No matter your current age, there comes a time in your life when you start thinking about how your golden years will play out. Some of us are forward-thinking enough to begin planning and preparing very early for that eventual day when we retire. The rest of us find ourselves scrambling to make up for lost time. After all, talk to any advisor and they’ll tell you that it’s never too early to start saving for retirement.
Building reserves for your later years is probably one of the single most important things you can do for yourself. But when I’m talking about saving up, I’m not referring to funds, bonds, and 401Ks. Instead, I’m talking about food, barbells, and 5Ks.
I bet you never really thought about building a nest egg of health, did you? But creating a healthy, vibrant life for yourself is your best defense against a quick decline as you enter your senior years.
Despite your best efforts to abuse it, your body is amazingly adept at deriving maximum efficiency from poor lifestyle habits. You can treat your body with disregard for decades and feel none the worse for wear, save for the usual aches and pains that we chalk up to the aging process. But continue the abuse and eventually you’ll hit your tipping point. And what do you find on the other side? Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, joint replacements, drug dependency, and a plethora of other metabolic disorders. All of a sudden your golden years have become heavily tarnished. This is the storyline that plays out for the average American senior. But you’re not going to settle for average, are you?
I work with 70 year old bodies all the time. The problem is they belong to 45-year-olds. If you’re already aging beyond your years, you’ve got some ground to make up. But if you’re willing to put in a little work, life becomes much less of a struggle down the road.
Here are 4 simple lifestyle habits you can implement immediately to start stockpiling health.
Engage in some form of physical activity on a daily basis. This doesn’t have to be 2 hours of structured exercise. Nor does it need to be unreasonably grueling. Just keep your body moving. I recommend some form of resistance training (even bodyweight resistance will do) coupled with sufficient aerobic activity.
A few days per week of strength training is all it takes to build strong muscles and bones, and will not only help you fend off osteoporosis, but can help you avoid the falls and broken bones that afflict so many seniors. A good set of resistance bands goes a long way. They are versatile, very effective, and portable. So even if you’re on the road you have no excuse for not getting in a little strength work.
You can satisfy your aerobic requirement by taking a brisk walk a few days per week.
But the true payoff comes when you get into the habit of engaging in activity beyond actual “exercise”. Find something you love, and get into the habit of taking the time to do it. Work in your garden or flowerbed. Seek out some local hiking trails. Volunteer at a nature center. Anything that interests you and gets you up and moving will do. You know what Newton said about an object in motion. The health and momentum you create through daily movement will carry you well into a more fulfilling retirement.
Eat Real Food
Preserving your body when you’re dead is fine. Doing so while you’re still living? Not so much.
Not only is the Standard American Diet devoid of sufficient nutrition, it is loaded with harmful chemicals, preservatives, and all manner of artificial flavorings and colorings. Processed foods are notorious for inciting systemic inflammation, which alone is harmful enough, but in the presence of already existing health challenges is like dumping gasoline on a whole host of glowing embers.
To bolster your health, stick to real, whole foods as often as possible. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and some fruits, preferably when in season locally. Eat fish, wild game and other properly sourced meats such as 100% grass fed beef, pasture raised chicken, and free foraging pork. Don’t be afraid of some of the organ meats. To cut down on cooking time, slow roast large cuts of meat and stock up the freezer so future meals are ready to go.
Homemade bone broth can be easily made in your Instant Pot using the bones from your roasted meats. It’s loaded with minerals and collagen to help build healthy bones and connective tissue.
Prep is essential to success at eating whole foods. In addition to preparing your main proteins, be sure to have plenty of healthy snacks on hand, so that when hunger strikes you’re not reaching for junk. Cut up some fresh veggies for snacking. Keep hard boiled eggs in the fridge. Stock a variety of raw nuts and seeds, as well as their butters. Keep the ingredients for a green salad on hand that you can quickly throw together.
By incorporating more real, whole foods into your diet, you can eliminate most of the harmful toxins that infiltrate our food supply while at the same time boosting your intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids, and healthy fats.
I think by now we all understand that refined sugar in all its sneaky forms had been implicated in the onset or exacerbation of a number of metabolic symptoms. Even armed with this knowledge, however, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and all their ugly complications continue to ride a rising wave. Why?
First of all, sugar has known addictive properties. How many of your smoker friends have vowed to quit even as they’re lighting up their next cigarette? Sometimes cutting ties with sugar is simply a harrowing ordeal.
Secondly, sugar doesn’t always look like a spoonful of white granules. So while you might not be scooping straight from the sugar bowl, your body can’t tell the difference. Remember, starchy carbs are just sugar dressed up to look good. When processed by your body, starches are broken down into glucose.
In order to manage your blood sugar and keep inflammation in check, go easy on foods with a high starch content. Obvious items to avoid, or at least cut way back on, are processed sweets such as cakes, cookies, muffins, cupcakes, and the like. But also be wary of non-sweet carbs like pasta, rice, bread, crackers, chips, pretzels, etc. These all result in elevated glucose levels.
Even starchy fruits and veggies can be problematic, especially if you are battling metabolic syndrome.
If you are craving sweets, in addition to being pleasing to the palate, fresh or frozen berries are low in carbohydrates and high in antioxidants. If you absolutely need some sweets while transitioning off sugar, limited amounts of raw honey, pure maple syrup, or stevia are good options.
Dump the Vegetable Oils
One of the most insidious and harmful ingredients in our food is vegetable oil. And it’s in just about everything on the shelves. In her book Deep Nutrition, Dr. Cate Shanahan brilliantly makes the case against processed vegetable oils as perhaps the biggest nutritional threat to our health. Most alarmingly, she details how these harmful polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) can damage our DNA and contribute to a host of cognitive and neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s, MS, Parkinson’s, Lou Gherig’s Disease, Autism, and more.
Some of the most harmful refined PUFA oils include soy, safflower, sunflower, canola, corn, cottonseed, grapeseed, and palm. In their packaged state, these oils spark free radical damage and can hinder DNA replication. But when heated, they really set off a firestorm. Therefore, cooking with them should be avoided at all costs. Instead, opt for a more heat-stabile oil when cooking such as coconut, olive, butter, ghee, lard, macadamia nut, or almond oil.
Pay attention to food labels. Just about every salad dressing out there is made with soybean and/or canola oil. You can make your own dressings and mayos, or opt for a healthy alternative like Primal Kitchen’s mayo and ranch dressing, both made with avocado oil. Beware of PUFAs and harmful trans fats that are often labeled as “hydrogenated oils”.
Free radical formation has been shown to accelerate the aging process, and refined vegetable oils are one of the biggest free radical triggers. Eliminating them from your diet is a simple step toward safeguarding your future health.
Living a healthy life is not really that complicated. But depending on where you’re starting, getting back to a state of robust health can take some time. The key is simply to start. Then fold another positive habit into the mix and keep at it until you’ve hit your goal. Do so with consistency, and you’ll enter into your golden years at a trot instead of a limp.