From the minute we’re born, we’re aging. Constant exposure to our environment, the
things we eat, and stresses from both inside and outside our bodies all cause us to age
over time. Aging is highly complex, but scientists are
starting to understand what happens at the cellular and molecular levels. For example, healthy cells are damaged over
time when our immune systems shift from reacting to short-term problems like injuries and infections,
to gradually producing chronic inflammation throughout the body. Time also gradually shortens the telomeres
that act as protective caps for our DNA-containing chromosomes. These and other changes make our bodies less
and less able to deal with stress from inside and outside of our body, so when damage reaches
a critical level, our cells, tissues, and organs may no longer perform normally and
our health starts to decline. The changes associated with aging start to
happen on some level at day one. We begin to experience their effects early
in life. For example, we lose the ability to hear certain
high-frequency sounds as teenagers, our cognition and memory slowly decline after they peak
in our mid-20s, the strength of our bones starts to decrease in our 30s, female fertility
sharply declines after 35, age-related near-sightedness begins in our mid-40s, and our hair starts
to gray and thin as early as our 30s and 40s. After the age of 50, the changes of aging
become increasingly noticeable, and because aging is the biggest risk factor for most
of the diseases that affect us as adults, the older we get, the higher our risk of chronic
disease becomes. While scientists have not yet found a way
to stop these processes of aging, they are learning more and more about how to maintain
health throughout our lives. Some aspects of aging are out of our control–like
our genetics and our family history–but we can educate ourselves about moderate risk
factors and do our best to reduce them through healthy lifestyle and diet choices. Most of us can be healthy and active well
into our later years, if we take care of ourselves. It’s no surprise that regular physical activity
can help maintain a healthy weight, improve moods and sleep habits, and boost overall
health. And it’s clear that a well-balanced diet full
or nutritious foods, is critical to good health. But when it comes to understanding which foods
are the best choices, much nutrition research has focused on how certain foods or nutrients
may have a negative effect on health, or even play a role in disease development. More recently, scientists have begun to explore
and understand how nutrition may play a role in promoting healthy aging throughout of all
life’s stages. We are rapidly learning about what foods and
nutrients should be emphasized in our diets, and how they can enhance our health. Diets full of fruits and veggies, whole grains,
legumes, nuts, and lean meats, have proven health benefits like lowering blood pressure,
improving glucose control in diabetes, weight loss, improving arthritis, and reducing the
risk of cancer and cardiovascular events, to name a few. And we are learning more about the specific
nutrients that can impact health. For example, plant pigments found in bright
orange and red fruits and vegetables may prevent and slow the progression of eye diseases. Calcium helps to keep bones strong. B vitamins play a role in maintaining brain
health. And flavanoids from many plants may improve
the health of our cardiovascular systems. The bottom line is that YOU have the power
to maintain and improve your health, add vitality to your years, and reduce your risk of disease. And it’s never too late to make a change. To learn more about the nutrients that are
critical to your health, and how to safely turn to supplements if you aren’t getting
enough of these nutrients in your diet, watch Healthy Aging With Nutrition at www.agingresearch.org/nutrition.