Different folks have different reactions to noticing new occurrences such as gray hairs or a few fine lines. Of course, there's nothing wrong with looking or feeling a bit older, and it can be fulfilling to celebrate those changes — those smile lines are proof you're living a joy-filled life, after all. But if you want to increase your longevity and keep yourself young at heart for years to come, try these expert-approved strategies on how to stay looking and feeling young.
Give Yourself a Break
Studies show that stress causes physical changes in the body that can accelerate aging. Surges of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol cause blood pressure to rise and the heart to beat faster. These days, when stressors seem unrelenting (a steady stream of job pressures, traffic jams, money problems), chronic doses of adrenaline and cortisol can take a heavy toll on your physical and emotional health.
"Sixty to 90 percent of all doctors' visits each year are related to anxiety, depression, obsessive anger and hostility, insomnia, high blood pressure, heart attacks — all problems caused by stress," says Herbert Benson, M.D., author of The Relaxation Response and a founder and director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine in Boston.
The most effective way to halt this destructive chain of events is to meditate, using what Dr. Benson calls "the relaxation response." The technique involves repeating a mantra — a word, sound, phrase, or prayer — for as little as 10 minutes a day.
What to do: Once or twice daily for 10 to 20 minutes, sit in a quiet place; close your eyes; relax your muscles; roll your head, neck, and shoulders; and breathe deeply. On each exhale, repeat your mantra. If other thoughts try to invade, tell yourself, "Oh, well," and return to your word or phrase, suggests Dr. Benson. When you're done, keep your eyes closed for an extra minute; slowly allow everyday thoughts to flow back into your mind. Still not into the idea of meditation? Do yoga, or something active and repetitive (such as mindful running) instead. Focus on your breathing and how your feet land with each stride — and get your to-do list out of your head, says Dr. Benson.
Consume More Fat
The healthy kind, that is. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon, walnuts, and seeds) help stabilize your mood, maintain bone strength, and help prevent visible signs of aging by reducing inflammation in the body, explains Nicholas Perricone, M.D., a leading healthy aging expert and author of 7 Secrets to Beauty, Health, and Longevity. "Omega-3s also boost the ability of the body's enzymes to pull fat out of storage — from your hips, say — and use it as energy. Omega-3s keep you healthy and your skin radiant," he says.
What to do: "Virtually every expert agrees that you need two grams of omega-3 fatty acids a day," says Michael Roizen, M.D., chair of the division of anesthesiology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Eat plenty of fatty fish such as wild salmon (a 3-ounce serving has 6.9 grams), as well as walnuts (one-half ounce has 9.2 grams), he suggests. If you aren't getting enough omega-3s from your diet, consider taking fish oil supplements. (See also: 11 High-Fat Foods a Healthy Diet Should Always Include)
Not only can regular exercise help you tone muscles, build healthier bones, and boost your mood, but it can also help you think clearly. Studies cited by the National Institute on Aging demonstrate a connection between physical exercise and better brain power. "Walking for just 10 minutes a day lowers your risk of Alzheimer's by 40 percent," says Gary Small, M.D., former director of the UCLA Longevity Center on Aging. "Physical conditioning reduces stress and anxiety, which wipe out your memory bank," he explains.
What to do: Make time for three 20-minute workouts a week. You can also run, bike, swim, dance — simply do whatever you enjoy most. (More: The Best Anti-Aging Workout You Can Do)
Feel the Love
Anyone who's ever fallen head over heels or discovered an activity that makes them eager to jump out of bed in the morning knows that passion is a powerful drug. "It's the central motivation of all human activity," wrote Gail Sheehy in her book, Sex and the Seasoned Woman. The ability to embrace life boosts self-esteem, fuels the immune system, and improves cardiovascular health. Passion in bed can be particularly beneficial: Getting it on triggers the release of oxytocin (aka the "love hormone"), and has even been shown to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
What to do: Banish boredom and isolation at all costs. Rekindle the flames with your partner. Or, discover a new love in the form of a mental or physical pursuit: Take up painting, join a book club, start a running program. Do whatever it is that makes you feel energized and alive.
Drink Red Wine
A groundbreaking study showed that mice on a high-fat diet supplemented with resveratrol, a substance found in the skin of grapes, had longer average lifespans than those not given the resveratrol. According to the study's co-lead researcher, Rafael de Cabo, Ph.D. of the National Institute on Aging, resveratrol reduced the risk of diabetes and liver problems in mice, leading to a significant decline in obesity-related deaths. But here's the catch: "You'd have to drink 180 bottles of red wine a day to get the same benefits," says Dr. Roizen.
Obviously, that's an impossible amount to consume — but there's plenty of evidence that a little red wine can offset a host of health problems. An animal study from Johns Hopkins University suggests that red wine can diminish brain damage caused by stroke by as much as 40 percent. And other research shows that grape-seed procyanidins, found in red wine, help reduce arterial clogging, resulting in lower blood cholesterol levels and a reduction in deaths from heart disease. (Just remember to take the animal studies with a grain of salt — just because researchers found these effects on mice doesn't mean the same ones will happen to humans.)
What to do: Pour yourself a glass of red wine, but it's best to follow the latest alcohol guidelines from the American Medical Association and drink no more than one glass (5 ounces) a day for your health.
More energy, better posture, greater flexibility, improved mood, and less stress are just some of the rewards of this mind-body workout. "Yoga means 'union' in Sanskrit," says Cyndi Lee, creator of the OM yoga method. "Through conscious yoga breathing, you become aware of the connection between mind and body," she adds. That translates into major physical advantages: Yogic breathing can help decrease stress and anxiety, according to a study published in the International Journal of Yoga. Another study found that regular yogic breathing practice led to increased lung performance in competitive swimmers.
What makes the practice so special? Unlike other exercises, yoga poses are designed to work the inside of your body as well as the outside, which helps rejuvenate the digestive system, the reproductive system, and even the immune system, according to Lee. "Yoga is like wringing your body out like a washcloth. It's one of the best ways to keep things moving," she says.
What to do: Practice yoga or other mind-body activities at least twice a week to give yourself an energy boost, help build bone mass, and de-stress, says Lee.
Bite Into a Superfruit
There's a good reason for the hype around pomegranates. Pomegranate juice has been found to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, possibly delay the onset of atherosclerosis, and potentially help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease; researchers believe it may also help prevent some forms of cancer from starting or progressing. Pomegranates can also protect the skin from damage caused by UV rays.
Another promising superfruit is the goji berry, a fruit native to the Asian continent which is considered to be an abundant source of carotenoids, a beneficial type of antioxidant. This little nutritional powerhouse also contains more iron than spinach; 18 amino acids; calcium; magnesium; zinc; selenium; and vitamins B1, B2, B6, and E, according to Dr. Perricone. The goji berry stimulates the release of human growth hormone, a natural substance in the body that improves your ability to sleep, helps you look younger, reduces fat, improves memory, boosts libido, and enhances the immune system, he says.
What to do: Snack on a handful of dried goji berries throughout the day. Be sure to buy ones from Tibet, because they have high serum levels, advises Dr. Perricone. In addition, drink pomegranate juice. Not a fan of the flavor? Buy it in concentrate and add a tablespoonful daily to kefir (or plain yogurt), suggests Dr. Perricone.
Sip Green Tea
The health buzz about this brew keeps getting stronger: Dozens of studies have researched green tea's potential to reduce the risk of cancer, and though the results are mixed, the findings have been promising. "Green tea is an amazing compound in terms of blocking the signaling network that is linked with the progression of cancer," says Amy Yee, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry at Tufts University. A Japanese study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that drinking at least one cup a day can help keep your brain sharp as you get older.
What to do: Sip two or three cups daily for the ultimate health benefits, says Yee.
Slather Your Skin with Supplements
If your main query is how to stay looking young, there's a surface-level answer for you: The body's largest organ — the skin — shows the signs of aging more than any other body part. "The most important preventive measure you can take against the sun is to build up your antioxidant levels and maintain adequate levels of vitamins A, C, D, and E," says Jennifer Landa, M.D., chief medical officer of BodyLogicMD. "Eating lots of brightly colored organic fruits and vegetables also boosts levels of these vitamins. These powerful vitamins work like natural sunscreen for the body, aiding in the prevention of skin aging and skin cancer," she explains.
Retinol, a type of vitamin A (and a nonprescription, weaker-strength relative of Retin-A), is considered the most effective over-the-counter treatment to smooth the skin and prevent wrinkles, says David Colbert, M.D., founder of the New York Dermatology Group in New York City. Retinols cause the skin to gently peel, revealing a silkier, rosier, and more supple layer. Another beneficial ingredient is alpha lipoic acid, a potent antioxidant that naturally occurs in the body, notes Dr. Perricone. "Alpha lipoic acid is a wonderful anti-aging mechanism," he says. It has been shown to reduce fine lines, improve skin texture, tighten pores, and give skin a general radiance.
Another powerful ingredient is madecassol (or madecassoside), an Asian plant extract that helps plump the skin, minimize fine lines, and restore a youthful glow, says Dr. Colbert. Madecassol has been used in France for decades to help heal scars and wounds. European studies have also found that it helps diminish wrinkles, restores firmness to the skin, and hydrates skin cells.
What to do: Look for skin creams containing retinol. Another good way to ensure cell turnover, protect your skin against free radicals, and stimulate collagen growth is to apply vitamin C serum under your moisturizer and makeup, says Dr. Colbert. Finally, be sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day to protect against UVA and UVB rays, which can cause photoaging and skin cancer.
Do Mental Aerobics
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that brain exercises can prevent cognitive decline, and the benefits can last for as many as five years. In his own research, Dr. Small has found that a two-week program of mental training can actually rewire the brain. "We've seen evidence on brain scans that memory improves," he says.
What to do: Strengthen your mind every day by doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku on paper or via a smartphone app.
Consistently getting poor sleep not only makes you feel exhausted but also has a serious impact on your health. Research from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School shows that insufficient sleep ups the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease — and more importantly, it can impact your life expectancy. Case in point: An analysis of data from three studies found that sleeping five or fewer hours per night may increase mortality risk by as much as 15 percent, according to the Harvard research.
This is particularly important for the middle-aged crowd. A 2019 study of more than 55,000 people found that those who reported sleeping seven to eight-and-a-half hours a night on average could expect to live 19.1 years "in good health" between the ages of 50 and 75. In comparison, participants who slept less than seven hours could expect 18 healthy years, and those who snoozed more than nine hours could expect 16.6 healthy years during that period. Yes, even getting too much sleep can impact your health: Research shows snoozing for 8 to 9 hours or more is linked with a greater risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
What to do: Aim to snooze for seven to eight hours each night. (And grab one — or all — of these sleep books to learn how to score restful zzz's.)
Try the Mediterranean Diet
In addition to supporting heart health, reducing the risk of cancer, and preventing cognitive decline, the Mediterranean diet may help protect your telomeres, DNA sequences that sit at the ends of chromosomes and protect them from damage, according to a 2014 study published in the BMJ. ICYDK, telomere length is considered a biomarker of aging: Shorter telomeres are linked with a lower life expectancy and increased risk of developing chronic disease. While telomere length typically decreases with age, this shortening can be sped up by oxidative stress and inflammation, according to the researchers.
Sticking to a Mediterranean diet, however, may help fend off that damage. The BMJ study of more than 4,600 healthy, middle-aged and older women found that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was "significantly associated" with longer telomeres. One potential reason: The primary foods involved in the Mediterranean diet — i.e. fruits, vegetables, and nuts — are known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, meaning they may protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that can cause telomere shortening, per the researchers. (BTW, you can also lengthen your telomeres with exercise.)
What to do: Load your plate with fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes, unrefined grains, and fish; cook with olive oil in place of butter and vegetable oil; and keep your consumption of dairy and meat to a minimum. This Mediterranean diet meal plan will help you ease into the eating style, and if you're hungry for more, add these delish Mediterranean diet recipes to your weekly rotation.