When you think of aging, what comes to mind? Do you picture yourself crushing it like you are today, or do you imagine wheelchairs and medicine cabinets stuffed with pill bottles?
You might assume that you’re destined for the latter. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be an active participant in your own aging process. While the average life expectancy for Americans is 78.7 years, your habits and your environment have a lot of influence on your longevity, and how you’ll do life in your later years.
Here are some things you can start right now to age not just gracefully, but powerfully.
How to keep your brain young: focus on energy
If you’re of a certain age and you mention to your doctor that you’re misplacing your car keys and forgetting why you entered a room, chances are, she’ll reassure you that it’s part of getting older. Fair enough, it’s common for older people to not be as sharp as they once were. But, you don’t have to accept that as the way it will be for you. You can grow your intelligence and extend your longevity at any age.
Your brain requires two main things to work well: energy, and protection. Everything else that goes wrong with the brain stems from shortcomings in these two areas.
How to maintain energy and stamina as you age
Your brain uses almost 20% of your energy, even though it accounts for only 2% of your body weight. Your brain cells are an electrical system, and you need sufficient power to keep the lights on and shining brightly. That’s why if you’re dieting, or if you have a condition that affects your body’s ability to get energy out of food, like mitochondrial disorders, you find that you’re not thinking clearly.
Your brain will use sugar and carbs for energy, but glucose gets stored away quickly so you have to keep eating to replenish the supply. That spells distraction throughout the course of the day.
The better way is to switch to burning fat for energy. You get more energy gram for gram from fat, and if you keep your glucose low, you encourage your liver to make ketones, which is the best kind of brain fuel. When both ketones and glucose are available, the brain will choose ketones for certain jobs.
How to protect your brain
When your cells use energy, they leave behind free radicals, the part of the oxygen that it can’t use. Too many free radicals damage surrounding cells. That’s a big problem for the brain since it burns through so much energy. You end up with a high concentration of free radicals in a vulnerable organ. Here are ways you can protect your brain from free radicals.
- Pile on the veggies. All vegetables, especially brightly colored ones, contain polyphenols that neutralize free radicals and prevent them from making a mess. The brighter, the better. Polyphenols also help you make more BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a protein that builds new brain cells.
- Supplement with antioxidants. Antioxidants sweep up harmful free radicals. You can take vitamin C and polyphenol supplements for an extra boost.
- Get your stress in check. Life stress translates to oxidative stress, which means more free radical damage. Incorporate a meditation practice and make necessary lifestyle changes to keep your moods as level as possible.
- Intermittent fasting. A brain cell’s daily work creates waste products that have to go. When your body goes a stretch of time without food, your cells get the signal that it’s time to clean house. A few times a week, give them the opportunity to take out the trash by allowing at least 12 hours (ideally up to 18) between dinner and your first meal the next day. Here’s how to do that without getting hungry and cranky.
More ways to love your brain
If you have something specific you want to address, like focus or mental energy, you can experiment with nootropics — which are targeted supplements that boost brain function. Here’s how to get started.
Since your brain’s energy demand is so high, it’s a use-it-or-lose-it system. Keep your brain nimble and fit by visiting new places, getting out of your comfort zone, and incorporating logic games and brain-training exercises.
How to look younger: it’s all about the collagen
You’re not vain because you want to stay attractive as you age. Your looks have a lot to do with not only longevity but how people perceive you. People see attractive people as:
- More persuasive
- More trustworthy
- More electable for public office
- Happier, more sociable, and more successful
Even if you don’t care what other people think, your skin is a reliable indicator of how everything is working below the surface. For example, if you don’t have a lot of wrinkles, it means your body is still good at making and maintaining collagen, which is crucial for every organ you have. If your skin is well-hydrated, there’s a good chance you’re maintaining a good mineral balance and the rate of your cells’ turnover is spot on.
Here are a few ways to build and maintain your collagen so that your skin looks amazing, year after year.
Vitamin C, inside-out and outside-in
Vitamin C works in two ways to support your skin. First, it is a powerful antioxidant, so it protects your skin from damaging free radicals you’ll come across in your day-to-day. Too many free radicals break down collagen and elastin, making skin saggier and less apt to snap back into place. Second, you can’t make or repair collagen without it, so having enough vitamin C ensures that your body can assemble peptides into collagen when it’s time to make more.
You can get skin benefits from vitamin C by eating vitamin C-rich foods, taking a vitamin C supplement, and applying vitamin C serum topically. Vitamin C serums are notoriously unstable, so look for formulas containing vitamin E and ferulic acid to keep it potent.