Living better for longer

Everyone dreams of a youth elixir which will prevent the inevitable ageing process. The reality is that we are in fact living longer and according to Dr John Beard, director of the Department of Ageing and Life Course at the World Health Organisation, the biggest growth is happening in less developed countries like South Africa.

“But it’s not simply about living longer; it’s about living better,” says Peter Jordan, Principal Officer of Fedhealth.

Experts reveal that around 90% of adult illnesses are due to the ageing process. These include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, osteoporosis, cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, mood and sleep disorders.

Diseases fall into four categories. Jordan says the first three, inherited genetic disease, infectious disease and trauma, account for around 10% of cases and will most probably require some form of medical intervention. The good news is that degenerative diseases of ageing, those that account for the other 90%, can be prevented or delayed by healthy lifestyle choices and supplementation.

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This includes a diet rich in antioxidants, getting a good five to eight hours of sleep a night, regular exercise, and avoiding toxins such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.

Hold on to a youthful mind-set

But it’s not just looking after your body that keeps you young at heart – it’s your mind too.

Annie Coetzee, motivational speaker, life coach and author of It’s Not Just All In Your Mind, explains that our emotions and the feelings we express have a direct effect on the body and the mind.

“A feeling is a full body experience. This is based on a unique combination of our perceptions, thoughts, beliefs and past experiences, as well as the chemical workings of our body. Feelings are chemicals that can help or hinder us.” She adds that when you are spiritually and emotionally fit, you feel healthy and energetic.

Part of Coetzee’s research focuses on those in the 75 years and older bracket. These “senior yuppies”, as she calls them, have discovered that if they make friends with those who believe that ageing is ugly, bad and difficult, this mind-set filters through to them as well. The same can be said for surrounding themselves with more positive people. “They have found, and are still finding, others who also believe that ageing is a journey into the future and they don’t have to be sick, morbid, depressed or sad about it.”

Count your blessings and live with purpose

You can rewire your brain and change your negative thoughts into positive ones by shifting to a more purposeful mind-state. In fact, studies show that the mind-state associated with enhanced wellness and performance comprises purposefulness, a sense of achievement and greater degrees of autonomy.

This may be further enhanced by a mind-state in which one acknowledges one’s blessings and empathises with those less fortunate, contributes to one’s environment and acknowledges the value contributed by others. Removing the distraction of future fear and past regrets and loss also enhances the appropriate mind-state.

Author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain, Dr Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, adds that for decades, when health psychologists spoke of the negative effects of health, they were almost always referring to the negative emotions, such as anger, hostility, depression and fear.

That said, if you believe in being positive, it will benefit your longevity. You, quite literally, think yourself younger.

Jordan says that even those that battle with a positive mind-set can literally “fake happiness.â?

Small children laugh 300 to 400 times a day on average, while adults laugh less than 15. One way to boost your laughter factor is to fake happiness. The simple act of putting a smile on your face when you speak, particularly on the phone, gives a youthful lift to your voice.

“Smiling is also the first step to laughing more, so why not try it?” he says.

Recommended reading: 6 Ways to put the brakes on ageing

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.