6 Surprising Anti-Agers

Six science-backed strategies for postponing, reducing or entirely eluding the march of time

By Judy Jones
Photograph: Jillann Severson

1. Lead a Boring Life
Oops, did we say boring? We meant diligent, responsible, hard-working, organized and self-disciplined, all facets of what researchers label conscientiousness. People who have this trait not only live longer (presumably because they avoid risky behaviors like smoking) but are also less likely to suffer from dementia in old age. Those at the top of the conscientiousness chart reduce their risk of de­veloping Alzheimer’s symptoms by a remarkable 89 percent compared with those at the very bottom, according to research by Robert Wilson, PhD, a professor of neuropsychology at the Rush University Medical Cen­ter, in Chicago. “Conscientiousness
doesn’t prevent the underlying pathologies, like the buildup of plaques and tangles traditionally associ­ated with Alzheimer’s and similar ill­nesses,” Wilson explains. “Instead, it seems to provide a protection that allows some people to tolerate the disease in their brains much longer without the appearance of symptoms.”

2. Embrace Your Age
Feeling good about growing older may help you live longer. When Yale University researchers studied the mortality rates of 660 seniors who had been participating in the Ohio Lon­gitudinal Study of Aging and Retire­ment, those who started out two decades earlier in the study with a posi­tive attitude toward old age ended up living an average of seven and a half years longer than others, says study coauthor Becca R. Levy, PhD, an associate professor at Yale School of Public Health. The study subjects who had refused to buy into negative cultural stereotypes about aging when they were younger tended to have greater enthusiasm about life when they grew older.

3. Move to an Old Neighborhood
A 2007 Stanford University study showed that people who were trying to increase their physical activity levels were more than twice as likely to succeed if they lived in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, which tend to be in older areas. This was also shown in a University of Utah study of neigh­borhoods in Salt Lake City; those built before 1950 are generally more walkable than newer areas, because they were designed primarily for pedestrians, not cars. “Adding a decade to the average age of an area’s housing decreases women’s risk of obesity by about eight per­cent and men’s by 13 percent,” notes researcher Ken Smith, PhD, professor of human development and family studies.

4. Drink Some Coffee
A few cups a day during midlife can decrease your risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia when you’re older, although it will almost certainly make you jittery along the way. A team of Swedish and Fin­nish researchers who tracked the cof­fee consumption of 1,409 peo­ple for an average of 21 years found that the
moderate drinkers—those who tossed back between three and five cups a day—had a 65 percent lower risk for dementia than those who drank fewer than two cups a day. (The results for heavy coffee drinkers were inconclusive.) Study coauthor Miia Kivipelto, MD, PhD, research director at the University of Kuopio, in Finland, points to the healthful ef­fect of caffeine, which has been shown in animal studies to reduce plaque formation in the brain. Decaf coffee doesn’t provide the same benefit, although, like the regular brew, it does contain an abundance of age-fighting antioxidants.

5. Spice up Your Meals
Researchers recently tested 24 common herbs and spices, and found high amounts of compounds that may stop the inflammatory damage caused by elevated blood sugar levels. The herbs and spices, all bought at a local Wal-Mart, included cinnamon, thyme, Italian seasoning and cloves. “The active compounds in these herbs and spices have the potential to reduce the inflammation that contributes to nearly every human disease,” says the study’s coauthor, James Hargrove, PhD, associate professor of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia in Athens. The researcher advises you to liberally season your food with a variety of
spices, thereby doubling or tripling the medicinal value of a meal.
6. Hang Out with Happy People
Scientists have known for some time that happy people live longer because their good spirits help protect them from illness. The new twist is that hap­piness is socially contagious: You can catch it—or its opposite—from the peo­ple close to you. Analyzing the social networks of the participants in the Framingham Heart Study, researchers at the University of California discovered distinct clusters of happy and unhappy people. “People who are surrounded by many happy people are the most likely to become happy themselves in the future,” remarked researcher Nicholas Christakis, MD, a professor of medical sociology at Harvard. Moral? It pays
to choose friends who lift you up.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-20 15:01

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