If you ask the majority of people aged 60+ if they feel old, the chances are that they will respond that mentally they are still in their youth, it’s just their body that lets them down. It is often the physical changes that occur with ageing that affect, even hamper, lifestyles that are at the core of what most people consider makes them feel ‘old’. The wisdom and experience we accrue over a lifetime frequently affords useful hindsight into what we should have done in our earlier years that would have allowed a more gentle transit into older age. In the same way that we save in our early years to ensure a good pension pot to fund our retirement, should we not value our health, saving in terms of diet and lifestyle modifications that will ensure that our ‘health’ pot is full enough to allow us to enjoy the fruits of old age?
For many people, hitting the age of 40 is when things start to change. It’s easy to think back 10, perhaps 20 years and reminisce on the activities that filled our days and how it all seemed easier to some extent to juggle a busy lifestyle with raising children, holding down a demanding job and still finding time for social activities with family and friends. So what is it that happens to us physically that makes it feel like things slow down, and what can we do health wise to promote the best with regard to physical and mental health?
Muscles and bones
When we reach 30 we naturally start to lose muscle mass and those of us who are physically inactive can lose as much as 3% to 5% of muscle mass per decade. On top of this, age-related bone loss, whereby bone loss increases and bone formation decreases, is gradual and progressive, affecting both men and women and increasing the risk for the development of a number of health issues, including osteoporosis. Bones undergo continual regeneration and the decrease in bone mineral density associated with oestrogen deprivation is particularly noted in menopausal women in their 40s and 50s.
Weight-bearing exercises are excellent for healthy bones, forcing the body to resist gravity and stimulating production of osteoblasts – the specialist cells responsible for making new bone. Combining this with some strength training to make the muscles pull on the bone will further increase bone strength. As we age we also become less flexible, so if we can retain muscle mass, keep our bones strong and maintain our strength and flexibility, we can expect to continue to do the things we enjoy into our older years. Weight-bearing exercises combined with cardiovascular exercise alongside a weekly dose of yoga or Pilates, will help to improve flexibility, core strength and stamina, as well as good balance and posture.
What about diet? There are a number of dietary factors that influence how well the body holds on to its muscle stores and the first is related to protein – high quality protein in particular. By this I mean the type of protein that contains the complete set of amino acid building blocks required by the body. Whilst meat and eggs provide the complete set of amino acids, vegetarians need to ensure they eat a variety of plant-based foods to ensure they meet their protein requirements. The exact amount of high quality protein needed daily to maintain long-term muscle mass hasn’t been definitively established, but you should aim for around 1g/kg body weight and up to 1.5g/kg if particularly active or under a lot of stress.
Calcium and vitamin D are essential for healthy bones: incorporating plenty of dairy and leafy green vegetables in your diet will provide calcium and oily fish is an excellent source of vitamin D. The long-chain omega-3 fats (EPA & DHA) found in fish and fish oils also help to support both muscle mass and bone strength. Studies show that these fats actually block the production of osteoclasts – bone-resorbing cells – whilst stimulating the production and activity of bone-forming osteoblasts. If you are a fish lover it’s worth noting that making stock from the bones themselves is also highly nutritious. In fact, bone broth (created by boiling down bones, skin, cartilage, tendons and ligaments from fish or animals), creates a wonderful gelatine-rich liquid that provides the amino acids necessary to make collagen, the glue that holds the body together, thereby supporting joints, hair, skin and nails! It’s also a wonderful immune booster too and those infamous chicken soup recipes really do have some scientific backing! 
Do you remember when you could dance all night in your 20s, run for miles in your 30s but can’t quite muster up the same kind of energy in your 40s? If you feel like you don’t quite have the get up and go that you did in your earlier years, then the answer might be found in your mitochondria. These are the tiny energy houses that are found in every cell of the body and are responsible for creating the energy needed for every metabolic process that occurs in the body, every second of every day.
The mitochondria are dependent on a number of enzymes to be able to carry out these energy-producing steps, and – you guessed it – these enzymes start to become depleted as we age! Aconitase and lon protease are two examples of enzymes that reduce with age and affect energy, however it is coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) that you may be more familiar with. This potent antioxidant protects cells from the impact of free radicals (damaging molecules that are produced daily) and is the key enzyme involved in energy production, with low levels of this vital molecule sapping energy levels whilst literally speeding up the ageing process (CoQ10 can limit the impact of oxidative damage to cell membranes and DNA). We are at our most efficient at producing CoQ10 in our 20s, with levels starting to decline thereafter.
Whilst CoQ10 is found is low levels in a variety of plant-based foods, it is found predominantly in animal products, and especially in organ meat. Only around 10% of CoQ10 requirements are met through diet alone, however, and topping up levels can have a positive effect on various aspects of health. To complicate things slightly, the majority of CoQ10 supplements available are likely to be relatively ineffective; this is because they contain the oxidised version (a form of the enzyme called ubiquinone) rather than the full activated ubiquinol form that plays a direct role as both an antioxidant and a cofactor for energy production.
As we hit the milestone of 40, some of us may find it more difficult to focus on close-up objects, forcing us to reach for the reading glasses. This change in eyesight is due to the normal hardening of the lens (a condition called presbyopia), which, over time, can thicken to form a hard cataract coating that may need surgical removal. Whilst presbyopia is not related to any disease of the eye per se, there are a number of more serious age-related eye conditions/diseases that have greater potential for affecting quality of life as we grow older, including glaucoma, macular degeneration and dry eye syndrome.
The human eye is particularly susceptible to oxidative damage from free radicals that are generated as by-products of normal metabolism, as well as oxidative damage from external sources (i.e. cigarette smoke, pollution, UV light). DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, is naturally concentrated in the retina of the eye where it plays a number of significant roles in modulating eye function. DHA is, however, extremely vulnerable to oxidative degradation. The eye is therefore also naturally rich in a number of antioxidants such as alpha- and gamma-tocopherols (types of vitamin E), as well as the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which function to quell free radicals and to protect DHA from the potential ravishes of free radical damage.
Diets that are either low in omega-3 and/or antioxidants (as fruit and vegetables) can therefore potentially exacerbate poor eye health and increase the risk of a number of eye-related health conditions. We should therefore aim to eat at least 2 portions of oily fish a week to increase omega-3. Fruits and vegetables of various colours have a relatively high content of lutein and zeaxanthin and it’s important to include a good range of colours. Dark green leafy vegetables can contain relatively high levels of lutein, for example, but a very low content of zeaxanthin. For those who prefer fish oils to fish itself, there are a number of studies using omega-3 supplements (with and without the addition of antioxidants) that have shown highly promising outcomes for the management of a number of eye conditions, most notably dry eye syndrome and age-related macular degeneration. 
Memory and cognitive function
If you are anything like me and are constantly looking for your phone or your keys, then looking for ways to keep your mind sharp may be high on your list of health priorities! Although new neurons develop throughout our lives, our brains reach their maximum size during our early twenties and then begin very slowly to decline in volume. Blood flow to the brain also decreases over time. Cognitive decline is not, however, just a ‘normal process’ associated with ageing and many studies have shown that the brain remains capable of re-growth and of learning and retaining new facts and skills throughout life, especially for people who have nutrient-rich diets, get regular exercise and frequent intellectual stimulation, whether learning new skills or simply interacting with others.
When it comes to diet, our friend the omega-3 raises its hand again! Alongside the retina, neurones have the highest concentrations of DHA where it plays numerous roles in influencing both brain structure and function. DHA’s partner, EPA, whilst not found in such considerable amounts within the brain itself, is found within the circulation, with low levels known to be a risk factor for cognitive impairment.  As with most areas of health, it is unlikely that one single nutrient will be the answer to delaying any health issue and it is important to include a variety of whole foods to supply a range of brain-boosting nutrients whilst avoiding processed and refined foods that will only act to deplete the body’s own natural (and reducing) reserves.
Supplements for healthy ageing
Whilst we can’t stop ourselves from ageing, we can put valuable actions in place to reduce the impact of ageing on our quality of later life. The secret is to make changes early in life rather than look back and wish we had made different choices. Adopting both a healthy whole food, nutrient-rich diet and a ‘clean’ and active lifestyle are paramount in healthy ageing. At Igennus we understand that not many of us can be angels all the time and as such we offer a range of nutrient ‘top-ups’ to help ensure we are exposed to a range of essential nutrients. Our VESIsorb Ubiquinol-QH provides a generous 100mg fully activated CoQ10 in a highly bioavailable form to ensure maximum delivery and maximum health benefits, increasing energy and antioxidant status. For convenient bone and joint support as a daily top up, why not try our Omegaflex DUO. The highly bioavailable glucosamine and calcium alongside vitamin D and EPA-rich fish oil makes it the ideal and convenient method of replenishing the core materials, reducing bone loss and protecting against wear and tear. Finally, the daily blend of antioxidants and omega-3 such as those found in MindCare PROTECT can offer that extra boost towards looking after both brain and eyes!
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