When I was little girl, my mom told me to eat carrots for good eyesight and said that “fish was brain food.” At the time, I thought it just a clever way of getting me to eat carrots and fish. I later learned Mom was right! Vegetables high in beta-carotene such as carrots and sweet potatoes enhance eye health due to the significant amount of the vitamin A found in this colour of veggie. Additionally, the omega 3s in fish augment brain health.
As Baby Boomers get older, they focus on aging well. People today are being proactive about their health. Aging well by having a healthy body and mind is important for living well and experiencing a rich quality of life. It is never too late to begin a program to improve your quality of life. Concentration on diet, exercise, sleep and social engagements is essential for an enhanced life.
Certain food groups are recognized as factors for aging well. These super foods contain nutrients with high amounts of anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals that contribute to healthy aging. Complex carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet as all your body's cells require them for energy. Healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains offer the most benefits for healthy aging.
The Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professional Follow-up Study, which included 110,000 men and women who were followed for 14 years revealed compelling evidence that a diet comprised of five or more servings of fruits and veggies can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Fruits and vegetables are healthy carbohydrates and variety is important as no single fruit or vegetable provides all the vitamins and nutrients needed by the body. Bright orange- and yellow-coloured fruits and vegetables such as squash, carrots and oranges contain vitamins A and C and beta-carotene, which is essential for eye health.
Red and purple fruits and veggies like raspberries, tomatoes and eggplant are rich in lycopene, which is heart healthy. Try dark leafy greens, which contain vitamins A, C, and K and are loaded with calcium and potassium, which build strong bones and teeth. The white veggies and fruits such as cauliflower, bananas and onions contain vitamins that boost skin health and your immune system.
Produce is abundant during the summer and early fall with farmers providing locally grown veggies and fruits, so it is a great time to indulge and maybe try some produce that is new to your palate.
Additionally, vegetables and fruits are among the healthiest foods as these contain fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A diet focused heavily on fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure and thereby reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. These foods are also preventative measures for certain types of digestive problems and can help control blood sugar. Specific components of fruits and vegetables may also be protective against cancer. For example, research from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study suggested that tomatoes, which contain lycopene may help protect men against prostate cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research also suggest that leafy greens, garlic, and onions probably protect against cancer affecting the throat, esophagus and stomach.
Another beneficial food to add to your diet for healthy aging is whole grains including barley, corn, oats and rice. These are high in fibre, vitamins and minerals, and contain some antioxidants that are not found in fruits and vegetables. These grains help produce serotonin, a calming hormone to help fight stress. Beans and lentils are some of the healthiest carbohydrate sources you can eat. Both contain large amounts of protein, fibre, minerals and complex carbohydrates. Low in fat, they are easily added to soups, chili and many other main courses.
Adding a source for omega 3s, which is an essential nutrient for brain health and metabolism is excellent for healthy aging. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, sardines and herring. Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids include ground flaxseed, oils such as canola, flaxseed, soybean, and nuts.
In addition to diet, the role of exercise cannot be discounted as means for aging well. Keeping active is a tremendous benefit as regular exercise and physical activity are important to the physical and mental health of every age group. Being physically active can help you continue to do the things you enjoy and stay independent as you age. Being active over time can produce long-term health benefits, which is the reason health experts encourage older adults be active every day.
One of the best advantages is that physical activity can reduce the risk of developing some diseases and disabilities that can develop as people grow older. Studies show that people with arthritis, heart disease or diabetes can benefit from regular exercise. Exercise also helps people with high blood pressure, balance problems or difficulty walking. A daily walk, tai chi or yoga all are good choices for a great workout for seniors as these aid in flexibility. Choose a form of exercise you enjoy as it will motivate you to be active every day.
Another component to healthy aging is being socially engaged. As social beings, having a support group of friends is vital for our emotional wellbeing. Joining groups and volunteering are wonderful ways to be social and doing something for others makes us feel great. Some research indicates that having social relationships can have a greater impact upon longevity than even genetics.
Just as we need to nurture our bodies with the foods that supply the required nutrients, we must provide stimulation for our brains. The brain needs activity and by learning something new, we engage our brains. Adult education classes, lectures, card games, puzzles and reading are all good methods for brain activity. Find an interest you are passionate about and you will enjoy aging and look on these years with joy and excitement each day.
And lastly, get enough zzzz’s. Lack of sleep can chronically deplete your energy. As you rest, your body repairs cells and it is vital to healthy aging.
By being proactive with your health, you can age well and enjoy the abundant experiences that life offers. Keep your brain active as well as your body, get plenty of rest, enjoy the company of others, and eat super foods that are proven measures for healthy aging.
Nancy J. Schaaf taught English/Literature for 25 years and also earned a RN license and served as a school nurse and as a correctional nurse. She self-published two books on her family genealogy and several articles have been published in national magazines. She also enjoys golfing, reading, riding motorcycles and jumping out of planes.
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