Scientists can clone goats, but we are still searching for the fountain of youth. Journalist Bill Gifford tackles why we age and what to do about it in his new book, “Spring Chicken.” But for him, the focus should be on healthspan (the number of healthy years), not lifespan. “We need to think about how to keep people healthy for longer. You want to enjoy life, not just be alive,” he says. Here, he shares ways to do exactly that.
1. Take the stairs
“One thing I noticed when I was following these scientists around [while researching and interviewing them for the book] was that they never took the elevator,” Gifford says. And for good reason. This shouldn’t come as a shocker, but an active lifestyle is linked to a longer lifespan. Gifford says it’s not necessarily exercising that’s important, but building more activity into your daily life.
“As Americans, we have to find the closest parking spot when we’re going out to eat. But what if you parked three blocks away or at the far end of the parking lot? Then you built in a nice little walk for before and after dinner,” he says. Small lifestyle changes like this have a big impact. So, if you live on the fifth floor of a walkup, be thankful.
2. Load up on vitamin D
While writing his book, Gifford heavily researched which supplements and vitamins were actually worth taking — and which ones weren’t. If you’re loading up on antioxidants thinking they will reverse the aging process: stop. “The idea of taking antioxidants is based on a theory some guy came up with years ago that nobody but him was able to prove,” Gifford says.
Instead, load up on vitamin D, which has been found to slow down aging in worms. (Hey, it’s a start.) One study Gifford cites in his book found that 70 percent of white Americans and 97 percent of black Americans aren’t getting enough vitamin D, which is essential for strong bones and overall physical health. A lack of vitamin D has also been linked to developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. So, drink of your milk pop a vitamin.
3. Cut back on sugar
Of the four, what Gifford calls, “horsemen of the geriatric apocalypse”: Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease and diabetes, he says diabetes is the big one to beat. “It increases your risk for the other three horsemen and many other terrible diseases of aging,” Gifford says.
For many, avoiding diabetes is no problem because it is not part of their family history and they inherently have low blood sugar. But if you do have a family history of diabetes, Gifford strongly suggests limiting your sugar and carbohydrate intake to reduce your risk.
4. Test your balance
Interestingly, Gifford found that one of the first things to go when it comes to aging is equilibrium. “It has to do with the way your brain communicates with your extremities and the way your brain takes information from where your body is in space,” he says.
If you have trouble balancing, it could lead to difficulty standing, walking and generally just being on your feet. Now, Gifford trains his balance when he can. “If I’m out for a run and I see a curb or concrete railing, I’ll get up and try to balance on it,” he says.
5. Do a little fasting every now and then
One fascinating study in “Spring Chicken” looked at two groups of 60 nursing home residents. One group ate as usual, the other group ate half the normal amount of meals. Over three years, 13 people in group one died. Six in group two died. Other studies have echoed that skipping a meal every now and then is linked to increased brain health and overall physical health.
“Your body knows when there is a lot of food available to it and when there isn’t a lot of food available to it, and when you [skip a meal], your body goes into a pro-longevity state because it doesn’t know when the next meal is going to be,” Gifford explains. While he says it’s not necessary to go overboard with fasting, he says skipping a meal every now and then has been linked to optimal health in every living organism.
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