Are You Aging Too Fast?

Odds are you look and feel younger than your mother did at the same age. But you could probably be doing even better

by Meryl Davids Landau
face of woman on hourglass body illustration image
Photograph: The Heads of State

It’s a fact of aging: The immune system tends to become less effective at fending off disease, says Moreno. Your arsenal, in effect, becomes smaller: You produce fewer antibodies, natural killer cells and white blood cells, especially a type known as T cells that protect you from bacteria, viruses and cancer cells. But, says Moreno, you can bolster your system by following a healthy diet, one packed with nutrientrich fruits, vegetables and lean protein; getting enough sleep; and trying to reduce stress.

More suggestions:

Meditate   
A regular mindfulness-meditation routine may help you sail through cold and flu season without much—or even any—sniffling, according to a study in the Annals of Family Medicine that tracked upper respiratory infections among a group of healthy middle-aged adults for eight months after they had undergone training in the technique. Compared with a control group, those who meditated caught fewer respiratory-tract infections, and when they did get ill, their symptoms were 60 percent milder and lasted for 43 percent less time. Plus, they had fewer sick days.

You can find a training program in mindfulness meditation near you at more.com/mindful. Or read Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation—A 28-Day Program, by Sharon Salzberg.

Eat less   
A small study done at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University found that cutting calories by either 10 percent or 30 percent over a six-month period helped a group of overweight adults drop pounds and improve the functioning of their T cells. The improvements were greatest for those who reduced their eating the most.

Take up laughter yoga   
Laughing has been shown to boost your immune functions. Moreno recommends getting your healthy quota of chuckles by taking up laughter yoga, a combination of movement and laughter developed in 1995 by a Mumbai physician named Madan Kataria. At social clubs (find one at laughteryoga.org) led by volunteers, participants clap, dance and do improv-like exercises, which generally lead to laughter. If this sounds too weird, you can also seek out guffaws by watching YouTube, Moreno suggests.

Quiz 4: Your Lungs

1. When you climb stairs or run for a bus, do you feel more winded than you might have a few years ago?

A) No

B) Yes

The concern isn’t so much what you can do now as how much you have slipped from your previous perch, says the Cleveland Clinic’s Bohdan Pichurko. The good news: Everyone has plenty of spare capacity, so lung function has to drop pretty far before you’re in trouble.

2. Which phrase better describes where you live?

A) A quiet, hardly traveled street

B) A road with heavy traffic

Swedish researchers discovered that people whose homes are closer than 300 feet to a road where an average of 10 or more cars pass each minute are more likely to develop allergic asthma. While they can’t be absolutely certain that car exhaust brings on the asthma, other studies have found similar correlations, notes study coauthor Anna Lindgren, MD.

3. In the past 15 years, you have smoked cigarettes:

A) Never or almost never

B) Anywhere from a single cigarette a day to several packs a day

The more you smoke, the greater the chance you have of dying from lung cancer. But even light puffing, which is on the rise in this country, poses serious risks. According to one review, women ages 35 to 49 who smoke one to four cigarettes a day have quintuple the risk of developing lung cancer that nonsmokers have.

4. Think back to your last cold. your accompanying cough:

A) Stopped completely within a month

B) Remained after a month

First published in the December 2012/January 2013 issue

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