Aging doesn’t happen overnight, but sometimes it can feel like it does. While aging is inevitable, feeling old is not. Implementing healthful aging practices can help you embrace each year as it comes and maintain optimal physical, mental, and psychological health well into your senior years. And, if you do it just right, you can also hold onto those good looks along the way!
Every cell, organ, and system in the body is affected by aging, and your body is naturally designed to renew, regenerate, and rebuild. Genetics do play a role in how gracefully you age, but lifestyle plays an even bigger role. Many of the issues associated with aging can actually be attributed to things you control, including diet, stress levels, sleep, and activity.
Your body is constantly aging and changing — your cells are dying and being regenerated even as you read this — so every habit you keep plays a role in how you age. Here are some ways that different aspects of your life may influence healthful aging:
Healthy food provides the building blocks each cell needs to thrive and perform its necessary role in the body. However, today’s food supply is overrun by processed and artificial ingredients. When you eat a diet filled with fast food, refined grains, and other low-nutrient foods, your body does not get the fuel it needs to perform at its best and age healthfully. Processed foods lack the antioxidants provided by plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and herbs. They can end up doing more harm than good, which requires the body to devote more attention to mitigating the negative impacts.
While operating under constant stress has become a way of life for many people, your nervous and endocrine systems were not designed to stay on high alert 24/7. Stress impacts every system within the body, stealing attention and energy from other aspects of health and well-being. Emotional stress as well as physical stress — including injury, wear and tear to the body, and constant exposure to changes in temperature and pressure — have an impact on aging. Practicing stress management may help take years off of each system in your body.
Modern technology certainly has its ups and downs. On one hand, we have made innumerable advancements in science, medicine, and technology that our ancient ancestors could never have imagined. However, there are also at least 85,000 chemicals in use today, many of which are derived from petroleum. In your daily personal care routine alone, you may be exposed to 126 different chemicals.
Toxins enter the skin through the air you breathe, the food and drinks you consume, and contact with your skin — the biggest organ in the body. Once inside, the liver and other components of your natural detoxification system are programmed to filter out these unwanted toxins. However, the more toxins you are exposed to, the more work you create for the body. Over several decades, these toxin exposures add up, and can take a major toll on the body and the aging process.
A healthy microbiome supports healthful aging. Your microbiome is the sum of all the microbes that inhabit your body. Most microbes join your microbiome as normal, healthy flora, giving back to your body as much as they take from it. A wide diversity of normal flora is associated with good health.
However, it’s natural to encounter unhelpful flora, too. Your immune system’s job is to promptly recognize and dispatch these harmful microbes. Some are stealthy — they seem friendly at first, but eventually they overstay their welcome. Because of their stealthy characteristics, the immune system has a hard time eradicating them, so they linger in the recesses of the body.
You have some stealth microbes in your body at all times — everyone does. Maintaining healthy habits helps to keep these invaders in check so that, over time, they don’t distract your body from its vital work of keeping you happy and healthy at all ages.
The first step to boosting vitality and longevity is minimizing the age-accelerating stress factors in your life that you have control over. One of the easiest ways to do that is to adopt what we call the Elements of Wellness, five healthy lifestyle practices that are core to the holistic philosophy behind The Vital Plan.
A healthy diet is just as important for adults as it is for children. To help encourage healthy aging, eat a nutrient-rich diet that’s low in or free from grain-derived processed foods and sugar. Instead, reach for whole foods that our ancestors would recognize.
Your body and mind need downtime to help you destress. Activities like meditating, reading, journaling, or engaging in any pastime that creates a sense of calm can help lower your cortisol levels and promote healthy aging. Sleep is also essential: Every system in your body restores itself when you sleep, so getting 7-8 hours of restful sleep each night is an important part of overall health and optimal aging.
Regular physical activity stimulates feel-good hormones in the brain, boosts the immune system, strengthens the heart and lungs, and helps promote a healthy weight. You naturally lose muscle and bone mass as you age, so including light weights or resistance training to your daily routine can help you stay strong and flexible for many years to come.
Limit your exposure to toxins, environmental and otherwise. Also, strive to drink a couple of liters of water per day, as water naturally aids in the body’s detoxification processes. Managing your toxic load can help your body by keeping your immune system strong and giving it more time and energy to focus on the functions that contribute to healthful aging.
The microbes in your microbiome compete with your cells for resources and disrupt your immune system, both of which can speed the aging process and leave you susceptible to chronic illness and aging-related symptoms. By incorporating the four other elements of wellness into your daily lifestyle along with the right herbs (see below), you can help keep your microbiome in a healthy balance, promote a strong immune system, and support healthy aging.
Most herbs have some natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-microbial properties that help reduce the burden on your immune system. They also help balance hormones, allowing cells and all the systems of the body to work better. But there’s one particular category of herbs called adaptogens that, along with adaptogen companions, are particularly good at helping us tolerate the stressors that speed the aging process.
Adaptogens are a subset of tonics, herbs that help contribute to longer life by strengthening and invigorating different organs and systems throughout the body. Top adaptogens and adaptogen companions — herbs that have some but not all of the same characteristics of adaptogens and that complement and enhance adaptogens’ powers — include:
Reishi Mushroom: Reishi helps direct the immune system to reduce harmful inflammation while increasing action against threatening microbes. A key compound in reishi is beta-glucan, a polysaccharide in fungi cell walls that’s well known for its immune-enhancing ability.
Rhodiola: One of the first herbs defined as an adaptogen, rhodiola calms overactive portions of the immune system associated with destructive inflammation. Plus, it increases immune system efficiency in managing the body’s microbes.
Shilajit: Best described as primordial ooze, this adaptogen seeps out of rocks in the Himalayas, a byproduct of plant materials that have been compressed into the earth. Shilajit contains fulvic acid, a compound produced from microorganisms in the soil, that helps modulate the immune system, has antioxidant properties, and may improve gastrointestinal function.
Turmeric: This adaptogen companion has potent anti-inflammatory powers. It reduces inflammatory pathways in the body, plus turmeric’s compounds act as antioxidants, and it has microbiome-balancing potential.
Gotu Kola: A calming, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant adaptogen companion, gotu kola helps balance and calm the brain while also encouraging alertness and supporting brain function — important parts of healthy aging. Gotu kola is also an immune modulator, helping the immune system manage stress. And it promotes healthy circulation, which explains its positive effects on skin and connective tissue.
Other key ingredients for maintaining a healthy vascular system and healthy heart function include resveratrol and French maritime pine bark. The phytochemical compounds in these herbs also support healthy heart-muscle contractions, blood vessel integrity, and low blood viscosity. Krill oil is a good complement to this trio; it provides optimally-absorbed omega-3 fatty acids, as well as astaxanthin, one of the most potent antioxidants.
The skin and eyes are two parts of the body that often show accelerated signs of aging. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two of the most important carotenoids for healthy skin and eyes. In addition to offering cardiovascular support, French maritime pine bark also promotes healthy skin. And milk thistle promotes healthy liver function and stimulates the natural creation of new liver cells.
As you get older, your joints naturally lose moisture and mobility, so keeping them healthy, supple, and mobile allows you to keep doing all the activities you enjoy for as long as possible. Turmeric and boswellia not only provide optimal joint support, they also offer protection for other tissues, including the brain.
If you’re actively taking steps to support your overall health and wellness —including following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of phytochemicals from herbs, you’re on a great path to promoting healthful aging. Here are some other ways you can ensure that age is just a number:
Support optimal blood flow. Blood delivers oxygen, nutrients, and antioxidants to all tissues in the body. Optimal blood flow is essential for overall health, and it depends on a strong heart to pump blood, clean blood vessels, and maintain low blood viscosity. Regular exercise, avoiding smoking, and drinking plenty of water can help support healthy blood flow.
Support optimal immune function. The immune system is responsible for removing old and damaged cells, containing microbial threats, and continually repairing damage to cells and tissues. The immune system naturally weakens a bit with each passing decade, so taking steps to support it — getting ample sleep (8-9 hours a night), managing your stress, eating a whole foods diet, and taking immune-supporting herbs — can also help promote a healthy aging process.
Promote the health of your brain, joints, eyes, and skin. Participating in mentally-stimulating activities and maintaining meaningful relationships can help keep your brain sharp, while regular, gentle movement can help keep joints functioning optimally. To promote healthy eyes, take a break from TV, cell phone, and computer screens whenever possible. For optimal skin health, stick to natural products to mitigate your skin’s exposure to environmental toxins.
Encourage detoxification. You depend on your liver for many things, and one of the most important is the removal of toxic substances. When you support your liver, it can focus its attention on its many roles that help keep your body operating optimally. This includes filtering blood coming from the digestive tract, secreting bile to aid in the digestion of fat, detoxifying chemicals, metabolizing medications and other substances, and breaking down hormones. Some of the best, natural ways to promote healthy detoxification include filling up on high-fiber fruit and vegetables, drinking plenty of filtered water, exercising regularly, and taking detoxifying herbs and natural ingredients like chlorella, milk thistle, and bitter herbs like berberine, burdock root, gentian, and dandelion.
Aging is a natural part of life. But getting older doesn’t have to mean feeling old or getting sick. By taking care of your body now, you can help ease the process and protect your eyesight, joints, muscles, and other parts of your body for years to come.