Imagine yourself 10, 20, or 30 years from today. How do you feel? Can you do anything even better than you can right now? What personal goals have you reached? How many lives have you touched? Perhaps you’ve finally taken the leap and completed that course or dug through the research on a topic you’ve been wanting to learn more about. Maybe you’ve run a marathon or climbed a mountain. Or possibly you’ve started a business or changed careers to follow your passion.
Building up to your personal long-term goals is supported by your day-by-day actions, including the things you do for your health. Without your health, how many of these would be possible? We all get older at the same rate: by one year, every year. If you’re afraid, know that the journey doesn’t have to be scary and filled with aches, pains, and medications. I’m here to show you a few simple strategies to help you age well with strength and vitality! Your best years truly can be the ones still to come.
The reality is that for many people, physical abilities change with age. You likely already know that your risks for many health concerns like falls, fractures, frailty, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia increase as you get older. And you’ve likely wondered why this happens and if there is anything you can do to slow down or even halt this (possibly inevitable) process.
Spoiler alert: Yes, there are a lot of things you can do!
Let’s talk about the process of inflammaging (inflammation + aging), its effect on your health, and what you can start (or start doing more of]) right now to slow it down and keep it as low as possible for as long as possible.
What is inflammaging?
Simply put, it’s inflammation + aging. Some inflammation is involved in the aging process in all of us, but it’s the level of inflammation that we want to try to control.
It’s important to note that there are two kinds of inflammation: acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation is part of the natural healing process that helps us when we have infections or injuries. It is the beneficial inflammation that helps your body fight a cold or heal a sprain. Acute inflammation is usually intense, located in the area where it’s needed, and subsides once the infection or injury is dealt with.
Acute inflammation is NOT the kind associated with chronic disease risk and aging. The inflammaging type of inflammation is the longer-term, lower-level, insidious kind of inflammation known as chronic inflammation (aka the “bad” kind). When you experience chronic inflammation, your immune system doesn’t stop, but rather keeps fighting indefinitely, and it is this constant inflammation that can negatively affect your healthy cells.
Health Effects of Inflammaging
Inflammaging can affect our health in a variety of ways, including increased chances of:
• Falls, fractures and frailty
• Heart disease
• Type 2 diabetes
One thing that impacts inflammaging is another normal age-related process called sarcopenia, or loss of muscle. Starting around 40, we all tend to lose about one percent of our muscle mass and strength every year.
FALLS, FRACTURES & FRAILTY
Having muscles that allow us to keep doing everything we want to do is very important to healthy aging. Whether we want to continue competing in our favourite sports or dancing and enjoying life without worrying about falls, fractures, or needing help, we must maintain our muscles’ strength and ability. To do this, we need to continue to use our muscles so they remain strong and healthy.
When our muscles become smaller and weaker over time, we can experience loss of strength and balance. The longer this goes unchecked, the higher the chances of experiencing frailty (e.g. unintentional weight loss, exhaustion, weakness), falls, and disability.
Inflammaging increases risks for many aspects of heart disease, such high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This is often through the foods we eat, like processed foods which tend to be high in sugar, fat and salt, and low in vitamins and nutrients. Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women, so this is especially important.
TYPE 2 DIABETES
Increased inflammaging and sarcopenia are also associated with insulin resistance, which leads to type 2 diabetes. That’s because muscle tissue is responsive to insulin (the opposite of being resistant) and helps remove excess sugar from the blood, so the more muscle we have, the less risk we have for becoming resistant to insulin and thus, developing type 2 diabetes.
Both inflammation and aging are two factors that underlie risk for dementias, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Other risk factors include heart disease and diabetes.
In addition to inflammaging, lack of quality sleep is also associated with increased risk for dementia.
So what can you do?
If you know me you probably already know what I’m going to say: Activity, nutrition and rest.
Any movement is great but building your muscle mass and promoting increased muscle tissue through regular strength training exercises is key to preventing and slowing muscle loss as you age, thus lowering the likelihood of falls, frailty, and fractures. Plus, you will lower your risk for becoming resistant to insulin, and reduce your inflammation overall.
Aside from movement, our muscles need protein so be sure to aim for 25 to 30 grams of high-quality protein at every meal. You can also maintain your heart health by eating nutritious foods that don’t fan the flames of inflammation. My favourites are green leafy vegetables and complex carbohydrates like beans, legumes, quinoa, and buckwheat. Eating whole foods will also reduce your risk of heart disease and prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. Hello good energy!
Prioritizing sleep is important for keeping inflammation at bay as well as maintaining brain health. Aim for seven to eight hours, but the quality of sleep is more important than the quantity. Magnesium can be helpful if you have trouble getting solid sleep.
By working on your balance and muscle strength, eating enough protein and whole foods to fuel your muscles, keeping physically active, and getting enough quality sleep, you can keep your independence and quality of life for as long as possible.
Be sure to stay tuned for my next post for strategies to make these healthy “anti-inflammaging” lifestyle changes work for you!