There are many inevitables in life and aging happens to be one of them. This topic continues to dominate as more of the world population grows old. Thirty years ago, we didn't talk about "aged economies" with less young than older people. In 2012, the number of older persons had increased to almost 810 million. According to estimates by the United Nations Population Fund, the number will double to nearly 2 billion by 2050 with China and India contributing to over 1/3 of that number. There will be 64 aged countries where 30 percent of their population will be 60 years and above.
Take this topic down to the individual level and my female friends are all experts on looking young especially after hitting middle age and having a few kids. There's the plethora of slimming diets, wrinkle creams, anti-aging treatments, health spa treatments, yoga lessons and plastic surgery to hold back the years.
While we still feel like teenagers, there is no avoiding the white hairs and fine lines. After additional intellectual debate about how society will change and what governments should do, it has been agreed that growing old presents as much opportunity as challenges.
For those of us who haven't found a way to stop aging permanently, here are 10 Easy Ways I'd gathered from all the discussions and debates to look younger and live longer.
It is strongly believed that stress is our number 1 youth buster. Our modern lives ruled by heavier workloads, reduced family time, higher costs of living and 24/7 communication devices are daily sources of stress. Judging from the increased amount of grey hair on President Obama since he took up office, stress has got to him too.
All the 'stress chemicals' released by our bodies accelerate aging especially cortisol. The production increases blood pressure and blood sugar levels, hardens arteries, increases fat storage, encourages muscle and collagen loss and weakens our immune system.
Everyone has their own way of managing and reducing stress but the common solution is not to put yourself in unnecessary stressful situations like rushing to work, squeezing with the crowds, being overly competitive and trying to do too many things at the same time. Where all else fails, stop, take a few deep breaths to relax the senses.
It is agreed that regular exercise is definitely a youth booster although most of us don't get enough and eat too much just by looking at our waistline. According to a research review summarising the key findings of 40 papers published between 2006 and 2010, regular exercise can reduce around 12 physical and mental health conditions and slow down aging. Researchers in the US found that brief vigorous exercise can reduce cellular aging by preventing the shortening of telomeres which are linked to several health problems, including diabetes and coronary heart disease and early death.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 75 minutes of vigorous or 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. Swimming is an excellent fat-burning activity for your entire body and has anti-aging benefits. Research from Indiana University shows that regular and moderately intensive swimming can significantly delay the decline of age markers. More importantly, it is a low-pact exercise that people of all ages, pregnant women and folks with mobility challenges can do to keep young and fit.
If you're not the gym type, one of the easy ways to incorporate exercise into your daily life is to go for a walk after dinner or cycle to work or the grocery store like everyone does in the Netherlands.
The best ways of eating healthy are debatable, as different folks have their own anti-aging diets concocted from Western prescriptions and traditional recipes. However one definite no-no is sugar, which hastens the degradation of elastin and collagen especially on the face. My recommendation of regular doses of foie gras and pork crackling is usually frowned upon.
As majority of us are coffee junkies, coffee came up tops as a healthily pleasurable beverage. It contains antioxidants, which help your body repair damage to cells caused by free radicals, and caffeine, which is important in combating Parkinson's Disease and other age-related brain problems.
My favourite, blue mussels, are also antioxidant rich with selenium and the added bonus of Omega-3 for lowering cholesterol and Iodine for helping the body burn calories efficiently. Green tea and red wine were also on our high intake list of antioxidants.
There were recommendations of a low glycaemic index or GI (a ranking system for carbohydrates based on their effect on blood glucose levels) diet and salmon for omega3. Chinese tonic soups with ingredient like ginseng and bird's nest received several votes. Others swear by supplements like vitamin C and B, calcium, evening primrose oil, fish oils and multivitamins with probiotics. Despite all the concern with skin cancer due to sun exposure especially in Australia, vitamin D is actually beneficial. Ten minutes of daily sun exposure helps boost the immune system function, prevent cancer, reduce heart problems and infection rates.
If you live near a fresh produce market, then eating moderate amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and drinking plenty of water is the simplest way to keep the body nourished and young, without breaking the bank.
Boredom accelerates mental and physical aging by encouraging unnecessary binging and feelings of uselessness that may to lead to depression. I've seen the danger boredom poses especially in the elderly. According to a study by Dr. Aron Buchman, a neurologist at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, the less time older people spend engaged in social activity, the faster their motor function tends to decline.
In Singapore, steps are taken to promote active ageing as defined by the World Health Organisation including health, community participation and security. Only 5.5 percent of Singaporean elderly aged 65 years and above take part in clubs or group activities and just 23.8 percent participate in the workforce.
Therefore it is important to lead productive and active lives by engaging in activities and keeping good company. Whether you're living in a metropolis like Hong Kong or among the wide open spaces of Australia, there's always something to do like watching a movie, playing a game of tennis, joining a social club, attending a concert, learning a craft or spending a weekend in the vineyards.
Working on the crossword puzzle / Photo by Ed Yourdon of Flickr
Staying active also means keeping the brain busy as it is also subject to aging. To keep senile dementia and Alzheimer's at bay, exercise the brain daily with crosswords, mental arithmetic, playing chess, scrabble and word games. Learning another language which can delay the onset of Alzheimer's for four years on average. Maybe its time to brush up the Polish and plan that holiday to Poland.
We all joke when 'sex' is mentioned but the fact is sexually active people do live longer according to research by charity organisation, Age UK. The body secretes the steroid hormone DHEA which is linked to longevity during sex. The act also reduces cholesterol, stimulates the oxygen supply to cells and burn calories. Also known as the "cuddle" hormone, oxytocin released during sex helps relax and reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels. According to America's Dr. Oz, having sex at least twice a week or 116 times a year can reduce your 'real age' by almost three years. I guess some of us will spending more time in the bedroom after reading this.
When we sleep, our bodies remove toxins, activate the immune system and regenerate cells. Unfortunately many of us lead busy lives which impact our daily dose of rest. As a result, we're not getting enough leptin which influences our appetite and controls our weight, resulting in obesity for some people. We're also depriving our bodies of 'natural killer cells' that destroy viruses, bacteria and cancer cells when we sleep less than seven hours. Melatonin, secreted when we sleep, regulates our circadian rhythms which is critical for the proper working of almost all our biological functions. It is also a powerful natural antioxidant. So sleep deprivation actually promotes aging and formation of wrinkles. The term 'beauty rest' is literally true as original supermodel and Chanel muse, Ines de la Fressange's anti-aging secret is sleep.
The old adage saying that laughter is the best medicine has merits. Laughter actually triggers healthy physical and emotional states in our bodies. A hearty laugh can relax our entire bodies for up to 45 minutes after. It releases the feel-good endorphins and gets our old hearts pumping, increasing blood flow and function of blood vessels. It decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. It is nature's anti-aging fix.
Most importantly, laughter is usually free if you surround yourself with humorous friends. Alternatively there's always the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Montreal International Comedy Festival.
If you can't find the dose of laughter in the daily hustle and bustle, then at least try smiling. Just like a good laugh, smiling takes the stress away and releases endorphins and serotonin that make us feel good.
A doctor friend remarked that your blood pressure actually reduces when you smile. A simple measure using a blood pressure monitor will show the difference when you're smiling and not.
Most importantly, smiling is nature's free facelift. The muscles we use to smile lift the face, making us appear younger. It also makes us look more attractive. Maybe that's why Cheryl Cole and Scarlett Johansson are considered two of the most attractive women in the world because of their show-stopping smiles. So smile your way to more youthful and attractive looks.
Cheryl Cole signing her book / Photo by Waterstonescom of Flickr
According to Toni Antonucci, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, relationships help people feel that they're worthy, that they are capable, that they can set goals and accomplish them, and that they can control their life.
Researchers still can't pinpoint exactly how family and friends help each other to stay young but the resultant socialising, laughter and smiles combine to keep the body and brain active and balanced. Some commented that children kept them young and I suppose its all the extra running after the kids. Whether it's young in appearance or just just young at heart, these are excellent reasons to widen your social circle, spend more quality time with family and friends, and maybe get a couple of kids.
Some friends appear younger than their age because of their positive attitude. Seeing the world as a half full glass has its benefits.
Thomas Jefferson, America's founding father said, "Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; and nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude".
Do something that makes you feel happy every day like going for a stroll by the beach, listening to your favourite band play, baking a cake, talking to your best friend or whatever it might be.
Clearing your mind and meditating daily for 5 minutes on the good things that are happening around you and in your life can help put you in the happy zone.
Do not fret if you can't recall the words of Thomas Jefferson. As the song by musician Bobby McFerrin goes, "Don't Worry, Be Happy".