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It used to be said "no pain, no gain", but one of the ways to stay young is mental exercise as well as physical exercise. Read on and discover ways to increase your life expectancy.

Staying Young And Living Long

By Gary Small, MD

Author of The Longevity Bible

Today's baby boomers and seniors are a proactive generation - they want to live longer and feel and look younger.
What most people don't realize is that genetics is not the whole story in achieving quality longevity. The MacArthur Study of Successful Aging and other investigations have found that non-genetic factors may be more important in determining our health as we age. And, the scientific evidence suggests that those healthy lifestyle choices that we can make every day to improve memory ability and brain fitness also promote physical health and longevity. What's good for the brain is good for the body, too.

Fixing our brains for longevity is the first step. With our minds sharp, we are more inclined to stay physically fit, enhance our relationships, maintain a longevity diet, and follow other healthy lifestyle strategies. Simply doing mental aerobics can significantly improve memory skills, and when combined with the other essential strategies (see box), may extend life expectancy. A recent study found that mentally stimulating leisure activities like reading, doing crossword puzzles or playing board games, lowers the risk for Alzheimer's disease by nearly a third.

When we attempt to solve problems in a new way, we may be strengthening the connections between our brain cells. Each brain cell has dendrites. These minute extensions - similar to branches of a tree - pass information along from brain cell to brain cell. Without use, our dendrites can atrophy or shrink; but when we exercise them in new and creative ways, their connections remain active, passing new information along. Basically, any conscious effort to exercise your brain can potentially create new brain cell connections. And, remarkably, new dendrites can still be created even if old ones have already died.

Scientific evidence also shows that keeping a positive outlook helps us live longer and healthier. In a recent study, positive and satisfied middle-aged people were twice as likely to survive over 20 years compared to more negative individuals. Optimists have fewer physical and emotional difficulties, experience less pain, enjoy higher energy levels, and are generally happier and calmer in their lives. Positive thinking has been found to boost the body's immune system so we can better fight infection.

Of course, when we enjoy good health we are more optimistic, and the best way to ensure that is by eating a healthy diet and staying physically fit, which includes cardiovascular conditioning, balance and flexibility work, and strength training - the three vital fitness areas for maximizing health, boosting energy levels, and preventing many age-related diseases. Recent research has found that regular physical activity can add two or more years to life expectancy.

Having a positive outlook also leads us to have better relationships. The MacArthur Study of Successful Aging found that people who are socially connected live longer than those who are more isolated. Today we have many tools to help us connect with others, shore up self-doubt, as well as make ourselves feel and look younger and more beautiful, through medical and non-medical techniques. Despite the myth that libido declines with age, several scientific studies have found that our desire and need for sex continues throughout our lives. A healthy sex life at every age helps lower blood pressure, reduce stress, ward off depression, boost the immune system, diminish pain, maintain physical fitness, and even extend life expectancy.

Among the leading causes of age-related disease is stress, which contributes to physical pain, as well as the appearance of wrinkles and premature ageing. Few people realize that our ability to adapt to our ever-changing environments can greatly contribute to lowering our stress levels. Whether it's traffic, smoke, clutter, noise, mold, smog, or information over-load, our quality longevity depends upon our ability to adjust to these environmental influences. Personalizing our immediate surroundings, at home and at work, is an important environmental element that is within our control.

We can also lower stress levels by reducing the clutter in our lives. Just as it feels good to occasionally clean out your closet and get rid of the clutter there, it can sometimes become necessary to reduce relationship clutter - clean your emotional house - and conserve your energy for the people you love or care about. At times, relationships may become more damaging than they are enriching - old friendships that were once meaningful, can become simply old habits that may have negative effects but are hard to break.
Eating a healthy diet can have a major impact on life expectancy by lowering our risk for heart disease, cancer, and other age-related illnesses. Longitudinal studies have found that a diet that emphasizes the right food choices and helps people stay at their target body weight, can increase survival rates by 50 percent or more. And, a healthy diet plan can allow you to eat all of your favorite foods - even naughty desserts - when it incorporates the best scientific data on healthful eating for longevity and weight control, combined with some of the most satisfying and delicious foods available.

The latest in medicines and treatments also can keep us young. From smart drugs to botox to microscopic lasers, we have many options available to keep looking and feeling youthful throughout our lives. Even simply taking drugs to lower blood pressure has been shown to increase life expectancy by at least two or more years, and scientists have found that cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can increase survival rates of heart patients by more than 50 percent.
Initial research suggests that mindful awareness - the subtle process of moment-to-moment awareness of one's thoughts, feelings, and physical states - not only reduces stress and anxiety, but it also boosts the immune system and promotes health and healing for a variety of medical illnesses and conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and chronic pain. Mindfulness often fosters a sense of spirituality, and several studies have found that people who pursue some form of spirituality live longer. Recently investigators found that visiting a house of worship just once a week can extend life expectancy by nearly a decade. Studies of patients with chronic physical illnesses have found that those who believed in God had a 30 percent lower mortality rate compared with those who felt abandoned by God. The increased longevity benefits of spirituality result from many forms, including religion, meditation, the personal belief in a higher power, and more.

Many of the benefits of a healthy longevity lifestyle can be achieved in a remarkably short period - as little as 14 days. My research team at UCLA conducted controlled studies to test how well volunteer subjects could improve their brain and body fitness by focusing on just four of the essential strategies: mental training, physical fitness, stress management and a healthy diet.

We found that after just two weeks, the volunteers who followed the healthy longevity lifestyle program (as opposed to the control group who merely continued their usual behaviour) experienced improved memory performance and brain efficiency. They also reported greater relaxation and benefits in their physical health. Many volunteers on the program lost weight and experienced a decline in blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
In summary, we have more control than we think. Genetics accounts for only a third of what determines our health as we age. That means that everyday lifestyle choices can have a major impact on how long and how well we live.
Gary Small, M.D. Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, is the Director of the UCLA Centre on Ageing and one of the world's leading physician/scientists in the fields of memory and longevity. He has developed breakthrough brain-imaging technology that allows physicians to detect brain ageing and Alzheimer's disease decades before patients show symptoms.

Visit www.drgarysmall.com for more.

It is true to say that even small changes can make big differences. It would be very difficult, unless faced with a medical necessity, to change everything all at once, but small changes are easier to maintain and can lead to so many benefits.



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