uk). “In fact, one recent study found those who were active were 30 percent less likely to get dementia than those who weren’t. The key is to find a type of exercise you enjoy and make it part of your routine.”
And don’t forget to… get a good night’s sleep. Sleep disturbances have been associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, recent research from Stony Brook University has suggested you should also try to sleep on your side, as this position allows your body to most effectively remove waste from your brain – a build-up of which can result in some neurodegenerative conditions.
Eat well: The best way to protect against osteoarthritis is via an antiinflammatory approach, recommends Kate. This means following a diet similar to the Mediterranean way of eating, and consuming more green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, fruits and nuts. You should avoid heavily processed foods, and excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates, processed meats and sugar.
Move regularly: If osteoarthritis runs in your family, you may be anxious about exercising too much and weakening your joints, but as Professor Mike explains, the benefits of staying active should outweigh any worries here. “You might think that exercising less is the answer to protecting against this condition, but that’s not the case. Staying active and building strong muscle through bodyweight exercises can help guard against the likelihood of you developing osteoarthritis.” If you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, Professor Mike adds that resistance exercises are good for building up strength while only placing low impact on the joints.
And don’t forget to… eat your greens. Sulforaphane – a compound found in broccoli as well as sprouts and cabbage – has been shown to help slow down the damage of cartilage.
Eat well: As Kate explains, some of the key features of cardiovascular disease include inflammation driven by high blood-sugar, high-oxidised LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and high triglycerides – so consuming foods containing specific phytonutrients known to help reduce these things make sense. Kate therefore recommends eating fenugreek seeds and cinnamon to maintain good blood sugar levels, tomatoes, red-pink fruit like grapefruit and watermelon, green tea and pomegranate to help reduce oxidation of LDL cholesterol, and garlic, onions, beetroot and whole oats to help lower blood pressure.
Move regularly: “HIIT (high intensity exercise) is a good type of exercise to protect yourself against cardiovascular disease as it has been shown to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure – both of which can increase your risk of developing heart-related conditions,” advises Professor Mike. “It’s also a very time-efficient way of really working your body. However, if you don’t feel able to try high intensity workouts, any type of exercise will be beneficial.”
And don’t forget to… call your friends. Research from the University of York has linked social isolation and loneliness to a 29 percent increased risk of a heart attack or angina and a 32 percent heightened risk of having a stroke.
Eat well: It may sound obvious but reducing your sugar intake is crucial in lowering your risk of type two diabetes. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, look for ways to get a healthier kick – choose dark chocolate instead of milk, or have half the portion you usually would.
Two key nutrients to incorporate into your diet are vitamin C and magnesium. “Vitamin C lowers glycated haemoglobin (HbAlc), an important blood measurement of diabetes,” Kate explains, adding that foods rich in this include watercress, broccoli and kiwi.
“And, a deficiency of magnesium has been shown to reduce insulin sensitivity, another hallmark of diabetes,” she says. “Magnesiumrich foods include pumpkin seeds, almonds and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and cabbage.”
Move regularly: As with all age-related conditions, being more active can reduce your risk of developing type two diabetes. “So many of us live sedentary lifestyles now – we sit at our desks all day and have very little movement in our lives – and this can have a big impact on our health,” says Professor Mike. “Any type of exercise can help reduce your risk of developing type two diabetes later in life, and a really simple way to add a little more movement into your routine is to stand, instead of sit. Research has found that by doing this for three hours a day, over the course of a year you will have burnt the same amount of calories as you would have done running 10 marathons.
“Exercise is really powerful, and if you already have type two diabetes, it can actually help you reverse the effects of the condition,” he adds.
And don’t forget to… go full fat every so often. A new study published in the British Medical Journal this year suggests that two daily helpings of full fat dairy can help cut the risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. So, go on, treat yourself!
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