What is the point of reaching a ripe old age if you aren't healthy and don't have a good quality of life? I want to age with vitality and I'm so inspired by the over 70s and beyond who are focusing on their health and have made it part of their lifestyle. A prime example is my mother-in-law who took up Parkrun at the age of 68 years and hasn’t looked back. My own mother who is about to turn 80, looks to be in her 60's and is still active. Yet, I'm sure we all know someone in their 50's who appears older than their years. Some is genetics and luck of the draw but there are definitely things that we can incorporate into our lifestyle to increase the chance of ageing with vitality.
As a wellness coach and dietitian, I recommend getting a good foundation of mindset, nutrition and movement. I believe if you get the basics right and work on them consistently then they become habits and it is easier to sustain. Let's go through these 3 key areas in more detail.
Mindset - can be described as one's attitude and thought processes and can be a powerful tool for stress reduction and motivation. To maximise a growth mindset start with 5 minutes of meditation each day. There are many wonderful Aps out there. I like Head Space and Calm. Deep breathing can also be very valuable and can take the edge off stress and anger. A simple breathing exercise is to breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts and then exhale for 8 counts. Repeat this 3-5 times as necessary. Journaling and a gratitude diary can also be beneficial. I personally find handwriting (even though my doctor writing is messy and hard to read back!) more therapeutic than typing out my thoughts. Do want is most powerful for you.
One of the simplest but most beneficial things I've done for myself and introduced to my workplace was encouraging a proper lunch break. This had to be for at least 15 minutes, where you went outside, talked (not about work) and enjoyed some food. In some work environments this might not be novel but in my high paced setting it was typical to work at your desk and either keep working through lunch or eat something over your computer. The increased productivity in the afternoon more than made up for the 15 minutes (ideally 30 minutes) taken out for lunch. Take breaks, enjoy them, switch off, do some meditation or get in some movement.
Do you know someone who hasn't exercised in years, starts a plan and then injures themselves in the first week? The key is to start slow, build up and be consistent. If you haven't exercised in 10 years then starting with a 5 km run is probably not the best idea. Instead start with a 15 min walk and then build up by 5 mins every few days until you have reached a time that is doable for you most days. It might be 30 mins or it could be an hour. If you can't find a 30 minute block a day to exercise (but remember everyone only has 24 hours a day and some of the busiest people in the world prioritise and block out time for exercise) then breaking it up into 5 and 10 minute blocks throughout the day is still useful. Having one of these activities outside (not within peak UV times but morning and afternoon is best) to meet vitamin D requirements helps keep your muscles, bones and immune system strong. Incorporate movement into your everyday activities. Put on music and dance while you are tidying up, always take the stairs, take a walk to go to the toilets i.e. don't always use the closest ones) or get a dog (having to take the dog for a walk or two each day is a great incentive!)
In a world where we have more safe and abundant food than ever before, nutrition is also more confusing. My advice is don't listen to the influencers but do listen to the health experts and researchers and find what works for you. The truth is most "diets" whether they are low carbohydrate, high protein or high carbohydrate low fat etc. work for most people as long as they can stick to them. This might be life long but in most cases if it is a restrictive diet than it can usually only be maintained in the short term. So pick a style of eating you enjoy, focus on fresh unprocessed foods like vegetables, legumes, fruits, wholegrain cereals. Focus on quality rather than quantity. Including nuts and seeds and fish (especially salmon, mackerel, sardines) 2 to 3 times a week. Good quality protein like meat, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds or soy and legumes can be included for at least two meals each day to meet protein requirements for tissue repair and a healthy immune system. Food is more than just nutrition, its social and an important part of our lifestyles. Therefore I also believe in the 80:20 rule where you are consistent with a healthy diet most of the time but if you occasionally want to have an extra glass of wine or a slice of birthday cake then you can without feeling guilty. The key here is occasionally. Unfortunately in our current lifestyle it is very easy to turn "occasionally" into "regularly or everyday".
On the topic of alcohol, while some studies have found that the guidelines of up to 2 standard drinks a day (with no more than 4 serves in one occasion) can be beneficial for heart disease there appears no safe level in terms of increasing the risk of certain cancers like breast and head and neck cancer. Remember the standard serve (e.g. 375ml mid-strength beer or 100ml wine) is much less than we often think and a typical wine glass may actually hold 1.5 or even 2 standard serves. As a rule of thumb I would always have 2 non-alcoholic drinks to one alcohol-containing drink. There are some great non-alcoholic alternatives so I might write about those in another blog.
So now you are motivated to incorporate some of these health tips. How are you going to go about it? An accountability partner can be very useful to help keep you motivated, identify any blind-spots and keep you accountable. This can be a friend or trained health professional and wellness coach. Start with something small today, continue to add in healthy activities and be consistent. Invest in your health today so you can age with vitality! Comment below and let me know what tips work for you and what areas you would like more advice on.
Professor Liz Isenring is a wellness coach and dietitian specialising in personal transformation using mindset, nutrition and movement. For more information contact Liz on ProfLiz@lincnutrition.com.au or www.lincnutrition.com.au