With improvements in health care and the environment, people around the globe are living longer and longer; active seniors in their 80s and 90s are common, and reaching 100 years of age is no longer a remarkable achievement. While much of this increased longevity can be credited to breakthroughs in medical science and public health practices, there is much that we can do ourselves to give ourselves a better chance at a long life.
A Healthy Diet
One of the easiest and most obvious ways to do this is to eat good foods. A healthy diet affects your body in many ways. For one thing, it keeps body weight under control. Healthy foods tend to contain less sugars and fats than junk foods, so by improving your diet, your daily calorie intake will diminish. Also, your overall health will improve. Fatty foods often lead to problems with major organs such as the liver, kidneys, and heart, while healthy foods will keep these organs functioning at peak levels. And a healthy diet will increase your energy level. Foods that are full of carbohydrates and sugars over the long term tend to make us feel sluggish; by eating these foods, we throw our blood sugar levels off balance and develop cravings for sugar. The “boost” that we sometimes feel from sugar is only temporary, and leads to a let-down. A healthy diet keeps the blood sugar level constant, and leaves us with plenty of energy to get through the day.
Healthy diets are particularly important for seniors. Our bodies have to work much harder to break down the chemicals, fats, cholesterols, sodium, and calories that are present in processed junk foods that are high in sugars or sodium. All this extra work makes our bodies age more quickly. Fresh fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are rich in vitamins and minerals, which among other things helps keep our skin looking clear and less wrinkled, slowing down the aging process. And eating lean proteins and whole grains helps keep our bodies energized; we are more likely to exercise, even if just taking brisk walks outside, keeping our systems fit.
Fruits and Vegetables are a Priority
What specific foods will help us live longer? Green vegetables are a good place to start. Broccoli is often mentioned as a particularly beneficial vegetable. Ounce for ounce, broccoli contains more vitamin C than citrus fruits. It is rich in calcium, which helps strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis. And it is rich in fiber. Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and spinach are also good sources of vitamin C. Collard greens, on the other hand, are rich in vitamin K, which also helps combat osteoporosis. Vitamin K is fat-soluble and also helps control blood clotting and assists in the absorption of calcium from other foods. Vitamin K is also found in other greens such as kale, mustard greens, and spinach.
You should steam your vegetables rather than frying (which requires the use of fats or oils) or boiling (in which nutrients from the vegetables are leached away into the water). Research has shown that steaming vegetables reduces vitamin C content by only 15 percent (from raw consumption), whereas boiling reduces vitamin C content by 25 percent.
Fresh fruits, too, should be prominent in your diet. Watermelon is a good source of potassium; this mineral can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Papaya contains antioxidants such as B-complex vitamins, carotenes, potassium, magnesium, and fibers. Taken together, these nutrients can protect against colon cancer and diseases affecting the gallbladder. Various berries are also rich in antioxidants. And citrus fruits are abundant in vitamin C.
Include Fiber in Your Diet
Studies have shown that consuming fiber-rich foods can prolong life; one study conducted by the National Cancer Institute found that people who consumed an optimal amount of fiber — 26 grams per day for men, 24 grams for women — had 22 percent less likelihood of dying during the nine-year course of the investigation than those who consumed lesser amounts of fiber. The fiber intake reduced the risk of death from infectious disease, respiratory illness, and cardiovascular disease; fibers obtained from whole grains such as whole wheat, barley, and oats were shown to be more effective than fiber from fruits. Always check the label when you buy bread or oatmeal, to ensure you’re getting whole grain.
One of the best sources of protein is fish, which has less fat than other meats such as beef and pork. And the fats that ARE present in fish are polyunsaturated, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your blood pressure and your risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as lowering cholesterol levels in your blood. Cod, tuna, and salmon are particularly rich in these beneficial fatty acids. Don’t fry your fish: steam it or broil it.
Other seafoods have additional benefits; oysters, crabs, and lobster, for instance, are rich in zinc. And you can eat other meats for protein, but cut back on red meat (beef and pork), and eat chicken that is lean.
Most important: maintain a consistent diet. Don’t fall into the trap of “eating healthy” for a few months and then reverting to bad habits. A good, healthy diet is for life.