Habits that help you age well, no matter how old you are
Cover image by Paul Rogers
Article by Sandro Demaio for ABC Life
We're all looking for ways to stay younger, for longer — particularly as the years pass and we begin to feel the wear and tear on our bodies.
For the ABC's Ask the Doctor, I joined experts from The University of Melbourne to explore practical tips and tricks to turning back our biological clocks.
The take-home message? Whatever your age, gender or geography, there are many things you can do to age well and stay healthy into your twilight years.
What to do in your 20s
Remember the famous "Slip, Slop and Slap" campaign? They've since added a few more S's, but here it is again to remind you:
Slip on a shirt or other sun protective clothing that covers as much of your body as possible
Slop on SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen (do it 20 minutes before you head out into the sun, and reapply every two hours or more often if you're very sweaty or have been swimming)
Slap on a broad-brimmed hat that shades your face, neck and ears
Slide on sunglasses
More than just reducing your skin cancer risk, protecting our skin from Australia's harsh UV rays with a shirt, hat and sunscreen is an important way to reduce premature ageing.
Using a daily face moisturiser with "sun protection factor" (also known to many of us as SPF) is a simple but important way we can reduce the signs of early ageing, protect our skin from lines and wrinkles — and combine with the SunSmart staples to avoid nasty cancer risks.
What to do in your 30s
Your 30s are often a time of great change. Careers are launching and growing, you're often working longer hours, and you might be taking on greater financial responsibilities. It's also when you might be having a family, welcoming young additions to your previously quieter homes.
During this very busy decade one thing often gets skipped: sleep.
Evidence suggests that getting fewer than seven hours each night can have negative effects on your long-term wellbeing. Sleep is when your brain recharges and refreshes, including cleansing the tissue itself of toxins that build over a long day awake.
To perform your best during the day and in the decades ahead, aim for 7+ hours each night and catch up on hours missed where possible.
What to do in your 40s
This is when your family is growing and your body is ageing.
Now is the time to be setting the best example for young kids, family members and friends — but also the time to be investing in yourself.
Not smoking is probably the best thing you can do to avoid premature aging and a whole host of dangerous health outcomes. It is also best for those around you, who could face the same serious challenges from second-hand smoke exposure.
Also, watch the booze.
When it comes to alcohol, less is more. For healthy men and women, it's best to drink no more than two standard drinks (think one generous glass of wine or full-strength beer) on any day, and aim to have most days alcohol-free.
What to do in your 50s and 60s
The age of rock and roll after decades of hard work, these are the years when life is to be really enjoyed!
Your working hours might be beginning to scale back and greater financial freedom could see you investing more in dining out or travelling.
This is also the time to really invest in your health.
Most Australians tend to gain weight over the middle decades of life.
Our 50s and 60s are a perfect period to reset health goals and in doing so, wind back our biological clock.
First, focus on food.
Ensuring we eat a diverse diet based on whole foods — fruits and vegetables, seeds and grains, nuts, healthy oils (like olive oil) and the occasional lean meat or fish — will be the best recipe for a healthy heart, skin, brain and bones. The fibre protects our bowels, and the micronutrients from a range of seasonal produce will ensure we have all biological bases covered.
Then, combining good food with regular exercise sees a winning approach.
We should be aiming to get 30-60 minutes on most days, with a mixture of cardio and strength training. This sounds like a lot, but simply with a walk to work, some time in the garden, tennis with friends or an evening jog, we can keep our muscles, heart and bones strong — crucial for staying nimble into our later years.
What to do in your 70s and beyond
I don't know about you, but I plan to live like my 95-year-old nan when I'm nearing the big century milestone. With a social life more packed than mine and a walking pace that can tire most 40-somethings, one secret to her mental and physical agility is her "go get it" approach to life and ageing.
Staying active and maintaining a close community of friends and family is the final piece of the healthy ageing puzzle.
A strong social network has many benefits for our mental and physical health: it keeps our minds sharper for longer, ensures we have social support when we need it, and provides us that friendly nudge to stay out and about.
Turning back the clock
Getting old might be an inevitable part of life, but staying healthy for longer is well within our reach. By taking a few simple measures at each stage of life, we'll all have the best chance of ageing gracefully.