Thrive to 120! Five Simple Steps to live a longer, healthier life.
I plan to live a rich and full life until I’m 120 years old, gardening and playing soccer and euchre with my family. The most critical actions we can take now to keep our bodies and brains healthy for decades to come are extremely simple. Here are my top five non-food strategies for healthy aging and why adopting them is helpful. They are all very affordable and doable. I use these strategies and recommend them to my patients. Improvement in these areas can lead to major shifts in your health and sense of well-being, keeping your body and brain in good condition for a long time.
1. ARE YOU LONELY?
Being lonely increases inflammation, accelerating aging and cognitive decline1. Spending time with other people or even a pet improves health outcomes2. I tell my patients that I want them to spend time talking to real people or their animals. Social connection is one of the most valuable health behaviors and one that feels like the least work. It boosts your immune system and can be as simple as sitting down to a meal with family (without screens) and reflecting on your day, discussing your values, or sharing an example of a positive action you took that day.
2. WHAT IS YOUR MISSION?
What is your life’s purpose? Having a clear sense of what brings meaning to one’s life is associated with improved health outcomes and healthier aging.3 Find some way that you can connect and give back to someone or something larger than yourself. Giving back creates deeper connection, a greater sense of purpose, and more joy. It can be going to your place of worship and visiting with other members of the congregation. It can be volunteering your time or chatting with your neighbor for a few minutes. Humans are social creatures and we crave connection and purpose. Nurture your purpose, your meaning, your contribution to what matters to you.
3. HOW IS YOUR SLEEP?
Addressing poor sleep improves biomarkers associated with diabetes, heart disease4, and cognition5. How well you sleep is a big determinant in how you feel and how your body functions. Try getting seven to nine hours every night. Make sure that after the sun goes down, you don’t expose your eyes to digital screens, whose light can make it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep, or use blue-blocking glasses to filter out the harmful rays. Reserve the hour before bed to transition to the night. This could be reading a book, taking a bath, journaling, or meditating.
4. ARE YOU STRESSED OUT?
Many of us experience a lot of stress at work, at home, or both. The many pressures in our everyday lives can increase our levels of cortisol (stress hormone), which causes our cells to rev up inflammation molecules, preparing for flight or fight. When cortisol is constantly elevated, our cells are not doing as much repair and maintenance as our body needs. They aren’t processing and removing toxins or making needed hormones at a normal, healthy rate. This leads to more rapid aging and higher rates of obesity, autoimmune problems, and early memory decline. Normalizing our adrenal hormones and stress response is associated with reduced cognitive decline as we age.6 I feel much better if I do my daily stress-reducing practice. There are many options: prayer, meditation, journaling, doing yoga or tai chi, or spending time in nature. Find some practices that work for you and start building them into your daily routine.
5. ARE YOU MOVING EVERY DAY?
Prolonged sitting combined with little exercise increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and poor mental health, all of which will accelerate aging. A moderate exercise program increases growth factors that support brain health and reduce inflammation and are associated with healthier aging6. It doesn’t have to be strenuous or lengthy–I know many of you have illnesses and issues that make exercise a challenge. Start with a small actionable next step. It might be as simple as walking to the next room every hour. Or walking to the mailbox each day. Adding more movement will make a difference. Small goals that are achievable but involve exertion will add up, making you stronger and healthier.
DISCOVER THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
A comprehensive diet and lifestyle program along with targeted nutritional supplements was associated with favorable changes in the aging markers of our cells7. In this study, scientists examined how their intervention, which is remarkably similar to the lifestyle changes I teach in the Wahls Protocol® (a diet similar to the Wahls™ diet, gentle exercise, stress reduction, vitamin D, and targeted B vitamins), impacted a marker of cellular aging, DNA methyl age. The intervention was able to “youthen” the cellular markers (DNA methyl age) nearly 3.5 years over an 8 week period! These are really exciting results. Health behaviors can slow and reverse accelerated aging, which is common in the U.S. where so many follow the standard American diet and lifestyle.
These 5 strategies are part of the Wahls Protocol®. They do not cost a lot of money. They do not require special equipment. But they can slow the aging process, reduce inflammation, and improve blood sugar control. Pick one of the above that resonates with you and work with a friend or family member to incorporate it in your daily routine.
My goal is to have a vibrant mind and body when I am 120 years old and beyond. If that is also your goal, you may be interested in the program I created to teach people the habits that promote healthy aging and strategies for adopting them successfully. In this program, you’ll learn about many factors that contribute to accelerated aging, including excess inflammation, hormone imbalance, poor nutrition, and more. It explains how all these factors are interconnected and what steps we can take to rebalance our hormones, reduce inflammation, and achieve healthy aging. The Autoimmune Intervention Mastery Course will teach you what you need to know to live a long and healthy life. There is so much that you can do now to help ensure you will be thriving at 120!
Boss L, Kang DH, Branson S. Loneliness and cognitive function in the older adult: a systematic review.Int Psychogeriatr.2015;27(4):541-553.
Medical Advisory S. Social isolation in community-dwelling seniors: an evidence-based analysis. Ont Health Technol Assess Ser. 2008;8(5):1-49.
Steptoe A, Fancourt D. An outcome-wide analysis of bidirectional associations between changes in meaningfulness of life and health, emotional, behavioural, and social factors.Sci Rep.2020;10(1):6463.
Carroll JE, Seeman TE, Olmstead R, et al. Improved sleep quality in older adults with insomnia reduces biomarkers of disease risk: pilot results from a randomized controlled comparative efficacy trial.Psychoneuroendocrinology.2015;55:184-192.
Cordi MJ, Hirsiger S, Merillat S, Rasch B. Improving sleep and cognition by hypnotic suggestion in the elderly. Neuropsychologia. 2015;69:176-182.
Wetherell JL, Ripperger HS, Voegtle M, et al. Mindfulness, Education, and Exercise for age-related cognitive decline: Study protocol, pilot study results, and description of the baseline sample. Clin Trials. 2020;17(5):581-594.