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Longevity Living
By Debra Gordon

 


10 Things You Should Know and Do Now  to Guarantee Yourself Good Health for Many Years to Come

You’re in the prime of your life, your kids are grown, your career is established, you’ve got money in the bank. Now is the time – if you haven’t already done so – to turn your attention to your health. The decisions you make and actions you take in this arena can make the difference between spending your golden years skiing in France or hiking the Appalachian trail, or drooling them away in a nursing home.


 






Healthy Thoughts

 


Maintaining an optimistic outlook is good for your health. A recent Harvard School of Public Health study found that pessimists are significantly more likely to develop heart disease than those who are always looking on the bright side of life. The most optimistic and relaxed men were also significantly less likely to have a non-fatal heart attack or die from heart disease.




“When you see your cup is half full versus half empty, you will definitely live longer,” says Dr. Stephen Sinatra of the New England Heart and Longevity Center. That’s because you tend to have lower stress hormones. His advice: Always try to find the opportunity in the crisis.
1. Get a good night’s sleep.
Keep a rat awake for two weeks and it dies of infection because its immune system is simply too worn out to protect it. In that simple experiment lies a lesson for humans: We need enough shut-eye.



“Sleep is the great antioxidant,” says Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a cardiologist and founder of the New England Heart and Longevity Center in Manchester, Conn. “It recharges the body. When you’re sleeping, your nervous system is slowed down, your arousal is down, and the levels of free radicals (harmful molecules that can damage every tissue in your body) are lower.”



All of which may explain studies that find if you persistently get less sleep than you need, you’re up to 70 percent more likely to die prematurely than if you get enough. But the effects of sleep deprivation turn up long before you die. Too little sleep can lead to insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes. Or cause permanent brain damage. Or increase levels of stress hormones the next morning, adversely affecting everything from your memory to your immune system to your heart health. Sleep deprivation can also play havoc with thyroid hormone levels, critical for a variety of functions, including energy and metabolism.



Too little sleep may even contribute to breast cancer. In studies, breast cancer cells incubated in alternating levels of the sleep hormone melatonin – high for 12 hours, low for 12 hours, which most appropriated normal rhythms ­– were least likely to grow, suggesting that melatonin is part of a woman’s inborn defense against breast cancer.



So turn off the TV, stop checking your e-mail, put the work you brought home from the office away, and go to sleep.


 




2. Stay calm and reduce your stress. A study of more than 1,000 men found high-tempered men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease and five times more likely to have a heart attack before they reach age 55. Researchers suspect the culprits are chemicals called catecholamines, released when we get angry. They cause blood vessels to constrict, increase the heart rate and raise blood pressure.


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One of those hormones, cortisol, causes us to age quicker, Dr. Sinatra says, by triggering the release of enormous amounts of free radicals. “This is the worst hormone in the body to be elevated,” says Sinata. “Reducing stress levels will help reduce hormonal interactions that cause disease.”


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Try yoga, listening to classical music or nature sounds, or acupuncture. One recent study found all of these endeavors significantly lower blood pressure.


 


3. Quit smoking. You’ve heard it before, and here it is again. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Short of sunbathing in a nuclear waste dump, it’s the single worst thing you can do to your health. ’Nuff said.


 


4. Get regular health screening tests. Early detection of cancer dramatically increases your chances of survival. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that 81 percent of those diagnosed early with cancer of the breast, colon, rectum, cervix, prostate, testes, oral cavity and skin are still alive five years after their diagnosis. See “Recommended Health Screenings” chart.




 


t; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">5. Eat right. We all know that what we eat is an important part of our health. But knowing exactly what kinds of food you should and shouldn’t be eating and acting accordingly are other matters entirely. Here’s some compelling scientific evidence regarding the specific foods you should eat to ensure a long and healthy life.


Consider just one major study, out of the National Cancer Institute, which found that women who eat a wide variety of healthy foods, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat meat and dairy products, may significantly lower their risk of dying from cancer, heart disease and stroke. There you have it – the big three in one fell swoop.


More specifically:


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• Choose healthy fat. Too much saturated fat, like animal fats, contribute to higher cholesterol levels and cardiovascular problems, says Tammy Baker, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. So replace butter and shortening with olive and other vegetable oils. Studies find that olive oil can also reduce your risk of bowel and rectal cancers.


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• Go for fish. “One of the best things you can do to prevent heart disease is get omega 3 fatty acids,” Sinatra says. “In very large clinical studies, fish oil reduced sudden death from all causes, including cancer and heart disease.” These fats, found in fish like mackerel, salmon and sardines, as well as soy and flax, help lower blood pressure, blood fats (triglycerides), improve heart health, and help to prevent sudden cardiac death and cancer. Researchers also suspect it plays a role in preventing depression and maintaining good eyesight.





• Eat spinach and blueberries.
They’re chock full of antioxidants. Research in rats found that rodents fed the green and blue foods maintain their ability to learn complex new skills better than those who only eat rat chow. In other words, you’ll keep your brain cells longer.



• Eat oysters, chocolate, liver and nuts.
These foods are loaded with the trace mineral copper, which studies suggest may help prevent colon cancer.



• Have a twist of lemon with that martini.
Researchers found that people who used lemon peel in their drinks or sprinkled atop their food were 34 percent less likely to get skin cancer. They speculate a compound found in lemon peel, d-limonene, may protect skin from cancer.



• Drink black tea.
Countless studies suggest that regular consumption of black tea lowers the risk of several types of cancer. A component in black tea, called TF-2, appears to cause cancer cells to commit apoptosis, a form of cell suicide, and inhibits the activity of the COX-2 gene, which causes inflammation, a process thought to trigger a sequence of events that turns normal cells into cancer cells.



• Crunch walnuts.
Just five ounces of nuts a week can cut your risk of developing cardiovascular problems in half. Researchers suspect walnuts are the most heart-healthy nut, because of their cholesterol-lowering properties.





• Sip pomegranate juice.
Just half a glass daily may help reduce several major risk factors for heart disease.



• Go for tofu.
Just 25 to 50 grams of soy protein a day can lower your LDL cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol. You can get your soy in powdered form and mix it into smoothies, or try tofu, tempeh, soy milk or other  soy products.



• Season with garlic.
Studies find that people who regularly eat raw or cooked garlic cut their risk of developing stomach cancer in half and their risk of colorectal cancers by a third. Researchers suspect garlic’s antibacterial properties help protect against the bacterium H. pylori, a known contributor to cancer of the digestive tract.



• Go whole.
Eating whole-grain foods helps lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. So instead of regular pasta, white bread and white rice, go for whole-wheat pastas and breads, brown rice, and new grains, such as quinoa and bulgur.



• Crunch your vegetables.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower, provide great cancer prevention, Sinatra says. The vegetables contain a chemical called inderole, found to prevent cancer.


 




6. Drink in moderation. Thought we were going to tell you to become a teetotaler, right? Wrong. A solid body of research suggests numerous benefits to consuming moderate amounts of alcohol. For instance, Harvard Medical School researchers found women who drink three alcoholic beverages a week were 15 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure compared to teetotalers. The key here is moderation; women who drank more than one and a half alcohol drinks per day were 30 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure. Beer seemed to be the most beneficial beverage.


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7. Get up and go! If your idea of exercise is getting up to change the channel when you can’t find the remote, then you’re going to be in trouble when you hit your senior years. Exercise helps keep nearly every body system healthy – all the while releasing anti-aging growth hormones, says Dr. Sinatra.


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In addition to some sort of regular aerobic activity – brisk walking, bike riding, dancing – make it a priority to fit in two or three days a week of strength training. “Half of all 70 year olds can’t lift a gallon of milk over their heads,” Sinatra says.


pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">Exercise physiologist Liz Applegate, Ph.D., of the University of California-Davis, advises concentrating on your core muscles – abdominals, lower back and quadriceps (the muscles in your upper thighs). “A strong core will enable you to maintain endurance for activities like outside gardening or taking care of the grandkids for a day,” she says.


pt; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; mso-bidi-font-size: 12.0pt">If you’re not into the weight room at the local gym, try exercising with one of the giant rubber balls so popular today. You can find them in sporting good shops or online at www.fitball.com. For specific exercises you can do with the ball, check out Dr. Applegate’s Web site at www.lizapplegate.com.




 


8. Try dietary supplements. The American food supply today is about as nutritionally rich as a piece of cardboard. Even mass-produced vegetables don’t carry as much nutritional punch as they once did because the soil is often nutrient depleted. That’s why many nutritionists and doctors recommend a quality vitamin/mineral supplement.



The other reason may be research like the study published in the journal Neurology in 2000 that found that men who took vitamins E and C at least once a week in 1988 (just for that year!) were 88 percent less likely to have vascular dementia (the most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s) and 69 percent less likely to have other forms of dementia. Researchers suggest the supplements play a role in protecting against the brain cell and membrane injury involved in many age-related diseases.



Daily supplements of vitamin D and calcium can help lower blood pressure, while a daily dose of the antioxidant vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene, and the mineral zinc, can slow and even prevent you from losing your vision to the age-related disease macular degeneration. The National Eye Institute predicts that 250,000 people would end up with better vision if they took the supplements each day for at least five years. Dr. Sinatra also recommends coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, an antioxidant that plays a vital role in the mitochondria, or powerhouse, of all cells.


 




9. Maintain a healthy weight (and blood pressure and cholesterol level). Gaining weight these days seems as inevitable as the demise of Social Security. But at least there’s something you can do about your weight. And there’s good reason to: one study out of the National Institute on Aging found that middle-aged men who were overweight and had high blood pressure and cholesterol levels (both side effects of packing on the pounds) in their 50s were more likely to develop vascular dementia  in their 70s. Yet another study found that simply losing as little as 10 percent of your body weight could significantly lower your risk of heart disease, even if you don’t get down to your ideal weight.


 


10. Use sunscreen. More than half of all cancers are skin cancers, with more than 1 million new cases diagnosed in the United States each year. If you don’t want to wind up as a statistic, use sunscreen – but use it right.



• Reapply it often.
The reality is that if you wait more than 2.5 hours to reapply your sunscreen, you’re five times more likely to get burned than those who apply it every two hours.



• Apply it liberally.
Several studies found sunscreen users don’t slather on enough sunscreen in a single application to adequately protect their whole body. Consequently, the SPF (sun protection factor) is, in many cases, about half of what the label says. Use one ounce of sunscreen, enough to fill a shot glass.



Make sure you're aware of these Recommended Health Screenings
 

Debra Gordon is a veteran reporter and editor who specializes in health issues.
From Get Up & Go, a United Parenting Publication.




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