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Words To Live (Longer and Better) By

There's an old saying: "It's not about adding years to your life but adding life to your years." So how can you feel -- and look -- younger at any age? Read on for experts' top findings

By Andrea au Levitt  

Create. A four-year study found that adults who had taken up painting, drawing or sculpting during middle age and continued into their old age were 73 per cent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than were those who did not participate in artistic activities. These pastimes encourage you to focus your attention.

Grip. According to a 25-year study of more than 6,000 men age 45 through 68, grip strength was the best predictor of how well they'd avoid being incapacitated later in life. The weakest-gripping men suffered twice the disabilities than those with hands of steel did. In a separate study of nearly 1,40,000 men and women, poor grip strength correlated with a higher incidence of death, especially from cardiovascular disease.

Surf. In a small study of people age 55 to 76, those who carried out a series of web searches showed increased activity in regions of the brain that control reading, language, memory and visual ability. Regular web surfers showed a significant boost in the areas that deal with decision-making and complex reasoning.

Breakfast. Harvard University scientists tracked more than 3,67,000 older adults for an average of 14 years and found that those who ate the most cereal fibre had a 19 per cent lower risk of death from any cause than those who ate the least. Most notably, people who ate the most cereal fibre were 34 per cent less likely to die from diabetes.

Read. Researchers in Britain asked participants who were feeling stressed to engage in various activities, including reading, listening to music, having a cup of tea or coffee and taking a walk. Reading reduced stress levels and heart rates by 68 per cent, the most significant effect of any item on the list. (The least effective: video games.)

Adapt. One lesson of Hamlet: Learn to weather "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" if you want to live to a ripe old age. A Harvard study came to the same conclusion: Less than 2 per cent of men who were observed exhibiting "psychological hardiness" -- mental resilience in the face of stress, anxiety and depression -- died before they were 53. In the less resilient group, 37 per cent died by that age.

Socialize. Lonely people have a 14 per cent greater risk of dying than the average person, twice the death risk associated with obesity. A University of North Carolina study specifically found that social isolation increases hypertension even more than diabetes does. Related research links loneliness to a weakened immune system and higher risk of heart attack, stroke and depression.

Belt. It may sound illogical, but if you have a less-than-flat tummy, your best tactic is to have a belt cut across it -- not too high (looks old), not too low (sloppy), but smack through the middle. "It creates a shorter torso and a longer leg line," explains Stacy London, who co-hosted the American show What Not to Wear, "which makes you look taller and leaner".

Memories. Loyola University, Chicago, researchers discovered that recalling good memories for just 20 minutes a day can make people feel more cheerful than they did the week before, reported Psychology Today. "There's a magic and mystery in positive events," psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, 
told the magazine.

Posterior. Staying trim and fit is key to a long and healthy life. But an Oxford University review found that people with bigger butts (the proverbial pear shape) generally had lower levels of cholesterol and blood sugar and may be less likely to develop diabetes or heart disease than those who carried their extra weight around the stomach (apple shape). More research needs to be done to prove a protective effect, but scientists have observed that fat on the lower body secretes fewer inflammatory substances than abdominal fat does.

Howl. With laughter, that is. Dr Michael Miller wrote in his book Heal Your Heart that when he and his colleagues asked 20 people to watch a clip from Saving Private Ryan, Kingpin, Shallow Hal or There's Something About Mary, they found that participants' blood vessels narrowed by up to 50 per cent during the stress-inducing clips, while vessel dilation in people who watched a funny clip increased 22 per cent. "After just 15 minutes of laughing, volunteers got the same vascular benefit as they would from spending 15 to 30 minutes at the gym or taking a daily statin," wrote Miller.

Apricot. The fruit can benefit your skin; its essential oil, produced inside the kernel, is rich in gamma-linolenic acid, which encourages regeneration of skin cells. The light, non-greasy oil is also chock-full of vitamins A and E, making it a great skin hydrator.

Jog. A Journal of the American College of Cardiology study found that running just five to 10 minutes every day reduces the risk of death from heart disease by 50 per cent and overall mortality risk by 29 per cent. Even participants who ran slower than about 10 km per hour once or twice a week benefited.

Yogurt. Researchers speculate that the probiotic bacteria in yogurt and cheese may lower cholesterol and produce certain vitamins that shield against diabetes. A 2012 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that 55 grams of cheese a day (about two slices) reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by about 12 per cent, compared with eating no cheese. Keep to the recommended portion, as cheese can be high in fat.


Enjoy. When you want dessert, take a bite or two of the good stuff. Susan B. Roberts, co-author of a Tufts University study on cravings, finds that people who manage their weight best happily succumb at times.

De-powder. Face powders can settle into your wrinkles and cling to facial down (aka 'peach fuzz'), making you look older.

Beer. It's good for your hair. Before you shower, mix three tablespoons of flat beer at room temperature with half a cup of warm water. After you shampoo, rub in the beer solution, let it sit for a couple of minutes and then rinse with cool water. This will pump up the volume in your locks, which tend to get flatter as you age.

Vision. Turns out that carrots are not the best food for your vision. The nutrients in eggs -- lutein, vitamin E and omega-3s -- are especially good for your eyes and may help prevent age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and other chronic diseases.

Longhand. Researchers from Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), US, conducted a series of studies to demonstrate the differences between students who wrote out their notes and those who typed them. Both did well, though longhand note takers had a stronger grasp of the overall concepts of the lectures and were able to remember and understand them after a week had passed.

Rub. Massages feel good, obviously, but the increased blood flow associated with regular gentle kneading might also keep your face looking healthy and radiant. Skincare expert Kimara Ahnert told Women's Health that massage plumps slack skin, encourages lymphatic drainage (moving toxins out of cells so nutrients can travel in) and adds vitality to a dull complexion.

Move. In Australia's largest ongoing study of healthy ageing, researchers analyzed the daily routines of more than 2,30,000 people. They found that sleeping too much (more than nine hours a night), sitting too much (more than seven hours a day) and not working out enough (less than 150 minutes a week) correlates to quadrupling the risk of premature death.

Host. Throwing a party -- deciding whom to invite, what to serve and who should sit next to whom -- forces your brain to make complex social decisions and strengthens your social contacts, both of which reduce the risk of developing dementia, writes Dr Kenneth S. Kosik in his book Outsmarting Alzheimer's.

Listen. A French study found that listening to relaxing music before surgery was more effective at reducing anxiety than a sedative medication.

Meditate. Experts from the UCLA Brain Mapping Center found in a small study that the brains of people who meditate had larger volumes of grey matter -- the area responsible for memory, emotions, seeing, hearing, speech, impulse control and decision-making.

Clothes. "Wear clothes that reflect who you are. Introduce one new piece of clothing every month that takes you out of your comfort zone," says fashion designer Namrata Joshipura. Experiment with brightly coloured accessories such as scarves and necklaces.

Quieter. Raising your voice a lot may lead to polyps, bumps on your vocal cords that can make you sound old and hoarse. Instead of yelling, move closer.

Walk. Walking barefoot reduces the load on knee joints by 12 per cent compared with walking in comfortable shoes, and it may also minimize pain and disability from osteoarthritis. That's the finding of a study from Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, of 75 people with osteoarthritis. A later study found that 'mobility shoes', which are flat and flexible to mimic bare feet, reduced the load even more (by 18 per cent) when worn for six months or more.

Sunshine. Low vitamin D levels have been associated with osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension and cancer. According to research, adults who don't get enough of the "sunshine vitamin" are 26 per cent more likely to die early. A 12-year study of 13,000 men and women didn't find any one cause of death, "because vitamin D's impact on health is so widespread," says researcher Dr Michal Melamed, an assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City. Get 10 to 15 minutes of midday sunshine (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) several days a week.

Dig. Hand strength, flexibility and coordination are essential for everyday tasks such as opening jars and carrying packages. And gardening is the perfect way to hone those fine motor skills and muscles, according to a small study published in HortScience, and it may even help offset some of the strain caused by repetitive motions such as typing or phone swiping, especially if you alternate gardening tasks.

Sing. A small study out of Sweden found that when choir members sang in unison, their heart rates slowed down and eventually synchronized, which may have long-term benefits for both cardiovascular and mental health. An American study of 166 older adults revealed that those who joined a choir were in better health, used less medication, were less lonely and had fewer falls after a year than a similar group of non-singers. This could be due to the effect singing has on breathing as well as the emotional benefits of creating harmony with a group.

Dance. A study by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City, found that dancing reduced the risk of dementia more than any other type of physical activity. Why? Learning new steps improves intellectual fitness, and if you dance with a group or a partner, you're being social.

Plump. According to an attention-grabbing report by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA, which pooled data on nearly three million people from all over the world, while extreme obesity shortened lives, people who were just overweight (having a body mass index between 25 and 30) were actually less likely to die early than those who were at a normal weight. This doesn't mean that being overweight is healthy, but if you have normal blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, slimming down may not confer a huge health advantage.

Zest. Vitamin C in general seems to be associated with fewer wrinkles, according to a study from the United Kingdom. Hydration, of course, also keeps skin healthier. So lemon water, which combines both, is the perfect recipe for great skin.

Gloss. "Dab lip gloss or a lighter shade of the lipstick that you are using on the middle of your lower lip," says Ashima Kapoor, Delhi-based make-up artist. This gives the appearance of a fuller mouth, which makes you look younger. While applying a lip liner, cheat a little by drawing an outline outside your natural lip line, she says. 

Lateral. Snoozing on your side seems to be associated with a lower risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. A group of scientists led by researchers at Stony Brook University, New York, observed that when rats slept on their sides, a pathway that removes waste chemicals from the brain worked more efficiently. Research on humans is needed.

Spinach. In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers measured blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids in a group of 2,692 healthy adults in 1992, then followed them through 2008. People with the highest omega-3 levels had decreased their risk of dying by 27 per cent -- and decreased their risk of dying from heart disease by 35 per cent -- compared with the group with the lowest levels. Eating 250 milligrams of omega-3s each day can add 2.2 years to the lives of adults age 65 and older, researchers say. You'll get more than enough by eating half a cup of cooked spinach, a handful of walnuts, a serving of hilsa or pomfret or 50 g of raw firm tofu.

Ankles. Even if you're too self-conscious to show your whole calf, don't hide your ankles. "As we age, we're consumed with how many parts of our body we feel like we have to cover up, but a few don't need to be covered," Lauren Rothman, a fashion stylist and the author of Style Bible, says. "Elongating the leg with a cropped pant is flattering and sexy, and the ankle doesn't tend to show age."

Homework. Psychologist Howard S. Friedman, co-author of a landmark study that followed 1,500 boys and girls for as long as eight decades, observed, "The key personality predictor of a long life was one that we never expected: conscientiousness. It wasn't always the cheerful kids who went on to have the longest lives -- it was the ones who did their homework, whose parents would say, "She has a good head on her shoulders." They developed healthy patterns and maintained them. People who weren't dependable as kids but became more responsible as adults did well too.
 
 

Secrets of "Superagers"

You might call them superheroes of the over-60 set. A superager is someone between the ages of 60 and 80 who has the memory of someone 20 to 30 years younger. Even more remarkable, superagers aren't as rare as you might think. In a recent Harvard Medical School study, nearly half of the older adults tested performed as well as or better than 18- to 32-year-olds. The key is to keep brain tissue in parts of the cortex from thinning. After all, the brain is a muscle too.

The question, then, is how to find the right mental workout. The answer: it isn't easy. In fact, the authors of the Harvard study say that forcing yourself to push through unpleasant and difficult situations is exactly what it takes to pump up your brain. Learning a new language or playing challenging foes in bridge can work. The key is to leave your brain feeling exhausted. A sudoku or a run-of-the-mill crossword won't cut it. "You must expend enough effort that you feel some yuck," writes Lisa Feldman Barrett, one of the study's authors. "Do it till it hurts, and then a bit more."
Extreme focus on physical tasks can turn back the clock as well, but again, you've got to feel the pain. One example of a superager: French amateur cyclist Robert Marchand, who set a world record in one-hour cycling -- in the over-100 division. Now 105, Marchand appears to be getting fitter as he ages, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

 

-- With Inputs By Gagan Dhillon

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