The team at Noon – a new online platform for women in midlife and beyond – recently asked us for our manifesto on ageing well and our top 10 tips. We couldn’t keep it to 10, but did manage to whittle the list down to 12. If you’ve recently signed up after reading about us on Noon, then WELCOME and apologies for the repetition, but I wanted to share our 12 commandments here. I’ve expanded them slightly to give more scientific context, plus links to previous blogs we’ve written on individual topics.
Our 12 Age-Well commandments:
1. Know your purpose: having a sense of purpose gets you out of bed in the morning and gives meaning to your world. Understand what you want from life. Visualise it, write it down and carry it in your mind’s eye. A 2019 study of almost 7000 people found decreased mortality rates and reduced heart conditions among those who lived purposefully. In the study, researchers defined ‘purpose’ as ‘a self-organising life aim that stimulates goals, promotes healthy behaviours and gives meaning to life’.
2. Eat SMASH fish at least twice a week: DHA and EPA from Omega-3 fatty acids found in SMASH (sardine, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, herring) fish are vital for brain health – there’s a strong correlation between eating oily fish and thinking clearly in older adults. Low levels of DHA have been associated with smaller brain volume; low levels of EPA have been linked to mental health issues. Recent research has linked omega-3 fatty acids to both a better response to the brain-ageing impact of pollution on women, and improved heart-rate recovery (linked to lower heart attack risk). Tinned sardines (bones and all, for calcium) are an inexpensive age-well superfood. Check out these recipes on the blog for SMASH fish – salmon, mackerel, anchovies,sardines, herring.
3. Don’t fret about supplements. Studies suggest most don’t work, with the exception of Vitamin D, which has been repeatedly linked to better brain, bone and mental health, not to mention a better chance of recovering from COVID-19. Make sure it’s vitamin D3 though. I take mine in a combined supplement with vitamin K2, the two work together to transport calcium from our arteries – exactly where we don’t want it deposited – to our bones.
4. Aim for seven portions of vegetables and fruit a day: replace junk food with green and brightly-coloured vegetables and fruits. Phytonutrients (the biochemicals found in plants) are vital for our health, providing essential nutrients and fermentable fibre, beloved by our gut microbiota. There’s a clear link between gut and brain health: with information travelling between the two along the vagus nerve, our body’s information superhighway. Research published at the end of last year linked high levels of a short chain fatty acid called butyrate – produced by the fermentation of vegetable fibre by our gut microbiota– to lower levels of amyloid plaque in the brain.
5. 10 mins of weight/resistance training every day: building and maintaining muscle is vital – and about so much more than staying strong. Muscle has been linked to improved cell function, reduced inflammation, (a hallmark of ageing), better cognition and slower bone loss. Annabel wrote a detailed post about muscles last week. I’m focussing on this form of exercise more and more now – the research into its effectiveness to help us age well is compelling.
6. Raise your heart rate: get moving every day, aiming to feel a little breathless. Mix it up, the more variety the better. And move every hour, even if it’s just to stretch at your desk. Our sedentary, work-bound lives are killing us. That sounds dramatic but research has shown that almost any level of activity, like washing the dishes or a gentle walk, results in a lower risk of death. Just half an hour of movement makes a difference.
7. Get outside in the morning: Morning light, within an hour of waking, helps set the circadian ‘clock’ which dictates our sleep/wake cycle. A good night’s sleep starts in the morning. Bonus points if you exercise outside. Our circadian pacemaker, located in the hypothalamus, programmes the timing of all our internal biological functions. It syncs up to day and night via our retina, so if we don’t see enough light in the morning, and too much at night, the clock is out of whack. There’s more about light and sleep here.
8. Have a sleep/rise routine: as we get older our circadian clocks become disrupted and a second clock develops, fragmenting our sleep. If they’re already disrupted by dysfunctional light messaging, the fragmentation is even worse. ‘Anchor’ your body clock by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. Read about sleep hygiene , and good nutrition for sleep
9. Pursue novelty: seek out new experiences, new people, new landscapes, new flavours, new passions, new languages and hobbies. As we grow older we’re less inclined to hunt down novelty but our brains thrive on it, building neural pathways that keep our brains in good working order. There’s more here
10. Turn off your phone and read a book: A Yale study found book readers live almost two years longer than non-readers. Reading books leads to greater cognitive engagement and emotional intelligence; reading before bed reduces stress, helping us sleep more soundly (unlike phone scrolling). There’s a list of some our favourite books about cooking and health here
11. Invest in chemical-free beauty and cleaning products: all too often our homes harbour outside air pollution and inside contaminants. Review the number of chemical cleaners you use, particularly sprays, and switch to organic, natural beauty products. Some of our favourites, here
12. Spend time in blue/green space: how well we age is directly affected by how much time we spend in nature. Being in green space correlates with slower cognitive decline, particularly for women. Blue space – oceans, lakes and rivers – is linked to better mental health.
For our book The Age-Well Project, Annabel interviewed superagers: inspirational nonagenarians ageing with grace and fortitude. Each is very different, but they have several things in common – a sense of purpose, grit, determination and a sense of duty. All of these traits were embodied by Prince Philip. His rootless childhood left him tough and resilient, a rugged education in the Highlands gave him a love of sport, service in the Navy instilled a lifelong love of the sea. Above all, his sense of loyalty propelled him through almost a century of dedicated public life. A true loss.
EAT WELL TO AGE WELL COURSE
In my personal capacity as a health coach, I’m running a six-week class on eating well to age well. We kick off on Monday April 19th at 7pm BST, but all sessions are recorded. Interested?
Photo: Annie Spratt