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How do we remain healthy into old age?

Finn Health
  • How do we remain healthy into old age?

With life expectancy increasing, we wanted to know what advice Finn had to help everyone prepare as healthily as possible for their autumn years...

Health insurance - live long and prosper

This is something I’m currently battling with.  There’s a sudden switch goes off in your head like a lightbulb at some point in everyone’s life.  Unfortunately, it usually centres on a mirror , or set of scales.  Two of the most poisonous and pervasive products that live in our homes.  Granted, we all need a mirror from time to time to tell us if we haven’t wiped our nose properly.  But the scales…? Anyways, back to the painful process of ageing. Eugh. 
The angle we try to take, both in our personal lives and in our recommendations at The Hopsack, is to work from the inside out.  To put our internal workings in the driving seat and the showy beauty routines in the back in order to gain that critical long-term advantage.  When we measure our health by our looks, how much we weigh, etc... we don’t do it full justice.  Now - we’re not saying we refuse the regular drenching of our skin in various delicious botanic oils and creams, but we can’t rely on these routines to maintain a hard-working, high-performance human body into our 70s and beyond.  To earn these kind of long-term credits we really have to put down the beauty balm and go well beyond 'skin deep'…. 
The place we have to start is probably with the toughest advice.  But it’s pure, innate wisdom that we all have in us, and our body can’t deny, be fooled by or cheat the necessity for hard, physical work.  Yes, yes, we know you’re all expecting the anti-ageing super pill to drop its atomic payload on us any time now, but unless, and until it does, the old fashioned approach is here to stay.  It’s not to say that we think Ireland’s newfound gra for 100 mile mountain runs is the healthiest approach either, there’s got to be, and there is, a middle ground here.  
When we breathe, we respire.  Cellular respiration is the process vital to turning over our engines, it’s when we combine oxygen with the broken down nutrients from our foods that we get the spark of life known as ATP.  ATP is the precious molecule our body uses as its unit of currency in energy terms, and we create a lot of it.  Inside every cell in your body, ATP is being churned out to such a degree that we synthesise our own bodyweight in the stuff every damn day.  As we age, however, the little ATP factories in our cells (the mitochondria) die off and ATP production slows down, which means less fuel to build new DNA, to contract a muscle, to send a nerve impulse... fundamental stuff. 
The best way we can improve ATP synthesis? Climb those stairs!!  There’s been plenty of research that show really profound results from simply going for a brisk 45 minute walk over 6 weeks can increase the density of mitochondria in our cells by up to 70%.  That’s significant. And more importantly that’s not hard.  If we turned that into a 10 minute HIIT workout, or a 20 minute run then we’re going to hit some real high notes as our body gets used to the idea that it needs to be ready for more work, and switches on gene expression to allow for more ATP production the next time around.  Magic! 
Is it possible to overdo it though?  Remember those 100 mile mountain runners we spoke about earlier?  Well the unfortunate thing about exercise is that it’s a double-edged sword, at once giving us life and taking it away.  As we increase cellular respiration, going into an oxygen deprived state and start panting for air, just like putting the foot on the gas in our cars.  The 
production of metabolic wastes builds up acutely, and our bodies now have to scramble to prevent these toxic energy by-products from doing damage to healthy cells.  This stress in small amounts is healthy and helps our body to ramp up its antioxidant defences, but the unfortunate thing about exercise… it’s addictive!!  So when we build an exercise habit, which makes us feel great, the downside is that we tend to forget that a rest day doesn’t mean a 90 minute ashtanga yoga session, or just a 30 minute run.  And certainly if we’re over 30, our body needs more than one rest day per week.  
We can measure this to some degree by muscle soreness.  If your body isn’t over its last run by the time the next one comes around, then we’re pushing into a less healthy state, and our recovery window needs to lengthen... or we need to get better at recovering.  So how (says you) can we do that?  Read on… 
The below protocols are just a few ideas aimed at healthy adults.  If you’re dealing with long-term illness or taking any medication please talk to a medical professional before making any drastic changes.  We like to think of these routines, dietary interventions and supplements as somewhat of an insurance policy, part of a preventative healthcare model which is at the core of our philosophy in The Hopsack.   

Hit the sauna!  And jump in the sea!! 

Study after study is reinforcing the profound health benefits of  engaging in the time honoured ritual of making our bodies really, really hot and then cooling them down really quickly. No it’s not enough to just wear an extra layer - hyperthermic states involve sending the body to a level of heat that should feel quite uncomfortable, as should the cold water exposure.  It goes without saying that these new routines will provide a major shock to the system, so maybe the first foray isn’t jumping straight into the sea, but just switching on the cold tap at the end of your shower. 5-10 seconds to start is great, but over time you really want to try to get past the state of shock when you can catch your breath (around 2 minutes), which is when all the longevity payoffs begin to kick in, balancing and strengthening the immune system, modulating inflammation, improving your stress response - three major pillars in helping you live a longer, healthier life.  The other kicker in this situation is the euphoric state you get to enjoy when you get out, your body literally rewarding you for staying alive during its brief flirt with frigid temperatures… 

Sweet dreams - getting the 40 winks 

This seems too obvious to state but poor sleep is the enemy to a long life.  And so many of us are suffering in this regard, and have major trouble seeing our way out of the hole.  Granted there may be elements (e.g. tiny humans) that necessitate a shorter or more broken sleep than we feel we need, but there are ways and means to get our sleep on track, and make the most of whatever short time we get to snooze.  

  • Screens off, WIFI off, lights down - even if we don’t think we’re sleeping poorly there’s a huge body of research that points towards the evils of evening blue light exposure, which is the type that most of our screens give off.  Even the apps that control the colour temperature of your screens only go so far towards this, so try to give at least 30 minutes before bed over to a no screens habit…
  • Keep a cold bedroom - studies show that keeping the temperature of the bedroom to a level where it’s uncomfortable to hang out in our underwear leads to deeper more effective sleep patterns.  The more deep sleep the better our body and immune system have a chance to recover and do some housework, the more REM sleep we get (at the end of each sleep cycle of which we should aim to achieve a minimum of 5 per night) the better our brain feels the next day, having a chance to cement the memories and experience of the previous day
  • Practice breathwork during the day - when we take time out of our busy lives, even 1-2 minutes to draw our focus inward and listen to our breath the resulting changes that take place in our physiology are profound, imparting benefits that mimic what we get when we sleep - activating our parasympathetic nervous system to afford us myriad advantages like stress and inflammation reduction.  And to top that, the more we practice going into these reflective states, the better our body becomes at dropping off to sleep when it’s in the right environment.  Try it!  Even after a couple of days of training, when our brain gets the signal that we’re tuning into our breath, it slows our pulse and we enter a little dream state.  So when we then apply the same protocol in bed our body just knows what to do! ● Avoid stimulants and sugar - 
  • Invest in a great mattress!! 

The herbs!  

Ashwaganda, Turmeric, Holy Basil - it seems like Ayurveda really has this area sewn up, with myriad herbs stemming from the Indian sub-continent’s ancient medicinal culture now achieving the spotlight in terms of their ability to improve our wellbeing and act on specific aspects of our physiology that can assist our longevity protocols.  Thinking of ashwaganda in particular - a recent study demonstrated how it consumption helped to switch on “heat shock proteins”, protective molecules associated with the benefit from heat exposure that activate body protective mechanisms such as the production of glutathione...but that’s another day’s reading!!  
Magnesium  -  So much research has focused on this longevity promoting nutrient that it’s become known as the mineral of youth!!  Involved in over 300 different enzyme reactions, magnesium plays a critical role in energy production (strongly related to the synthesis of that ATP stuff we talked about before), and also crucially in terms of ageing, it helps to relax smooth muscle, helping to take pressure off the heart and improve blood flow around the body. 
Greens and blues - you’ve probably heard of the principle of eating the rainbow at this stage, but just to reinforce the idea...A recent study came out that looked at what happened when we 
consume chlorophyll rich (green) foods, and the results are fairly astonishing...we know how plants produce energy right? Photosynthesis from their own chlorophyll content. Well...so can we!! This study demonstrated humans producing ATP from having high chlorophyll content in their blood.  Sounds like science fiction, but almost as incredible as Donald Trump being president of a country, or amazon flying our parcels to us on the backs of tiiiiny helicopters, humans can photosynthesise too!!  Now we’ve heard it all eh!  
Regarding those blues - there’s not many foods in the world where consuming a mere 80 grams a day has been shown to slow the onset of Alzheimers, but blueberries have been the subject of many studies that assess vascular and cognitive decline.  So the anthocyanin compounds that make up the “blue-ness” of the blueberry have a powerful ability to shore up the walls of our blood vessels like the boy with his finger in the dyke, and preventing that leakage is key to preserving cognitive health by improving circulation through all the tiny capillaries that travel around our brain, as well as supporting our entire blood vessel network, helping to prevent varicose veins and driving the supply of oxygen to all our body tissues. 
This article could literally go on for ever, and even though our bodies won’t, one thing is for sure - we are all living longer than our parents’ generations, so it makes sense to be making some small changes on a regular basis to ensure we put more life in our years.  We hope you manage to put some of our ideas into practice, and there’s so many more that we’d love to share with you.  We haven’t even touched on the exciting developments in which red wines will make you last longer, which coffee is best to boost your antioxidant defences, all the fun stuff!!   Oh well you’ll just have to stay tuned and catch us for round 2 sometime soon, until then - live long and prosper :)

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