We only live once, so why not make the most of it? The ‘Better Me‘ series hopes to give some ideas on how to add fun and meaning to our lives.
You can sit and watch Damien Hirst’s dead cows all day, but there is no better momento mori, Latin for ‘remember your mortality’, than one’s own wrinkled face reflected in the mirror. Perhaps that is why, as a species, we experience such difficulty in accepting the ageing process: it reminds us that, ultimately, there is a bucket waiting to be kicked by each and every one of us. Which is why many of us are keen to welcome any product or method promising to keep that bucket out of view. And personally, I do think delaying the ageing process is actually worth a shot.
While I am not suggesting that we all start injecting ourselves with viruses until we go blue in the face, there are other less invasive (not to mention cheaper) ways of delaying ageing. Which would not only buy as a bit of extra time, but would also improve the quality of that time. Because, alas, ageing is not just about wrinkles: it’s about arthritis, diabetes and heart disease; discomfort, forgetfulness and incontinence (not to mention the dreaded C-word at the back of everyone’s minds).
Attack the cause
As we age, our body becomes slower at renewing itself. Our skin sags as the elastin and collagen in it relaxes and, if we’re not careful, those little devils known as free radicals start multiplying like rabbits in different parts of our body. Free radicals are great when they are kept in check: in fact, they are essential because they help fight infection and disease. But when produced in excess, free radicals cause damage to the cell membrane, allowing diseases such as cancer, emphysema, bronchitis and heart disease to develop. Not to mention wrinkles. So the obvious question is: how can we keep those free radicals in check? And how can we help our body to keep up the pace in its process of self-renewal?
1. Eat plenty of vegetables
Nutrients in our food can keep free radicals in check. Leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and bright-coloured vegetables are all excellent sources of the nutrients that can help control free radicals. Generally, the more intense the colour of a vegetable, the greater the concentration of macro-nutrients in it. So make sure that a range of different vegetables is included in your diet and forms the main part of your daily food intake.
2. Good fat versus bad fat
While fat itself is not evil, the over-consumption of certain types of fat (saturated fat and trans fat) can cause inflammation and disease. Vegetable oils, fried foods and high-fat meat are all best avoided. On the other hand, when consumed in the right amounts, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are beneficial for the body. These fats help to improve blood cholesterol levels and protect the body against type 2 diabetes. So instead of eating processed or fried foods and high-fat meat, opt instead for olive oil or sesame oil, nuts, seeds, avocados and fish.
3. Avoid inflammatory foods
Other than polyunsaturated fat, there are many other food types that can cause inflammation. Among the main culprits are sugar, most dairy products (including meat) and processed grains. Staying away from food that causes inflammation is key to the prevention of ageing and disease.
4. Don’t overeat
Some evidence suggests that reduced calorie consumption may help people live longer. Not only that, but portion control can help us maintain a healthy weight and avoid problems linked with obesity. Calorie control is not about starving yourself or constantly feeling hungry. On the contrary, by consuming enough vegetables during the day to absorb all those much-needed nutrients, you can also feel satiated and keep your calorie level in check. So next time you feel hungry, opt for some vegetables (or fruit, in moderation) instead of a sugar-loaded or refined snack. No one has ever got fat because of excessive spinach consumption.
By this I do not mean slapping copious quantities of cream on your face and body (although daily use of a good moisturizer does help). Keeping your body hydrated starts from the inside, so make sure you drink plenty of high-quality water every day. Remember that you will need to compensate for any dehydrating beverages consumed (like coffee or alcohol) by drinking even more water.
6. Protect yourself from the sun
Yes, the sun is a source of the wonderful Vitamin D, which lifts our spirits and helps us look good. Unfortunately, however, the damage caused by overexposure outweighs the benefit. So it’s always best to avoid direct exposure to sunlight. When you do go out in the sun, make sure to wear a hat, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen. Consider taking vitamin D supplements if you feel your reserves are running low.
7. Spice up your life
In the figurative sense, by getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself. A little excitement and intellectual stimulation will help keep your mind and body alert. From physical exercise to card games, just choose what works for you.
8. Don’t stress!
How many times have you heard someone say they aged ten years in just a single day? Or that a rebellious child, a stressful job or a bad relationship has turned their hair grey? It is no secret that feelings of mental distress are ageing. While eliminating all sources of stress, anger and anxiety may be impossible, learning to control our reaction to such feelings is not only possible but essential to our well-being. Here are some tips on how to deal with stress.
9. Control your facial expressions
While I would never suggest that you stop laughing or smiling for the sake of reducing wrinkles, controlling frowns, eyebrow raising and flinching is probably a good idea. Not only will this stop you from wallowing in negative feelings (thus improving your mood and general well-being), but it will also help to keep those ugly wrinkles at bay. And remember, while most people find smile lines endearing, hardly anyone likes a furrowed brow.
10. Get enough sleep
How much sleep is enough is really a personal matter. While some people need the recommended eight hours for optimal function, others operate well after six or seven hours of sleep. Observe your own daily performance and energy levels to determine how much sleep is right for you and, once you have figured it out, try to stick to what works best for you.
11. Limit your alcohol consumption
Alcohol boosts the production of free radicals in the body and speeds up the ageing process. Red wine is often seen as the exception because it contains reservatol. Although reservatol is said to be anti-inflammatory, there is no conclusive evidence regarding its benefit in humans. Not only that, but the level of reservatol in red wine is very small. All in all, reducing our alcohol consumption is not always easy, but it does help to prevent ageing and inflammation.
12. Don’t smoke
Like alcohol, smoking increases the production of free radicals in the body. It also decreases oxygen and nutrient supply to the skin and damages collagen and elastin. The act of smoking and constant exposure of one’s face to smoke causes wrinkles around the mouth, age spots, circles around the eyes and yellow teeth, as can be seen in these pictures.
Delaying the process of ageing does take a few sacrifices. It is not possible, or even desirable, to constantly be on our best behaviour. However, even small changes to our lifestyle can help improve our health and appearance. It’s no use restricting yourself or beating yourself up. Instead, pick a few positive changes you can make today and feel good about yourself.