by Dr. Weil - Founder and Director, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona Health Science Center
Aging is an important part of the human experience – to deny that fact and try to fight aging is to go against nature. Rather than attempting to stop or reverse the aging process, focus on aging optimally well by maintaining good health throughout life and limiting inappropriate inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is the root cause behind unhealthy aging and the many serious illnesses associated with it, including heart disease, arthritis and some forms of cancer. A normal inflammatory response is integral to the body’s healing system, helping to bring added nourishment and immune activity to sites of injury or infection; when inflammation persists beyond its healing purpose, however, tissue damage and accelerated aging occur.
Factors contributing to chronic inflammation include smoking, a sedentary lifestyle and persistent psychosocial stress, but dietary choices have a particularly big impact. Learning how specific foods and patterns of eating influence inflammation is the single best strategy for containing the process, thereby reducing the risk of premature aging.
My anti-inflammatory diet represents the nutritional component of a healthy lifestyle and emphasizes whole grains and other slow-digesting carbohydrates; fatty cold-water fish for their anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids; vegetable protein sources such as beans, lentils and whole soy products that contain healthier fats and fewer toxins than most animal proteins; seeds and nuts; and a variety of brightly coloured fresh vegetables and fruit, especially dark berries. Limit exposure to foods that promote inflammation by reducing your intake of highly processed foods and rapidly digesting carbohydrates; avoiding fast food and products containing partially hydrogenated oils or vegetable shortening; and reducing the use of polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower, safflower, soy and corn.
Other components of a healthy aging program include not smoking; the appropriate use of dietary supplements, such as vitamin D3 and fish oils; regular physical activity; practicing healthy stress management techniques including breath work, meditation, laughter; getting at least 7 hours of restorative sleep each night; and maintaining a strong social network.
Growing old doesn't need to be synonymous with getting old - the important distinction to be made is between aging well and developing age-related diseases.
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