Episode #10 of the course How to live a healthy lifestyle by FutureLearn
It’s estimated that half of baby girls born today will live to 100 or beyond as a result of living in an age of better health care, less stress, and healthier environments. Unlike our ancestors, becoming a centenarian is well within our reach, so understanding how to age well is becoming increasingly important to help maintain a good quality of life as we grow older.
The secret to aging well starts on a cellular level. Every cell in our body gets its energy from the food we eat and air we breathe, and this process results in toxic byproducts called free radicals. How well we manage oxidative stress trying to dispose of these free radicals is central to how well our bodies age. But we can help our body in doing its job by living a healthy lifestyle.
Nurture your body
Muscle mass and strength decrease naturally with age, and by the age of 40, an average person will lose their muscle mass at a rate of roughly 1% each year. So by the age of 70, this could mean the loss of up to one third of the body’s muscle mass. In addition to eating a balanced, healthy diet and avoiding weight gain as we age, maintaining muscle mass will help us to stay young, warding off age-related mobility issues, osteoporosis, frailty, falls, and fractures. Prescribed physical activity such as exercise is great for maintaining muscle mass, but doing the gardening and housework or other active tasks can help just as much, helping you stay mobile and strong. It can also strengthen many of the body’s organs and systems, such as the heart and lungs. You can meet the recommended physical activity guidelines for older adults by walking briskly for just 30 minutes five days a week, totaling 150 minutes.
Keep your brain active
The brain can be reshaped throughout life, even when we grow old. This “neuroplasticity” of the brain to be molded and reshaped throughout our lives means you’re never too old to start learning new skills. By generating new brain cells, maintaining networks in the brain, and opening new pathways, staying mentally agile helps to prevent disease, and studies show it lowers the risk of developing dementia.
Human beings are social creatures—we need each other to survive. Research suggests that people who are lonely are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as those with a busy social life, so maintaining friendships and getting out and about to meet new people is important as we age. On a cellular level, just like learning new skills, social activity helps to maintain and develop connections between the nerve cells in different areas of the brain. But socializing doesn’t just mean relying on a network of friends; volunteering and being active in the community are all good ways to remain socially active with age.
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