HEALTH BY CHOICE

Wouldn't it be nice if we could freeze time and stop ageing altogether? Unfortunately, although a possibility for the future, we have not yet reached that pinnacle of longevity. However, just because we cannot yet defy ageing, doesn't mean we have to contribute to its acceleration.

Ageing is a fact of life, but it does not happen overnight. It is a process that takes place slowly over time. That means, if we are not taking the kind of action steps now that promote mental and physical health, it won't be long before we notice the ravages of time taking over and our youthful energy, health and vitality slipping away. In other words, we'll notice ourselves looking older before we know it.

If you've ever seen an old vehicle rust, you can understand how the body reacts when subjected to toxic substances in the air. Photo / Getty Images
If you've ever seen an old vehicle rust, you can understand how the body reacts when subjected to toxic substances in the air. Photo / Getty Images

Our bodies are amazing machines. But, we only have access to one in this lifetime. We can exchange and buy new clothes, cars, houses, computers and anything that tickles our fancy. But we cannot buy a new body.

Knowing this, if we want to avoid bodily breakdowns that shorten our life spans, we would be wise to stay as healthy as possible. Our bodies are precious and need and respond to loving attention. There are many things we can personally do to slow the ageing process and ensure we look and feel our best now and long into our senior years. These are not secrets hidden away for the few. These are lifestyle habits, our daily activities – our actions and decisions that influence who we are now and who we're setting the table to become.

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To minimise the effects of ageing, ensure your body receives enough protein. Try and include some at each meal or snack. Photo / Getty Images
To minimise the effects of ageing, ensure your body receives enough protein. Try and include some at each meal or snack. Photo / Getty Images

Stop for a moment to reflect on all the activities you currently love or want to be doing in the future. What kind of physical shape will allow you to continue to participate? What kind of mental attitudes help to sustain and support the life you love?
It's no secret that nutrition and exercise are the dynamic duo empowered to keep us young at heart, mentally sharp and physically active. Unfortunately, there are certain issues/situations related to nutrition that can actually accelerate the ageing process.

We must take time to learn what they are if we hope to avoid them.

These four things are:

Antioxidants

If you've ever seen an old car rust, you can understand how the body reacts when subjected to toxic substances in the air we breathe or the assortment of unhealthy substances we put into our body. These are stressors that slowly but surely break the body down and antioxidants are the warriors sent out by the body to defy this process.
Antioxidants are empowered to neutralise free radicals that otherwise lead to and cause oxidative damage. They help to combat disease and keep us feeling energised and healthy on a daily basis.

Not surprisingly, fresh fruits and vegetables are king when it comes to supplying antioxidants (other foods such as nuts and oils contribute as well). The more of nature's colourful bounty we consume, the higher our antioxidant level.

Trans Fats

The right fats are good and can help to combat the ageing process, but the wrong ones are dangerous to our health.

Trans-fats are bad. They are man-made fats designed to be addictive and to extend the shelf-life of food but have nothing at all to do with supporting or extending our lives. In fact, if we eat enough of these damaging substances, we can speed the ageing process right along. And beware of the term "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil – any food that lists this ingredient contains trans-fats. Avoid them and replace with good healthy choices like olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia oil and coconut oil-based products. Your body will thank you.

Protein

Protein is powerful and a must for repairing and rebuilding tissue – essential for keeping our body functioning at peak performance. It provides the raw materials that generate new cells and hormones that keep our systems working properly as well as generating lean muscle mass.

To minimise ageing, ensure your body receives enough protein. Try and include some at each meal or snack. You won't have to wait long to feel the impact of boosting your protein. You'll begin to see and feel better almost immediately.

Look for high-quality lean protein sources such as chicken, turkey, red meat in moderation (too much of any rich animal-based foods will accelerate ageing), fresh fish and seafood, organic dairy and quality whey or non-diary protein powder. You can also look to beans, lentils and legumes as rich protein sources.

Sugar

Today's foods are loaded with this damaging and age-accelerating substance. Even if you work at avoiding white table sugar, manufacturers have hidden it in the most unsuspecting places. Because of this, our taste buds are now desensitised to the natural flavour and taste of real food. To avoid it, you must read labels.

Sugar is damaging because it spikes our blood glucose levels. When this happens, our body releases a huge hit of insulin from the pancreas that goes in and sucks up the excess glucose to bring blood glucose levels back down again. And, this is where the problem lies. What does the body do with all this glucose? Most of the time, it goes straight into the body's fat cells/stores. This excess fat weighs heavy on the body and puts it at risk for several age-related diseases. Heart disease, diabetes and stroke all gain a foothold. And that's just the shortlist.

Sugar is basically a dead substance. It may tickle your sweet tooth but provides nothing in the way of nutrition. When you eat it, you're replacing nutritious foods that work at keeping you healthy with dead, dangerous calories. Since we can only consume so many calories daily, we need to make sure our calories count.

Healthy longevity isn't rocket science. It is the result of healthy habits. Putting the right foods/nutrients into our body goes a long way towards ensuring we look and feel our best now and long into the future, while putting the wrong foods in our body steals our health, vitality, looks and years.

When we combine the first component of anti-ageing - healthy, nutrient dense eating - with the second component – exercise - our mind and body respond and reward us with health, fitness and extended years.

We'll slow the ageing process while enjoying your newfound healthy longevity.
In the end, we're either accelerating the ageing process through our lifestyle habits or slowing it and only we are empowered to make that choice.

■ Carolyn Hansen is co-owner of Anytime Fitness.