There is no magic elixir of youth unfortunately. We can’t turn back the hands of time, but there is however a way to ensure that you are your fittest, healthiest and happiest self at 75, writes Kim Hofmann, registered dietician with an Honours in Psychology and a Virgin Active expert on nutrition.
On 7 April, we celebrated the 75th World Health Day. The day was founded by the World Health Organization (WHO) to shine a light on global health in the hope that everyone, everywhere can attain the highest level of health and wellbeing.
For many, days like these are often a reminder that we have strayed from our health and wellness goals causing us to jump back on the latest fad diet, or commit to a full hour in the gym daily, even though we know we don’t have the time, and set unrealistic goals like losing 30kgs by Spring. We’ve all been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt that’s two sizes too small to prove it.
Imagine if instead, we took the time to picture what health and wellness means for us on a holistic level right now, and what it looks like for us as we age. What do we hope our 75-year-old self is going to feel and look like? And the first thing that pops into mind shouldn’t be a wrinkle-free complexion.
As we age, it’s only natural to wish we could stop the clock. To slow down the natural physical progression of our bodies and our minds. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to have a time machine? The irony is that we don’t need to time travel to significantly influence the health and wellness outcomes for our older selves.
One of the biggest influences on our health, wellbeing, and the way we age is diet. We’re living in a time where we’re being told that deprivation is the key to looking good and feeling good. Carbs are bad, cut them immediately. Gluten? The big bad no-no. Protein, only lean. These are just some of the messages we are hearing. Diet deprivation focuses on all the foods we should not eat – and often the list is a long one.
Labelling foods as “good” and “bad” or constantly saying “no” to the foods we want and enjoy can lead to excessive cravings, overeating, or binge eating, amongst other things. Deprivation can also cause us to dislike more nutritious, or “healthy” foods. But the biggest problem with a deprivation mindset is that eating that way is simply not sustainable, and not conducive to long term health and wellness. We fall off that wagon very quickly, and usually we fall hard.
But what does this have to do with time travel?
If we really want to be our healthiest older selves, we need to shift our mindset about the way we are living today. Essentially it’s as simple as going back 75 years. Before processed foods, convenience foods and restrictive diets, we were typically eating a well-rounded diet consisting of all the food groups. We were also eating portions that are very different to our portion sizes today.
Research shows that since 1990, global overweight and obesity rates among adults have increased by 27.5%, while such rates among children and adolescents have increased by 47.1%. In 1950 only 10% of adults in the US were obese as compared to today (41,9%).
Type 2 Diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and mental health issues, all of which are noncommunicable diseases that are primarily caused by lifestyle choices, have all increased substantially over the last 75 years. Causes for this include many more processed options, an ‘upsize’ mentality when it comes to eating out (the average restaurant meal is four times larger than it was in the 1950s), and increased added salts, sugars, and other additives.
By shifting our mindset and moving away from today’s diet culture and back into a nutritional space where all foods form part of a holistically healthy lifestyle, we’ll be preparing both our bodies and minds to be at their optimal health levels when we reach 75.
A fresh approach
Something as simple as incorporating more fresh vegetables into our diets on a daily basis can make an incredible difference to our wellness and ageing trajectory. The foundation of healthier living comprises of vegetables. They’re nutrient-rich, calorie-controlled, and reams of research proves that eating a diet rich in vegetables helps to stave off chronic conditions.
Vegetables also influence our gut health. As one of the most fibrous foods, vegetables improve the gut’s microbiome —the trillions of bacteria in our GI tract—which play a role in maintaining the immune system. They strengthen bones, slash the risk of heart disease, help maintain good vision and it’s even been found that people who eat more servings of fruits and vegetables may sleep longer and more restfully than those who eat fewer.
Not convinced yet? It may come as a surprise that vegetables literally feed your face. They are loaded with nutrients that help maintain healthy skin and reduce damage caused by UV light. An increase in daily intake of veggies can temper chronic inflammation that helps slow down the aging process and loss of collagen that accelerates the appearance of wrinkles.
All of these benefits from one power-packed food group.
We CAN change the future; it truly is never too late. Changes don’t need to be daunting, difficult or based on deprivation. Let’s add food to our plates – but make it the right food. Food that feeds us physically and mentally. Life is for living, now and when we’re 75. So let’s go back to that beneficial balance of nourishment and enjoyment to build the bodies that will carry us for the long run. Because then, the best really is yet to come.