You know the story: Somebody's 99-year-old aunt never exercised, smoked her whole life, and lived on a diet of red meat and ice cream. So why bother with healthy living, right?
"For every one person who lives a long life of unhealthy choices, there are countless others who die prematurely because of them," says Robert Schreiber, MD. He's a doctor at Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.
No one is guaranteed a healthy life. But following certain guidelines -- namely, eating...
"Aging is often associated with the development of one or more chronic diseases, but it doesn't have to be that way," says Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.
Your risk for disease and disability increases with inadequate physical activity, genetic susceptibility, and poor diet.
Aging: Defy It With Diet
So what's the best eating plan for preventing, delay, or minimizing the conditions associated with aging, including inflamed joints, flagging memory, and failing eyesight?
"The most beneficial diets rely heavily on fresh vegetables, fruits, and legumes -- foods that are naturally lower in calories and packed with nutrients," says Bradley Willcox, MD, MPH, co-author of The Okinawa Diet Plan and professor of geriatrics at the University of Hawaii.
Experts suspect the antioxidant compounds found in produce, legumes, and whole grains are largely responsible for holding back the march of time.
Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, and other compounds, including polyphenols and anthocyanins, battle free radicals -- unstable forms of oxygen that damage cell function. Free radicals form from normal metabolism. Your body also produces them in response to strong ultraviolet rays from the sun; air pollution; smoking; and secondhand smoke.
The buildup of free radicals contributes to the aging process and to the development of a number of age-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and inflammatory conditions, including osteoarthritis. What's worse, aging increases free radical production. That means your diet should be healthier than ever with the passage of time.
The question, of course, is how do we do that?
Antioxidants generate a lot of buzz when it comes to longevity, but aging well takes more. You must optimize a myriad of beneficial nutrients, including protein, calcium, and vitamin D, and minimize detrimental dietary components including saturated and trans fats.