If you can’t pronounce the ingredient, don’t eat the food or use the product.
Thanksgiving is – and has always been – my all-time favorite holiday. And now I have another reason (actually 10 of them) to love this day. And so do you. Here are the Top Ten Reasons Thanksgiving is the Ultimate Anti-Aging Holiday:
10. Family gatherings where you spend time with people younger than you are helps you “think young,” which translates into real biological benefits like lower blood pressure.
9. Cleaning the house before the guests arrive is good exercise. Integrating functional physical activity into your life is probably the single most successful long-term anti-aging strategy there is.
8. Cooking turkey is one of the least anxiety-producing culinary activities you can engage in and still call yourself a cook. Lower anxiety is linked to longer telomeres. Longer telomeres are linked to a healthier, longer life.
7. Eating your largest meal mid-day is a proven weight-control strategy. Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of avoiding chronic illnesses (diabetes, heart disease) that decrease quality of life and shorten lifespan.
6. Turkey (breast) is a high-quality, super-lean source of protein. Protein helps build muscle. A favorable fat-to-lean ratio is a biomarker of youthfulness.
5. Pine nuts or hazelnuts in the dressing (made with celery, mushrooms, tons of garlic and onions sautéed in olive oil, mixed with toasted multi-grain bread crumbs). Oh yes! A study from researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School reported that people who regular consumed nuts were less likely to die from a variety of diseases, most significantly cancer, heart disease and respiratory diseases. Nut eaters also tended to be leaner. (I am guessing their nut-eating did not include slabs of pecan pie… so cross that off your list for tomorrow’s dessert.)
4. Cranberries have powerful anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory – and perhaps even anti-cancer – properties.
3. The Center for Science in the Public Interest rates sweet potatoes as the number one most nutritious vegetable. One cup of sweet potatoes (no, not carpeted in brown sugar and dotted with marshmallows) contains 65% of RDA of Vitamin C – a powerful anti-oxidant — and a walloping dose of beta-carotene (which converts to vitamin A in the body) that equals 700% of RDA. Vitamin A is key for good vision and a healthy immune system.
2. Giving thanks and being thankful are signs of self-efficacy and optimism, traits that are associated with greater health and well-being, and a longer lifespan.
…And the #1 reason Thanksgiving is the ultimate anti-aging holiday:
1. It’s a holiday that demands no gift-giving! No gift-giving means less stress. Less stress means less cortisol. Less cortisol means less inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to just about everything you don’t want to happen to you.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)
Stop. Breathe. Chronic stress harms the hippocampus, the brain’s main memory center.
I’ve been thinking a lot about focus lately and how it is central to my sense of self — which is really a way of saying essential to my health and well-being. Yes, I mean physical health, but I also mean emotional and creative health, keys to living a satisfying, engaging (and potentially counterclockwise) life. I’ve been thinking so much about focus because I’ve temporarily lost mine. Or rather, I’ve had to let go of it. This is a predictable, every 3 to 4 year occurrence, a natural – yet nonetheless unsettling – part of my writing life.
When I write, when I am steeped in a new project, my life takes on a shape. There is order to my days. Order to my reading, my thinking, my conversation, even my dreaming. The book is like a planet, and I am its moon. I love the tug of that gravitational pull.
I love the way writing – not to mention the immersion work I do before I write — demands tunnel vision, the way it obliterates the twenty-first-century multi-tasker in me. You’d think all this intense mental activity would be stressful. But it is mostly the opposite of stressful. I exist in the calm center of the work. I find the ease in the effort. I never want to leave that place.
And then, one day, I have to. One day I finish the manuscript, and then the revisions and then everything else that has to do with bringing a book to completion. And I have to let go. I have to end the intense relationship I have had with the characters in the book and the world these characters inhabit. When I do that I am ending the lovely, insistent, book-driven rhythm of my days.
It’s not that I all of a sudden have nothing to do. It’s that all of a sudden I feel as if I have too much to do. With no one thing, there is now everything. And although I actually have less work, I feel more overwhelmed. And that stress everyone thinks I must feel while working on a project (but I don’t)? I feel it now. And in that place, it is oddly easy to compound the problem. To stay up way too late. To eat mindlessly. To lost patience with myself. To forget that I need nurturing and need to nurture.
For me, my healthiest (body, mind, spirit) place is when I am deeply, deeply engaged, single-mindedly engaged, in the work I love.
Here is the planet I’ve been circling, the focus of my days. It is now out in the world. Take a look!Posts | Comment (0)
Looking younger is not the same as being younger. Focus your efforts on heart, lungs, arteries and muscles – not crow’s feet.
“The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and work of art”
– Leonardo Da Vinci
A few months ago, when it was warm and dry and I wore sandals every day (and had my toenails painted Aegean blue), I posted “In Praise of Feet.” Now that we are firmly into stuff-your-feet-into-boot weather, I feel the need to talk feet once again.
First, a reminder: Twenty-five percent of the body’s 212 bones are in the feet, as well as 33 joints (20 of which are actively articulated) and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. If any of these bones – or the ligaments, tendons and muscles that surround them – become misaligned or stressed, the effects can be felt in the knees, the hips, the low back and let’s not forget the infamous IT band. And you don’t’ even realize that the FEET are the culprit.
Consider this: Feet are TINY compared to the rest of you, yet they must support and stabilize the entire body. We plant our feet more than 10,000 times a day. Make that 15,000-20,000 times a day if we exercise. And each time the foot contacts the ground it absorbs about 300 pounds +/- of force.
And women, take EXTRA note: If you were ever pregnant, the increased weight on your joints, combined with greater laxity due to hormones, probably led to permanent structural changes in your feet, including lower arches and bigger feet. (Mine grew a size and a half.) If pregnancy didn’t get you, it may be that your ill-chosen footware is doing damage . And by “ill-chosen” I mean those fancy, pointy-toed, high-heeled shoes.
Most of us have weak, inflexible feet, confined in shoes and idle most of the day (planted under a desk). I’ve read that 3 out of 4 people develop foot problems as they age. If your feet hurt, you don’t want to stand on them. Or walk. If your feet hurt you curtail physical activity, which accelerates aging, which makes everything hurt.
I have to admit that, like most of you (I am betting) I pretty much ignored my feet. That is until I started hanging around ballet dancers (during research for my new book, Raising the Barre). Dancers are, as you might imagine, foot obsessed. And so now I am. And you should be too!
Here’s what the National Institute on Aging has to say about foot care. Here’s what I have to say: Don’t wear shoes when you don’t have to. Walking and standing in bare feet strengthens them. (I’m not talking to you plantar fasciitis sufferers. You’ve got your own regimen.) Get yourself a wide elastic band and start exercising your feet. Wrap the band around the ball of your foot and flex, point, flex point, every night for maybe 5 or 10 minutes. Place a tennis ball or racketball ball under your foot and roll it around. It feels good. And it does good. For me the breakthrough was moving from the gym, where my feet were always encased in shoes (albeit good ones), to the yoga and Barre3 studios where I am gloriously barefoot, and every move I make stretches and strengthens these two size 9 masterpieces of engineering.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)
YES! There is an anti-aging “magic bullet.” It’s called physical activity.
It feels good.
It makes you feel good.
It is the key to a vibrant, energized life.
So why do only 17 percent of American women get the minimum amount of aerobic and strength-training exercise? This is according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control. Women over 45? Only 15 percent are regular exercisers. For women over 65, the percentage goes down to 12. (Men fare somewhat better. But not much.)
Why when we are awash in information about the extraordinary benefits of physical activity…when we are slammed with studies that link inactivity to illness, poor quality of life and early death…why are we an increasingly slothful nation?
Of course I am not addressing you, dear readers. You (we!) are the 17 percent. But what about your sister, your aunt, your co-worker, your partner?
I recently came across some interesting research about this. Although the many and profound benefits of physical activity are constantly in the news, it may be that the message is not being presented in the right way. Apparently, promoting physical activity as a way to prevent or control disease, or lose weight — and prescribing doses as if exercise were medicine – doesn’t get most people off their butts or help them establish activity habits. This is according to research conducted by Michelle Segar, director of the Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center at the University of Michigan. Here’s what she said in an interview with veteran New York Times health columnist Jane Brody: “Health is not an optimal way to make physical activity relevant and compelling enough for most people to prioritize in their hectic lives.”
I’m stunned. It seems counterintuitive, but her research shows that people whose goals are better health and weight loss do not tend to spend much time exercising. It could be because “better health” is a life-long journey with cumulative – and sometimes invisible (until it’s not) – benefits, not instant gratification. It could be because exercise alone, with no change in eating habits, is not a very successful weight-loss strategy. It could be because people hate to be preached at. Or all three. Whatever the constellation of reasons, almost 200 million Americans are not doing what pretty much all of them know is good for them.
Dr. Segar, a psychologist who specializes in helping people adopt and maintain regular exercise habits, is using another approach that focuses on the immediate rewards that enhance daily life — more energy, a better mood, less stress and more opportunity for connection. These benefits, her research has found, offer more powerful motivation. Her message: Physical activity is a way to revitalize and renew. It is the fuel that powers us to better enjoy what matters most.
And now, friends, I am off to my own refueling station, my local Barre3 studio.Filed under Posts | Comments (4)
Dark chocolate (70% cacao) is YES! an anti-aging health food. Enjoy a square a day. The flavinoids help lower blood pressure and improve lipid profile.
But what if “expectation equals outcome” was the true narrative of aging?
What if expecting physical, cognitive and/or creative decline as we age caused – or was at least a cause – of said decline? Well, folks, there’s no “what if” about it.
We are awash in negative stereotypes (aka expectations) about what aging means, from loss of vigor to loss of memory, from slower metabolisms to weaker immune systems, from creakiness to crankiness. Those in our culture who don’t conform – think Betty White (in her 90s) or Warren Buffet (80s) – are heralded as astonishing outliners. Instead of their energy and vitality challenging the stereotype, they are presented as the exception that proves the rule, thus further legitimizing the stereotype.
In test after test, negative stereotypes have been shown to lead to poor health results. During the past two decades, dozens of studies from psychologists, medical doctors and neuroscientists have shown that older people with more negative views of aging are in poorer health (and die younger) than those who don’t buy into the stereotypes. Here’s a summary of one highly credible study linking negative stereotypes to cardiovascular disease.
This ties in directly with what I wrote about last week: the power of optimism/ pessimism. Those who expect decline (those who assimilate all the frail/ dependent/that’s-it-for-you messages about what aging means) are pessimists who lack self-efficacy. They don’t see that they can have an effect on how – and how quickly – they age. They figure they are “victims” of the aging process. And so they are.
Now there’s a new Yale/ Berkeley study on the power of positive age stereotypes to lead to improved outcome. The study involved 100 older people (61-99 with an average age of 81) randomly divided into groups that heard a series (4 at 1-week internals) of implicit positive messages, explicit positive messages, a combination of both, or no messages.
The implicit intervention strengthened positive age stereotypes…which strengthened positive self-perceptions of aging…which, in turn, improved physical function. This is, dear readers, without any changes in diet, exercise, sleep patterns, health care or further interventions of any kind.
Join me as I shout: WOW.
Now join me as we reject our culture’s sick and erroneous attitudes toward aging. And join me as we take power over our own health, wellness and well-being.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)
Packaged foods? Oh no you don’t. Unless you want trans fats, refined grains, HFCS.
Believe it or not, there is serious scientific evidence that optimism (and pessimism) affect health and well-being almost as clearly as do the physical factors we pay so much attention to (exercise, diet, sleep.)
So, wait. For vibrant health we have to walk around like Pollyannas ignoring all the bad stuff and the crazy people and the chaos and sing happy little songs to ourselves and answer, it’s all good, man, to any question asked? Because, folks, that ain’t how I roll.
Happily the “rose-colored glasses,” “oh-blah-di-oh-blah-da” attitude toward life is not the definition of optimism. It is the definition of “naïveté.”
Here’s a much better definition: Optimists believe good things may happen, they have a chance of happening — and that they personally have significant control over that process. They have confidence that what they do (or don’t do) matters. Pessimists, on the other hand, often feel helpless and passive, the victims of circumstance.
At the root of optimism is what’s known in psychological circles as self-efficacy: “a person’s belief in his or her ability to solve problems, handle situation, meet challenges and otherwise influence the course of events.” This do-can approach, this I-am-the-author-of-my-own-life philosophy has been linked to lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, fewer and less severe diseases of middle age, a significantly lower risk of dying from coronary disease, faster healing after surgery, and generally a longer, healthier life.
Why would that be?
The answer, like everything else about us, is wonderfully complex, a combination of the psychological, behavioral, biological and social. Here’s the way I understand it:. You’d think that people who expect good things to happen to them would sit back and wait for them to happen, but that’s not what optimists do. Optimists, in fact, seize the day. They take steps to ensure that good things will (or can) happen to them. They are far more likely to practice healthy behaviors and to seek treatment for problems than pessimists. Optimists are also far more likely to have the social support networks that researchers have found correlate with long-term good health.
All that seems pretty commonsensical to me. Now here’s where it gets very interesting: Optimists are also different biochemically than pessimists. Feeling overwhelmed, helpless and depressed? Feeling that way a lot of the time because you figure you are the mercy of the fates? Apparently, your brain is busy sending chemical messages to your body, and they’re not love letters. One of the not-love-letters is cortisol, the so-called stress hormone. Overexposure to cortisol is like an express train to the nursing home.
That’s not exactly how the docs at the Mayo Clinic put it. But when they list increased risk of heart disease, obesity, memory impairment, sleep problems and digestive disorders as potential fall-out from chronic exposure to cortisol, that’s pretty much what they’re saying. Optimists, when stressed, produce cortisol too, but their response is muted and transient.
The single most important optimistic message I’ve gotten lately is from a simple statement often repeated in my Barre3 class: “There are always modifications.” To me this means: You can always find a way to succeed. Regardless of who you are or what your circumstance or what your current challenges, you have the power to make it work for you. Whatever “it” is at that moment. You are in control. You make your life happen. This is the essence of self-efficacy. Which is a cornerstone of optimism, which is the foundation to a healthy and vibrant life.
So, yeah, optimism rules.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)
Don’t drink soda. Ever. Even (especially) diet soda.
Did I just write that? Yes, I did.
Of course, physical activity is one of the keys to health and vitality. But exercise is not THE answer to “How do I live a meaningful, engaged, counterclockwise life?” Sweat is good (and necessary). But just as good (and even more necessary) is attitude or – if you want to get high-minded about it, philosophy.
After decades of honing a sweat-and-grunt gym rat life – not to mention the year I spent subjecting myself to every form of exercise from aerobics to Zumba (get it? A to Z?), I discovered a place where, for me, fitness and philosophy come together. Imagine being in a studio, in a fitness class, where as the instructor cues your movements, she is simultaneously making insightful, potentially life-changing statements. And no, not cheesy. Or self-conscious. Or woo-woo. Simple and natural.
A challenging workout packed with insights and ah-ha moments? Yep, you bet.
Here are a few of the cues given by my Barre3 instructors that mean so much more to me than just advice about how to move.
Find the ease in the effort. The instructor says this just when the effort is beginning to feel overwhelming, when I can’t imagine holding that plank a second more or squeezing the ball any tighter. And, as I search my body for a place of ease (Yes! Unbelievably I can find it), I also de-code the message as a broader directive. Life is about effort – and so often about chaos. But rather than letting the effort be all there is, rather than letting the chaos fill my head, what a gift if, in the thick of things, I can find that place of ease and calm.
Release the tension that does not serve you. The instructor says this when I have a death-grip on the barre or my shoulders are hunched or she can see the tendons pop in my neck. I am oblivious until she says it. And then I feel it. And then I release it. And I think about the life lesson here: Putting down that unnecessary baggage we carry. Letting go of those grudges. Releasing what does not serve you.
It is all about the core. The instructor says as I balance on a ball in boat pose. Yes, all movement comes from the core. But I de-code the statement this way: All movement in life – creativity, curiosity, productivity, meaningful engagement, relationships – everything should come from the core, the core of one’s being, the core of who you are. Your authentic self. It IS all about the core.
Create your own resistance. The instructor says, cueing us to purposeful eccentric and concentric muscle contractions, to feeling the air we move through, to using our own body weight. I internalize this as an important life strategy: Look for challenges. Up the ante. Decide to raise the bar on your own life not because you have to, not because you’re forced to, but because that’s where learning and growth take place. Because that’s where you strengthen resilience and feed curiosity and live with intention and engagement. (This, by the way, is the subject of my new book, Raising the Barre, due out in late November.)
There are always modifications. The instructor says to help those of us with tight hip flexors or wonky lower backs. And I think: What an
empowering and self-determining way to look at one’s life. Whatever you want to do, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, there are always ways to make it work, to make the endeavor successful. To modify means to make it your own.
Don’t drink soda. Ever. Even (especially) diet soda.
You know the conventional “wisdom” about the brain: As we get older, the brain shrinks. Brain cells die. And we don’t get any new ones. We get slower and foggier and more absent-minded. If we’re lucky. Even if we avoid full-on dementia, the “fact” is the brain deteriorates, and the best we can do is maybe slow down loss of function.
The evolving science of aging has upturned much so-called conventional wisdom, and here, happily is yet another example.
Our brains are actually far more resilient than originally thought. While it may be true that we lose some neurons as we get older, neuroscientists have discovered that stem cells in the brain can replace some of those lost cells. In fact, the brain is remarkably resilient at repairing itself. And the brain is always able to learn and make new connections. Which means that we could actually enhance brain power as we age. What a thought.
How do we help our brains stay “youthful”? No, it’s not by repeatedly doing New York Times crossword puzzles. Here are some proven suggestions from two pioneers in what I think of as “the art of resilience” – both mind and body. One is a psychiatrist; the other a neuropsychologist:
MOVE. Physical activity enhances blood flow (to the brain as well as everywhere in the body). Physical activity can directly improve brain health, boost energy and improve mood
SLEEP. Quality sleep rests and recharges the brain. What is good, healthy sleep? I wrote about that here.
EAT WELL. Yes there are “brain foods.” I wrote about the MIND diet here. Read up and eat!
CULTIVATE CURIOSITY. Novelty boosts brain power. Routine deadens it. Do something new. Create adventures for yourself. Especially in mid-life.
EMBRACE OPTIMISM. Optimism is not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. It is the belief that you have the ability to solve problems, meet challenges and influence the course of events. This is known as “self-efficacy,” and there is good evidence that it has significant effects on health and well-being (brain and body). And…get this, it can be learned. I write about this in chapter 12 of Counterclockwise.
STAY CONNECTED. Humans are social beings (well, writers not so much), and interacting with others, staying connected to the world, activates and enhances our brains. Generosity, compassion, empathy, philanthropy – a life lived fully and meaningfully is a joyful life — and a key to a youthful, invigorated, resilient brain.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)
Keep chemicals off your skin! Read, really read, those ingredient labels for body products.
The days are getting shorter; the night are getting cooler. Exhale into Fall. And consider paying some attention to that all-important activity we engage in every day, for more hours than we engage in any other single activity.
NO, folks, I do NOT mean sitting. Remember: Sitting is the new smoking. I have already ranted several times about this, and I know you all paid rapt attention and (like me) have significantly modified your rotten sedentary habits! What I mean here is SLEEPING. So many of us have trouble with this simple, restorative, proven health and wellness strategy. Fall, with its longer nights, is a great time to get back to good, health-enhancing sleep patterns.
So what IS good, healthy sleep?
To function best, you need to get eight hours.
Not really, There is no magic number, say the experts. The non-experts in my house agree. My husband luxuriates in 9 hours. I feel like the walking dead on those rare occasions I get 9 hours. Seven feels wonderful. I actually prefer 6 ½.
Really? But MORE sleep is healthier, isn’t it?
Nope. Some studies have found that people who slept more than 8 hours a night died younger than people who got between 6-8 hours. But does sleeping longer cause poor health or is it a symptom of it? This is not yet known. It could be that longer sleepers suffer from problems such as sleep apnea, depression or uncontrolled diabetes that make them spend more time in bed.
On the other hand, some people function perfectly on 4 hours of sleep, right?
Probably not. Legendary short sleepers (Bill Clinton, Madonna, Margaret Thatcher) don’t necessarily do better on less sleep. They’re just not aware of how sleepy they are! So say sleep researchers. In fact, too little sleep impairs performance, judgment and the ability to pay attention; weakens the immune system; is linked to a higher risk of heart problems; and contributes to weight gain. (The latter was a notable [surprise] finding from the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study.)
I wake up during the night…that’s bad, isn’t it?
No. It just might be your natural sleep cycle. Many animals sleep this way, and there are indications that our ancestors did, too. When 15 people in a National Institute of Mental Health study lived without artificial lights for a few weeks, they wound up sleeping three to five hours, waking up for one or two, then sleeping again for four or more hours — and they said they had never felt so rested. I regularly wake up once or twice a night – even when I don’t (stupidly) drink a 16 oz mug of tea at 10 pm.
Ha! I can make up for “lost” sleep during the weekend.
Ha! No you can’t! Bingeing on sleep on the weekend to compensate for skimpy weekday sleep— what Harvard sleep expert Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., calls “sleep bulimia” — upsets your circadian rhythms and makes it even harder to get refreshing sleep. The body loves and thrives on consistency. It’s best to rise around the same time every day, including weekends.
The older you get, the fewer hours of sleep you need.
No, ma’am. Although sleep patterns may change as we age – due not to age itself, by the way, but to health issues linked to unsuccessful aging — the amount of sleep we need generally does not. Older adults benefit from getting as much sleep as they normally got when they were in their 30s.
So get out the flannel sheets, throw open the windows, breath deep, sleep well, dream big.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)
Weight training helps boost metabolism. Add it to your routine 2-3 x/ week.
George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans) wrote that, and I could not agree more. And, as if fall were not awesome enough by its own self, it is also an excellent season for those of us committed to living counterclockwise. Here are the top 5 reason (well, my top 5 reasons) fall is the best season for engaged, vibrant, youthful living:
1. Soup. Yes, let’s begin with soup. Lentil soup. Black bean soup. Potato leek soup. Butternut squash and apple (see #2) soup. Soupsoupsoup. A quiet and contemplative pleasure to make. A deeply satisfying (body and soul) meal to consume. Soup forces you to slow down, breath, savor, enjoy.
2. Apples. Sure, other fruits hog the anti-aging limelight (pomegranate, mangosteen, acai berries, blah blah blah), but the apple – glory of fall harvests – should be front and center. It’s not just the vitamin C and B6. It’s the particular kind of fiber found in apples (eat the skin or lose out) that interacts with other phytonutrients to significantly bolster the blood fat-lowering effects. The phytonutrients in apples also help regulate blood sugar. And recently scientists have identified a new important health benefit: the beneficial effects apples have on bacteria in the digestive tract. Also they are delicious, crunchy, satisfying and low-cal. And, as a bonus: Apples are grown in all 50 states, meaning you have a better chance of eating local with an apple than with just about any other fruit.
3. Sleep. Sleep is good, and we don’t get enough of it. With the equinox comes shorter days, longer nights, and more lovely darkness to take advantage of. Cooler nights (open those windows!) mean better sleep “hygiene.” Also the beginning of flannel sheet weather. Need I say more? Wait, I will say more. Here in the Pacific Northwest, fall means rain. Which means falling asleep to the soft hiss of rain, the sound people actually download to listen to because it is known to enhance relaxation.
4. Cooler weather. Not just great for improved sleep, cooler weather is perfect for long walks, hikes, bike rides, runs – you know, getting out and (joyfully) moving your body. If you were stuck indoors during summer heat waves and air inversions, now is the time to go back outside. It’s not just physical movement that keeps us healthy and vibrant, it is our connection to the natural world.
5. Glorious colors. Scarlet and magenta, gold and bronze, russet, flame, apricot. Oh I could go on. But you get it. Fall colors are magnificent, a treat for eye and food for the soul. It’s hard not to feel grateful just to be alive in the presence of such beauty.
So happy equinox, everyone. Take a walk while munching an apple. Make soup and savor it. Sleep well.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)