As I age, the question of how to stay healthy and strong beyond age 55 becomes more important. And as I noodled the reply, I wanted to begin by understanding how much of our genetics determines the quality life we enjoy. If I can define that number, then the balance are items I control.
What I found is anywhere from 20% to 60% is based on the genes you inherit. A recent article from Blue Zones referenced the Danish twin study that concluded genetics has only a 20% impact on the average person’s lifespan leaving 80% determined by environment and lifestyle. Even if you believe this may be high there is certainly some sizable percentage governed by the choices you make. (If interested, you can find more information on the theory of genetic aging here.)
Here are a few of the actions you can take to improve your health and quality of life in retirement beyond your gene pool.
Exercise can come in multiple forms. Included would be a brisk early morning walk, an easy jog around the neighborhood, hitting the weights at the gym or a spirited game of pickleball.
There are several longevity benefits to getting your body moving vigorously every day. Those include lower risk of dementia and cardiovascular disease as well as improved mood, brain health and memory. It has also been pointed out that exercise helps you maintain optimum body weight, leading to increased energy and improved sleep.
My suggestion is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables (fresh and organic if possible). As you make your weekly grocery run, spend most of your time in the produce section. To get the most benefit from your consumption of fruits and vegetables shop the rainbow by focusing on a variety of colors. Each color offers different health benefits. As an example, green leafy vegetables are rich in chlorophyll as well as isothiocyanates that reduce carcinogenic agents from the liver.
Nuts also contain many benefits to a healthier life. The best nut for disease prevention is the humble almond. Almonds are calcium rich and include vitamin E which helps fight hazardous inflammation that could lead to cognitive decline in our later years.
I also suggest you stay away from processed foods like crackers and lunch meats. Have you tried reading the ingredient labels of these foods? It takes a degree in chemistry to understand what you are putting in your body. Not a good choice. Instead create your pasta sauce from scratch using whole tomatoes vs. canned. Besides, it always tastes better when created by your own hand.
And, if you do eat animal proteins, make it grass fed beef, lamb or pork, pasture raised chickens or wild caught fish, minimizing your exposure to various growth hormones and antibiotics fed to the animals. The downside is, these meats are not always available at the market and are more expensive.
You intuitively know the importance of a good night’s sleep. Upon waking you can usually tell if it was a good night or not, you can feel it in your body and mind. We have all awoken after an evening of fitful sleep and we just aren’t feeling it. The difference between that and a great night’s sleep is amazing when it comes to the following day’s performance.
Michael Twery, PhD, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research Sleeping says that a good night’s rest is one way your body recovers from damage and protects itself against illness. While you sleep your body is in rejuvenation mode, repairing itself.
For ideas on how to improve your sleep patterns check out this blog from Feisty Life Media.
Your level of stress is an overall indicator of well-being. It’s hard to feel great about life when stressed. As tensions and worries hit us certain chemicals are released in our brain that trigger the fight, flight or freeze response. This discharge of chemicals will also activate physiological changes such as increase in blood pressure, heart rate and a weakened immune system. And, if unchecked over time could lead to serous health problems.
Here are some ideas for managing your stress levels:
- Moderate exercise releases positive stress busting endorphins. In addition to the forms mentioned earlier, think about some of those activities you did as a kid such as jumping rope or taking your bike for a cruise around the countryside.
- Stress will strip your body of needed nutrients so eat a healthy whole food diet. Also, avoid stimulants like caffeine and sugar.
- Take time to meditate or practice yoga.
- Again, getting plenty of sleep rejuvenates the wear and tear on your body and mind, some of which is caused by stress.
- Get positive about your life. Develop an attitude of gratitude.
- Grow and maintain a circle of good friends. The extra support will help.
Whether genetics impact on the quality of your life is 20% or 60%, the balance is based on your lifestyle decisions. I encourage you to follow the advice we all gave our kids as they matured, “Be sure you make good decisions today, so you don’t have regrets tomorrow.”
“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”
Enjoy your journey!
Gary A. Weuve, CFP®
Founder and CEO
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