“We don't need to sacrifice enjoying life today to live as long as possible.”
The notion that you have to sacrifice your future health in order to enjoy yourself now is long outdated, yet far too commonly held. “So many of the choices we make that can improve our mental and physical wellbeing in the present are actually things that will improve our longevity.” Dr Kate Gregorevic told YourLifeChoices.
Dr Gregorevic, a doctor at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and author of Staying Alive, has highlighted the three pillars that are essential to both present day wellbeing and living as long as possible.
Regular, good quality sleep benefits your health most in the present and in the long term. It reduces stress, brain fog and is a key factor in protecting your future cognitive health.
Good quality sleep reduces inflammation. A study by the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that sleep deprivation is a contributing factor to inflammatory bowel disease. Adequate sleep also allows the body to repair, giving your immune system the chance to regenerate.
Sleep has also been shown to help with your social and emotional intelligence. One study by the Journal of Sleep Research found that participants showed less emotional empathy when they hadn’t had an adequate night’s sleep.
It also helps your blood pressure to more effectively self-regulate, helping you to maintain a healthy blood pressure and lowering your risk of heart disease.
Better sleep has also been linked to healthier calorie regulation. One study found that the hormones responsible for your appetite are affected by your sleeping patterns. When you have adequate sleep, your body is better able to regulate calorie intake.
Dr Gregorevic notes that sleeping patterns are likely to change as you age. As you get older, your body releases melatonin – a hormone that makes us sleepy – earlier in the evening. You may find yourself feeling tired about 7.30pm. You may also find yourself sleeping more lightly, meaning you wake up more easily and receive less quality sleep.
She suggests a few ways to regulate and improve your sleep cycle.
- Avoid caffeine after midday. This may mean cutting out any caffeinated afternoon teas or coffees.
- Avoid alcohol. Even though a nightcap may make you feel drowsy, it can worsen the quality of your sleep.
- Get some sunlight throughout the day. Exposing yourself to daylight in the mornings helps to regulate your circadian rhythm.
- Exercise. This helps to tire your body out, so you are less restless in the evenings.
- See a psychologist. If you really struggle with your sleep, a psychologist can give you a number of mind techniques that will help you drift off.
Going to sleep earlier at night and waking up earlier in the morning can help you maintain your quality of sleep.
Many of the visible benefits of exercise such as weight loss, muscle gain, increased flexibility and collagen production are well known. But some of the more important benefits have to be felt to be believed. Exercise boosts mood and has a positive effect in the prevention and treatment of depression and anxiety. “Exercise is one of the most important things we can do to protect that physical and cognitive function into our later years” says Dr Gregorevic.
While walking and swimming are healthy, low-impact exercise options, it’s important to begin building or maintaining physical strength and muscle after the age of 55. Strength training is “the most important type of exercise you can do to keep yourself really healthy and independent into older age,” says Dr Gregorevic.
Women are less likely to do this kind of exercise than men, and there are limited resources to guide older women through the strength building process. Seeing this gap, Kate Gregorevic paired up with exercise physiologist Cassandra Smith to create the Three Six Twelve program to help mature women sustainably build their strength.
Exercising can decrease your risk of falls, improve cognitive function, improve your mental health, prevent some diseases and help you maintain cognitive function as you age.
Along with the social benefits of friendships and connections, relationships benefit both our cognitive and physical health.Some research shows that older people with close relationships and connections are likely to cope better with medical conditions, are less likely to experience depression, have reduced risk of dementia and even live longer.
A number of factors can affect the size and strength of your social networks as your get older, making it harder to stay in touch with friends and family.
- changes in work and income
- changes in physical ability and independence
- the loss of family and friends
- challenges with commutes and transportation.
If you want to expand your social circle, remember it’s never too late to make friends. You may not realise that a coffee with a friend or a chat with your neighbour over the back fence is improving your health and longevity, but your mind and body are feeling the benefits.
Do you satisfy each of the pillars of longevity? Do you find it harder to get a good night’s sleep than you used to? Or is it more difficult to find the time to exercise?
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