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Living healthier and longer while aging

We're ALL aging: to do it well, ask a Doc who's 'been there, done that'

September 5, 2022 Ciril Godec, MD
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After my last article on longevity and lifestyle, I received lots of mail and calls from readers wanting to read more on the topic. I don’t blame them; we would all like to live longer and stay healthy. Many would like to live to one hundred or more but only if they remain healthy, without being debilitated and a burden to society and their family. Centenarians, people living to be one hundred or more, are the fastest growing segment in our planet’s population today.

It is not just luck and genes determining how long our lifespan will be. What matters most is what we do with our life as we age. In three sections, I’ll try to explain the strategy for a longer and healthy lifestyle. The first section will include the three most important parameters in our daily living: nutrition, exercise, and sleeping. In the second section I will discuss the six other parameters for healthy aging: social interaction, attitude, hobbies, spirituality, sexuality, education, and the importance of constant learning. In the third section I will explain how these parameters impact our body’s functions on the cellular and molecular levels.

So, let’s start with nutrition. For all of us, food is a source of pleasure; we all like to eat, especially when the food is tasty and looks inviting. What matters in nutrition and aging is not only what we eat but how much we eat and how fast we eat.

To eat healthy, your every day nutrition should include as much as you like of vegetables and fruits. You don’t need to be vegetarian; you can eat almost everything. Briefly, there are plenty of nutrients that have anti-aging properties; to mention just a few of them: berries, dark chocolate, beans, fish, vegetables, nuts, red wine, garlic, whole grains, avocado. When you eat fruits it is better that you eat the skin of the fruit as well. Most of the healthy substances are in the skin.
Most people do not eat kiwi with the skin, because the fuzzy kiwi skin turns some people off. I wash kiwi fruit thoroughly in warm water and the fuzziness disappears. Try it, you might like it, as I do.

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You need to be careful with sweets and saturated fats. You can have a steak if you like but not every day. The same goes for ice cream– one or two scoops, no more. Omega-3 fatty acid is one fat that is good for your heart and brain. There is a lot of omega-3 fatty acid in olive oil, so when you eat salads, put two to three spoons of olive oil on top of your salad. Omega-3 fatty acid is also found in fish, especially salmon, sardines, tuna, and halibut. All fish are biologically healthy, except for tilapia, which contains lots of omega 6 and much less omega-3. Minimize the amount of processed food you ingest. It contains too much added salt, sugar and fats just to make it tastier, but they also make the food less healthy. All of the above suggestions are included in the Mediterranean diet; this diet is more a lifestyle than diet alone.

There are a variety of diets to help us to lose weight, to keep us healthy and to slow the aging process. Frequently people follow a prescribed diet for a while, but most drop it and soon regain more weight than they had before starting the diet. My advice: you don’t need to follow any diet. Just choose to eat healthy, and eat a smaller volume slower.

Along with eating, you need to hydrate. Clean water is the healthiest drink, and you should aim for six to eight glasses daily. Water will bring you back your youth! Instead of visiting a plastic surgeon, drink more water; you will have less wrinkles and it is much cheaper. If you like, red wine with dinner can be a healthy addition to your meals–one glass for women and up to two for men. But be careful. Alcohol dehydrogenase is a highly active enzyme in the stomach, where a significant amount of alcohol gets metabolized before it gets into your blood stream. Men have this in decent concentration. In contrast, women have very little of this enzyme in their stomach, thus most of alcohol gets absorbed into the blood stream and then travels to the brain, making women get tipsy much faster than men. So, ladies, be careful about driving home after you have had a drink.

The speed of eating matters; eat slowly. If you chew your food longer, you’ll eat a smaller volume. It takes approximately thirty minutes for the stomach to send the message to your brain that it is full. If you gulp the food in front of you, in a half hour you can eat an enormous amount of food and your weight goes up. Young men, especially, watch it! Remember the Japanese concept of “Hara Hachi Bu”: eat till you’re 80% full and then stop. It takes practice, but you can do it.

Remember that for losing weight, nutrition is far more effective than exercise. Advice for exercise, the more the better; for nutrition, the less the better. Sometimes after exercising we get a ravenous appetite and consume a significant amount of food; the needle on the scale goes significantly up. Still, exercise is very important. You don’t need to go to gym every day, but keep moving every day. Walking is the best exercise. When practical, use the stairway instead of the elevator. Purposefully park at a distance from where you’re going. Try to make at least 3,000 steps daily. Consistency matters more than intensity. Try to develop your own daily exercise routine and follow it lifelong.

Besides nutrition and exercise, sleeping is the third major parameter for a longer healthy longevity. My advice is simple: try to sleep seven to nine hours every day. If sometimes you cannot sleep the suggested time, take a brief nap during the day. How and when depends on your daily circumstances. Consequences of sleep deprivation can be serious. If you don’t sleep enough, you’ll gain weight, you’ll have problem with learning and memory, you might become depressed and you risk potential for diabetes, as insulin production in the pancreas is very sleep sensitive. So, be careful: enough sleep is very important for your healthy and long life.

One more piece of advice. Most of us get a minimal dose of radiation every day from our cell phones, computers, Apple watches, and air travel and a few others. A minimal dose of radiation might be actually good for you-I said minimal! It might be even good for your immune system. My wife, a radiologist, tells me that radiologists live longer than other physicians. Radiologists and x-ray technicians get a very low dose of radiation during their work. This minimal dose might have a protective effect, promoting longer life, like vaccination stimulating your immune system for longer life. We call this hormesis, where a low dose is good, but too much can hurt you. Or, in plain English, “What does not kill you makes you stronger!”

Also, we should have some moderate expectation for the future; some anti-aging drugs, called senolytics, are on the horizon. Some of them might soon be clinically available, including desatinib, quercetin, rapamycin, metformin, nicotineamide mononucleotide, and spermidine. Metformin is almost there, in the study by Nir Barzilai of Einstein Medical School in Bronx might be published in the near future.

By now, we understand that we all have two ages – a chronological one and a biological one. The biological one is not yet well defined and is not measurable by a simple blood test, yet. But when you look in the mirror, you’ll very likely see your biological age better than if you look at your birth certificate. That’s why some people look much younger and some others much older than their calendar age.

A few words about obesity and stress; morbid obesity (BMI >40; for BMI calculating use a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) shortens our lifespan for 15 years, or better yet Google it); it’s like smoking a pack a day. Too much stress also is not good for you; it increases your cortisol level, that impacts your immune response, with cardiovascular and brain damage. In our stressful daily life we frequently produce too much cortisol, known as our “fight or flight” hormone. Avoid major
stress as much as you can; again some very minor stress is probably good for you- again, what does not kill you makes you stronger.

In summary, a longer and healthy life requires that we pay attention to our daily life. A few basic adjustments can yield welcome and long-lasting results.

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