10 things to keep you young

Add years to your life with this young-as-you-want-to-be-plan

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A giant gym bag in hand, Jackie MacDonald pops her stylishly coiffed head into the weight room of her Ottawa fitness centre. “Hey, Jackie, how are you doing?” a handsome—and extremely muscular—young man calls out to her. “Fine, fine,” she sings back before breezing on to work out. The attention is a perk the 71-year-old mother of two has come to love during her weekly weight-training sessions, spinning classes and laps at the pool. “Where else could a woman go at my age and surround herself with young hunks who say, ‘Gee, you are strong,’” she asks, laughing.

MacDonald, who could easily pass for a woman 20 years her junior, is powering into her senior years with the kind of energy and passion we all yearn for, no matter what our age. Yes, her level of activity is unusual—she competed at the 1956 Olympics, after all—but her vigour and joie de vivre are an inspiration for all of us. So, what can you do right now to ensure you’ll be leading the conga line at your retirement villa or, as in MacDonald’s case, still turning heads? Let this 10-step plan show you the way. “It’s both longer and better [lives] that we’re looking for, not just longer,” says Dr. Donna Stewart, professor and chairperson of women’s health at the University Health Network and the University of Toronto. Here’s how to get both.

Why? Being lean—or even working to trim excess weight—will help you live longer. Since 1985, the number of Canadians dying of obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers has doubled, according to researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. One out of every 10 deaths of Canadians aged 20 to 64 is directly tied to being heavy. “We eat too much,” says Colleen McGuire, a registered dietitian at Springwell Nutrition Group in Coquitlam, B.C. She believes in “the 80/20 rule”: eat well 80 per cent of the time and treat yourself the remaining 20 per cent. Start by searching for high-fibre dishes in Chatelaine’s Recipe File.

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota tracked 839 people for 30 years and determined that those who scored high marks in the pessimism department risk dying earlier than optimists. Whether you’re already a glass-is-half-full kind of person or not, help yourself visualize your blessings. Grab a bag of marbles and plunk them into a glass jar, one by one. For every marble you drop in, think of a talent you’ve acquired or a good experience you’ve had. Now, keep that jar in sight to give yourself a boost when you need it.

Dress up your bike with handlebar tassels

They might tempt you to cycle more often. Danish researchers who studied 30,000 women and men aged 20 to 93 concluded that women who consistently exercised were 41 per cent less likely to die early than their couch potato counterparts. So, cycle to work, shun escalators in favour of stairs or hit the sidewalk for a brisk walk. “If you look at healthy older people, they’re active,” says Dr. Carol Scurfield, a family physician at the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg. “They’re dancing and walking, and they’ve always done that.” And when people see those new tassels, they’ll want in on the fun, too.

Regular time spent with friends isn’t just tons of fun, it’s a health booster. Studies have found that social ties help lower our heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol. Women in satisfying marriages tend to enjoy better health, too, says psychologist Linda C. Gallo at San Diego State University. “What you need to do is make sure all of the relationships in your life are as healthy as possible,” adds Dr. Scurfield. If your current connections aren’t as fulfilling as they could be, consider seeing a counsellor.

Bikini-worthy abs don’t just look dreamy—strong abdominal muscles can help protect against ailments such as diabetes and heart disease. Guess what Peter Katzmarzyk and his Queen’s University colleagues found in their research, for example? Women who could do the lowest number of sit-ups in 60 seconds had shorter lifespans. Keeping your back and tummy muscles fit also makes all of your activities—such as hauling groceries and carrying the kids to bed—easier.

You knew that red wine was a heart booster, but research from Harvard Medical School shows that resveratrol, a compound found in the skin of red-wine grapes and peanuts, among other things, extends the lifespan of yeast cells by up to 70 per cent. That life-lengthening phenomenon may affect human enzymes that regulate aging, too. So, pour yourself a glass of shiraz, munch on a handful of unsalted nuts and make a list of the wine regions you’d like to tour during retirement.

Urban senior citizens who lived near parks or tree-lined streets lived longer than others, according to Tokyo Medical and Dental University researchers. Because they had a pleasant place nearby to walk, study participants were more active all around. Aside from the fitness benefits of regular hikes, Dr. Scurfield says, a calm forested environment enhances our long-term mental health. “You won’t be doing the conga if you’re depressed,” she says. Trees lift our moods along with our feet.

While vitamin C alone isn’t the secret to good health, scientists at the University of Cambridge in England found that regularly consuming fruit and vegetables rich in the antioxidant—citrus fruit, tomatoes, melons and broccoli—lowered the chances of early death by half. Vitamin C works to protect our cell membranes and DNA from damage—important in preventing cancers and heart disease. There’s another bonus, too, says McGuire. “It’s very important in the formation of collagen.” Eating an abundance of vitamin C-rich fruit and vegetables, therefore, may keep your face looking smoother, longer.

Does your job engage you? University of Texas School of Public Health researchers discovered that people in jobs with little control experienced a higher chance of dropping off sooner rather than later. If you’re in this situation now, you may want to consult a career coach.

Tuck your own to-do list away for a bit and rake your neighbour’s leaves or offer to babysit your niece and nephew. It won’t just make you popular—it could extend your life. Separate studies by Michigan psychologist Stephanie Brown and Dr. Linda P. Fried of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore concluded that volunteering your time to help others can slow down the aging process. When you have a giving spirit, it may motivate you to live as long as possible so you can continue contributing to the lives of your loved ones. As for MacDonald, she isn’t aware of any magic elixir for a long and lively life. But she may have come up with a recipe after all: one part sensible diet, one part buzzing social life, one part great attitude and one part mental and physical activity. Why not stir it up yourself?

A giant gym bag in hand, Jackie MacDonald pops her stylishly coiffed head into the weight room of her Ottawa fitness centre. “Hey, Jackie, how are you doing?” a handsome—and extremely muscular—young man calls out to her. “Fine, fine,” she sings back before breezing on to work out. The attention is a perk the 71-year-old mother of two has come to love during her weekly weight-training sessions, spinning classes and laps at the pool. “Where else could a woman go at my age and surround herself with young hunks who say, ‘Gee, you are strong,’” she asks, laughing.

MacDonald, who could easily pass for a woman 20 years her junior, is powering into her senior years with the kind of energy and passion we all yearn for, no matter what our age. Yes, her level of activity is unusual—she competed at the 1956 Olympics, after all—but her vigour and joie de vivre are an inspiration for all of us. So, what can you do right now to ensure you’ll be leading the conga line at your retirement villa or, as in MacDonald’s case, still turning heads? Let this 10-step plan show you the way. “It’s both longer and better [lives] that we’re looking for, not just longer,” says Dr. Donna Stewart, professor and chairperson of women’s health at the University Health Network and the University of Toronto. Here’s how to get both.

Why? Being lean—or even working to trim excess weight—will help you live longer. Since 1985, the number of Canadians dying of obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers has doubled, according to researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. One out of every 10 deaths of Canadians aged 20 to 64 is directly tied to being heavy. “We eat too much,” says Colleen McGuire, a registered dietitian at Springwell Nutrition Group in Coquitlam, B.C. She believes in “the 80/20 rule”: eat well 80 per cent of the time and treat yourself the remaining 20 per cent. Start by searching for high-fibre dishes in Chatelaine’s Recipe File.

Create an optimism icon

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota tracked 839 people for 30 years and determined that those who scored high marks in the pessimism department risk dying earlier than optimists. Whether you’re already a glass-is-half-full kind of person or not, help yourself visualize your blessings. Grab a bag of marbles and plunk them into a glass jar, one by one. For every marble you drop in, think of a talent you’ve acquired or a good experience you’ve had. Now, keep that jar in sight to give yourself a boost when you need it.

Dress up your bike with handlebar tassels

They might tempt you to cycle more often. Danish researchers who studied 30,000 women and men aged 20 to 93 concluded that women who consistently exercised were 41 per cent less likely to die early than their couch potato counterparts. So, cycle to work, shun escalators in favour of stairs or hit the sidewalk for a brisk walk. “If you look at healthy older people, they’re active,” says Dr. Carol Scurfield, a family physician at the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg. “They’re dancing and walking, and they’ve always done that.” And when people see those new tassels, they’ll want in on the fun, too.

Get together with the girls more often

Regular time spent with friends isn’t just tons of fun, it’s a health booster. Studies have found that social ties help lower our heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol. Women in satisfying marriages tend to enjoy better health, too, says psychologist Linda C. Gallo at San Diego State University. “What you need to do is make sure all of the relationships in your life are as healthy as possible,” adds Dr. Scurfield. If your current connections aren’t as fulfilling as they could be, consider seeing a counsellor.

Put on some trippy tunes, get down on the floor and crunch

Bikini-worthy abs don’t just look dreamy—strong abdominal muscles can help protect against ailments such as diabetes and heart disease. Guess what Peter Katzmarzyk and his Queen’s University colleagues found in their research, for example? Women who could do the lowest number of sit-ups in 60 seconds had shorter lifespans. Keeping your back and tummy muscles fit also makes all of your activities—such as hauling groceries and carrying the kids to bed—easier.

Create your own happy hour

You knew that red wine was a heart booster, but research from Harvard Medical School shows that resveratrol, a compound found in the skin of red-wine grapes and peanuts, among other things, extends the lifespan of yeast cells by up to 70 per cent. That life-lengthening phenomenon may affect human enzymes that regulate aging, too. So, pour yourself a glass of shiraz, munch on a handful of unsalted nuts and make a list of the wine regions you’d like to tour during retirement.

Become a tree hugger

Urban senior citizens who lived near parks or tree-lined streets lived longer than others, according to Tokyo Medical and Dental University researchers. Because they had a pleasant place nearby to walk, study participants were more active all around. Aside from the fitness benefits of regular hikes, Dr. Scurfield says, a calm forested environment enhances our long-term mental health. “You won’t be doing the conga if you’re depressed,” she says. Trees lift our moods along with our feet.

Dig into a juicy kiwi

While vitamin C alone isn’t the secret to good health, scientists at the University of Cambridge in England found that regularly consuming fruit and vegetables rich in the antioxidant—citrus fruit, tomatoes, melons and broccoli—lowered the chances of early death by half. Vitamin C works to protect our cell membranes and DNA from damage—important in preventing cancers and heart disease. There’s another bonus, too, says McGuire. “It’s very important in the formation of collagen.” Eating an abundance of vitamin C-rich fruit and vegetables, therefore, may keep your face looking smoother, longer.

Do a 9-to-5 status check

Does your job engage you? University of Texas School of Public Health researchers discovered that people in jobs with little control experienced a higher chance of dropping off sooner rather than later. If you’re in this situation now, you may want to consult a career coach.

Make like a Brownie and lend a hand

Tuck your own to-do list away for a bit and rake your neighbour’s leaves or offer to babysit your niece and nephew. It won’t just make you popular—it could extend your life. Separate studies by Michigan psychologist Stephanie Brown and Dr. Linda P. Fried of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore concluded that volunteering your time to help others can slow down the aging process. When you have a giving spirit, it may motivate you to live as long as possible so you can continue contributing to the lives of your loved ones. As for MacDonald, she isn’t aware of any magic elixir for a long and lively life. But she may have come up with a recipe after all: one part sensible diet, one part buzzing social life, one part great attitude and one part mental and physical activity. Why not stir it up yourself?


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