Design your own Healthy Ageing Plan

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Eating well and exercising are now known to be the key to good health as we age, says nutritional therapist Karen Geary

Since the sad passing of Her Majesty the Queen, many stories have been shared about her and the ways in which she conducted her selfless duty and service to her people. Occasionally we also read anecdotes about her diet and lifestyle. While undoubtedly she had the very best of medical care during her reign, she was fit and active up until very recently. One thing that really stood out was her mental sharpness, right up until the end.
I’m 60 next month and naturally have developed a keen interest in the science of ageing and longevity! There are 15 million people in the UK over the age of 60, with major health issues beginning to kick in at the age of 65 – and it seems to be getting earlier for many. In the UK we are used to getting ‘free’ healthcare via the NHS. Our medical system is excellent – especially for acute care – but it is not tailored to chronic illness.
There has never been a better time to take your health into your own hands. Don’t wait to develop a problem – prevention is the cheapest strategy and it is never too late to start. Great nutrition and lifestyle habits are the cornerstone.

Brain health
It is becoming better understood that cognitive decline may be preventable. Only one in 100 cases of dementia is gene-related – at least half of the risk factors are related to sugar intake, B vitamin status, coffee/tea intake, fitness level, social interaction, intake of oily fish, antioxidants and blood pressure.
If you have not already heard it before, dementia and Alzheimer’s have been dubbed ‘diabetes Type 3’. In fact, Type 2 diabetes doubles the risk of dementia. While this highlights the importance of a low sugar way of eating, there are other important factors. Homocysteine is a common amino acid, which we mostly get from eating meat. For good brain health, the levels need to be below 10 and ideally 7mmol/l (millimoles per litre. A mole is a scientific unit often used to measure chemicals). Homocysteine is largely influenced by diet, mainly B vitamins and omega-3 fat intake. Lowering homocysteine levels has significantly reduced brain shrinkage and improved memory in those with early stages of dementia. Vitamin D status is also important as it is neuroprotective (helps prevent cell death)
What to do: Go to foodforthebrain.org/the-cognitive-function-test/ and take the free test to assess your risk and what to do about it. A longer version of my take on brain health is available on my website.

Bone, Joints and Muscles.
Arthritic aches and pains become more common with age – women in particular are frequently diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia. Lack of movement is the main driver that puts stress on the joints.
What to do: Eat a largely anti-inflammatory diet containing foods such as turmeric, quercetin (find it in onions and apples), plenty of purple and dark green foods and Omega-3 rich foods (including oily fish, chia seeds and walnuts). For some, reducing dairy can help reduce aches and pains, but increase dark leafy greens for calcium intake.
Exercise – both cardio and resistance/strength training, even just walking. Keep moving!
Get your vitamin D levels up to 75-100nano mol/l as it is needed for strong bones and muscles. In winter it is probably necessary to take a supplement as it is hard to get from sunlight and foods alone. To find out your vitamin D status, you can do an at-home test here – www.vitamindtest.org.uk/.

Heart Health
This deserves a separate article, so I will stick to the thorny topic of cholesterol. There are conflicting schools of thought on cholesterol and what defines ‘good’ and ‘bad’. What causes problems is when LDL (low-density lipoprotein, sometimes called ‘bad’ cholesterol, which makes up most of your body’s cholesterol) is glycosylated – and crucially, not all LDL behaves that way. The glycosylated LDL accumulates where arteries have been damaged by high homocysteine.
What to do: Follow an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet. Keep your blood sugar under control and your homocysteine levels low (tests are available online or through a registered nutritionist). Eat oily fish three times a week in order to keep triglyceride levels low, as we know that low triglycerides reduce heart disease risk.
Extra virgin olive oil has beneficial polyphenols and two tablespoons a day may help to increase HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or ‘good’ cholesterol – it absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver), which exerts a protective effect against heart disease. Exercise also lowers blood pressure, which in turn reduces stroke risk.

Cancers
A new study suggests that people are developing cancers earlier in life. Researchers cited significant changes in lifestyle and environment as possible factors. Eight of the 14 cancer types studied were related to the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, emphasising the importance of the microbiome when it comes to cancers. Diet directly affects the make-up of our gut and, over time, can influence the onset of disease. The study highlights the importance of consuming whole and unprocessed foods for the very best of gut health.
What to do: Eat all of the colours of the rainbow (a widely diverse diet of plants), fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and whole grains.
The gut loves diversity.

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