Health Matters - A brief guide to increasing your health span
By Kiersten Ahlm
Sure, you’ve heard about increasing your lifespan, but have you heard about increasing your health span? Our life span is, of course, the total number of years we are alive, and our health span is the period in which we are “free from disease.”
Although genes, which we of course have no control over, do play a role in our health and how we age, we do have some control over how they express themselves. As Dr. Oz puts it, “genetics load the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger.” Here are a few (enjoyable!) ways to increase your health span.
Eating for longevity
You can never go wrong when you focus on eating whole foods and kicking packaged, sugary foods to the curb (think Mediterranean Diet). But there are certain nutrients we really need to focus on as we age.
As we age, our bodies don’t process protein as efficiently. Protein is essential for proper muscle function, as well as repairing muscle tissue and cells. Without it, you lose muscle mass and bone density. How much should you be getting each day? According to Harvard Health, you should be getting about seven grams of protein per 20 pounds of body weight. Not great at math? (Me either.) You can easily find a protein calculator on-line.
Most people look to animals for their protein sources but there are also some great plant-based ones as well. For example, hemp hearts contain about 10 grams of protein per serving. I love sprinkling some on my salads and oatmeal or blending them up in a smoothie. Lentils are another great source of plant-based protein. I add them to salads in the summer and soups in the winter.
When choosing animal sources of protein, make sure your fish is wild, your beef is grass-fed and your chicken and eggs are organic and free-range.
Healthy fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, have been shown to help ward off dementia. Some great sources of these amazing powerhouses are wild salmon, walnuts, oysters and flaxseeds. Although I don’t recommend eating flaxseeds whole (they’re rather… chewy), I put two tablespoons of them in my smoothies and don’t even know they are in there, I swear!
Antioxidants are compounds that reduce oxidative stress in our cells (which is likened to our cells “rusting” — yikes!) Oxidative stress can lead to diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure — the list goes one. Since environmental factors like pollution and pesticides can contribute to oxidative stress, it’s hard to avoid entirely. That’s where antioxidants come into play. Some of the best sources of antioxidants are blueberries, green tea, leafy greens, garlic and … coffee! (You’re welcome!)
Move your body.
Notice I didn’t use the words exercise or workout. Now don’t get me wrong, a good HIIT workout can do wonders for longevity. But you don’t have to go to the gym to reap the benefits of exercise. Taking a walk with a friend in nature can be a trifecta of goodness. You get the exercise, connection and the stress relief that being in nature can provide. Riding your bike can also provide these benefits. It might even make you feel like a kid again!
Don’t underestimate the power of gardening, taking the stairs or parking in the far away spot. The best kind of exercise is the exercise that fits into your lifestyle. Finding a way to move that you enjoy is also important!
Be a lifelong learner
To put it bluntly, use it or lose it. Your brain that is. Learning new things is essential for neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt to new experiences and changes (which, as you probably know by now, are inevitable). Not only can learning something new increase brain function, but it also builds confidence, can connect you with other like-minded people and simply prevent boredom.
Volunteering, learning a new language or taking up a new hobby are all great ways to learn something new. Moreover, taking a class has never been easier with all the online resources out there. Think of something you’ve always had an interest in and go for it!
So, aging isn’t something we have to sit back and let happen to us. We can make the most of the short time we have on this planet.
Kiersten Ahlm is an integrative nutrition coach who specializes in blood sugar balance. To find out more about her services, check out her website at www.kahlmcoaching.com.