Sunday, September 03, 2006

live long and well (maybe)

The the current issue of the AARP magazine has a set of articles on how to live longer and better:

Special Report
Living Longer
September & October 2006
Add ten (healthy) years to your life

It's pretty good. Most of the contents are based on empirical evidence, some of it strong, some weak. Where information is speculative, the author says so.

Here's the intro section and table of contents:

What if someone said you could live ten years longer—and you wouldn't have to drink any strange potions or take any magic pills or perform any body-cleansing rituals? Better yet, it wouldn't cost you a dime. That's exactly what we're about to tell you. For this special report we talked to leading scientists in the longevity field and studied the latest research to bring you the truth about the search for the fountain of youth, including surprising breakthroughs in the science of aging; a highly nutritious, stay-young diet that really works; exercise secrets for a longer, stronger life; tips to help keep stress from cheating you out of precious years; and a fascinating look at what the future may hold. Turn the virtual page, and start turning back the clock!

By Joe Treen
A new understanding of the aging process

By Donna Jackson Nakazawa
Try this stay-young food plan

By Susan Crandell
Why adding muscle boosts life expectancy

By Karen Cheney
Easy ways to keep stress from sapping vitality

The Future
By Joe Treen
A look ahead at promising ideas for curing age-related diseases

The articles make the following main points (all these are quoted extracts):
• Consistent exercise, not smoking, an ability to deal with stress, long-standing religious beliefs, an independent spirit—are common denominators among the very old.

• You can't live to 105 if your parents or grandparents died young.

• In study after study, animals — from worms to primates — lived longer when their diet was cut by as much as 40 percent of the norm. A recent study supports the idea that caloric restriction works in humans. But is it a good idea? Many scientists say it can lead to premature osteoporosis, a susceptibility to infectious disease, and infertility.

• For all the research, the best way to be a long-lived human like Ed Rondthaler seems relatively uncomplicated: eat an antioxidant-rich diet, avoid obvious environmental pollution such as cigarettes, get lots of exercise, and find ways to cope with stress.

• Get as much of your caloric intake as you can not only from antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables but also from nuts and flaxseed, which are loaded with vitamin E and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

• [Exercise is important.] Many of what we thought were symptoms of aging are actually symptoms of disuse. Besides keeping your weight under control, regular physical activity can promote the growth of neurons in the brain that are affected by chronic stress, studies in animals have shown. Exercise "stimulates certain factors in the brain that help to repair it and protect it," says Albert.

• The loss of muscle (and accompanying increase in body fat) puts extra strain on the heart, alters sugar metabolism (increasing the risk for diabetes), and can tip the balance of healthy lipids in the blood, leading to heart attack and stroke. A regular exercise program (30 minutes of physical activity at least three days a week) can reduce your risk of dying in the next eight years by 40 percent, improve brain function, cut your risk of Alzheimer's disease by up to 60 percent, and blunt the symptoms of depression.

• Long-term stress, the kind you can't control or resolve, however, can have far-reaching, harmful consequences.

• [To avoid or reduce stress:] Sleep more. Learn to meditate Researchers have shown that a regular practice of meditation adds to the thickness of the cortex—a region of the brain, associated with attention and sensory processing, that tends to thin with age. The theory is that people with a thicker cortex may deal better with stress. [Nuture friendships.] There is a link between a strong social-support network and reduced levels of stress. Indulge in activities you enjoy

• A 2005 study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that laughter causes the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels to expand, increasing blood flow to the heart and other organs. (Stress causes blood vessels to contract.) "There's nothing like a good laugh to break the intensity of a situation and give you some much-needed perspective," says Stephanie Marston, a marriage and family therapist and a frequent guest on the Today show. "When you laugh, your brain releases endorphins that create feelings of joy and euphoria. Having a sense of humor is a key facet in creating greater balance in your life."

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