How to be healthy at any age

YHL speaks to a range of natural health experts to find out how to maintain good health at any stage of life

1. Maintain a healthy brain

“The brain is involved in almost everything we do, from talking and walking to sleeping and breathing,” says Amy Hipwell, Nutrition Advisor at Viridian Nutrition (www.viridian-nutrition.com). “It is therefore important to maintain a healthy brain throughout all stages of life and ensure it has the necessary nutrients to function properly. From early on, there is a specific need for increased iodine in pregnancy for foetal development. Iodine contributes to optimal brain function. Iodine deficiency has been shown to be one of the major causes of mental impairment in children, adults and the elderly.

“B vitamins are needed for proper energy production in the brain. Vitamin B1 specifically relates to brain function as it mimics the important neurotransmitter involved in memory. Zinc is a fundamental element in optimal cognitive function, especially due its antioxidant properties. Additional supplements of key antioxidants, such as zinc, have been shown to limit premature ageing of the brain.

“Brahmi, an adaptogenic herb, is often unheard of but is needed for long-term working memory and mental performance. Brahmi can also improve performance after the onset of cognitive decline. Choline has been shown to improve memory function as it increases brain acetylcholine concentration. Iron, lemon balm, sage and essential fatty acids such as EPA and DHA all aid in helping the brain to function in full capacity throughout life. Certain groups like the elderly, pregnant women or those following specific diets such as veganism may require extra support to fill nutritional gaps. To support these diets and for therapeutic amounts of these specific ingredients, additional supplementation can be useful for ‘feeding’ the brain.”

2. Support your gut health

“There are many reasons why it is important to maintain good gut health at any age,” says Marilia Chamon, a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Functional Medicine Practitioner and founder of Gutfulness Nutrition (www.gutfulnessnutrition.com). “The gut microbiome (the community of bacteria, yeasts and viruses that live inside our gut) has begun to be recognised as an essential factor in overall health and can be considered the control centre of the entire body.

“Previously it was thought that the gut microbiome was only responsible for harvesting energy from the foods that we eat but we now know it does much more than that: it synthesises vitamins and hormones, regulates our metabolism and blood sugar, influences our genetic expression and brain chemistry. But most importantly, about 70 per cent of our entire immune system resides in the gut. The composition of our gut microbiome can shape a healthy immune response or leave us more susceptible to diseases.

“Having good gut health means having a diverse and balanced number of bacteria residing in the gut as an imbalance of the microbiome creates an inflammatory response that can lead to chronic health conditions. Research demonstrates that one of the best ways to achieve good gut health is by eating a varied and colourful diet, aiming for 30 to 40 different plant foods per week. Think vegetables, fruits, beans, pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds in all shapes and colours. They provide different types of fibre that serve as food for our gut bacteria. Other natural ways to support the health of our gut include adequate sleep, stress management and exercise; and the avoidance of unnecessary medication is equally important!”

3. Follow a plant-based diet

“Standard Western diets, high in animal proteins and saturated fat, negatively impact our health by promoting oxidative stress and inflammation in our bodies,” explains Lisa Simon, a Registered Dietician at Plant Based Health Professionals (plantbasedhealthprofessionals.com). “As well as being linked to several different cancers, including bowel, prostate, breast, and pancreatic, they can be low in fibre. In comparison, a plant-based diet is rich in fibre, antioxidants that help to reduce inflammation in the body, healthful plant chemicals, and micronutrients. These include vitamins, and minerals such as iron, magnesium and zinc. Plant-based diets help reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, but they can also help manage and even reverse some of these conditions. A high fibre, plant-based diet is rich in nutrients but is less energy dense than the standard Western diet, and can therefore help people to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. It can also help to balance hormones. A plant-based diet can be followed at any age, from childhood right through to older age. Vitamin B12 is really important as there are no reliable plant-based dietary sources. You do not need to take large doses, as the body can only absorb a tiny amount at one time, so I would advise 25mcg daily.”

4. Protect your bones and joints

“All too often, bone and joint health is something that we don’t think about until we’re either older or injured,” says Abbie Watkins, a qualified Personal Trainer from OriGym Centre of Excellence (origympersonaltrainercourses.co.uk). “However, as with most things, prevention is better than cure. Taking the necessary steps towards looking after bones and joints is the best way to avoid (or at least slow down) diseases such as osteoporosis.

“Whenever we think of keeping our bones and joints healthy and strong, we automatically think of calcium, and for good reason! Your bones are the main store of your body’s calcium, and if you don’t have enough calcium in your diet, your body will take it from your bones. Over time, this can cause your bones to weaken and can even cause osteoporosis. Some calcium-rich foods that are easy to get into your diet include dairy foods, leafy greens, soya and nuts.

“A lesser-known aspect of nutrition that can help you to maintain healthy bones and joints is eating plenty of protein. Everybody knows that protein is essential for building muscle, but fewer people realise how this benefits bone and joint health. Because muscle is essential to support strong bones and joints, having enough protein in your diet is really important. You should aim to eat 0.36g of protein for every pound of your body weight.

“Nutrition aside, exercise also plays an important role in bone and joint health. Resistance-based and weight-bearing exercises are essential in protecting bone health and slowing down bone loss as we age. Low impact exercise including swimming and bodyweight workouts is a great way to build muscle and subsequently strengthen your joints.”

5. Reduce inflammation

“From an evolutionary perspective, the inflammatory response is a biological advantage,” says Alex Ruani, a Doctoral Researcher in Nutrition Science Education at University College London, and chief science educator at The Health Sciences Academy (thehealthsciencesacademy.org). “We need it to survive pathogenic infections and injury. However, our modern lifestyles and poor eating habits may lead to something called ‘low-grade chronic inflammation’ in the body.

“Low-grade chronic inflammation not only makes us age faster but it has also been associated with the development and progression of almost every single chronic condition you can think of – from pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s. From the moment we are a developing embryo in our mum’s womb through to childhood and adulthood, until our final days, reducing low-grade chronic inflammation is critical in maintaining good health and longevity. This is because low-grade chronic inflammation disrupts the normal functioning of cells and organs, leading to metabolic complications, accumulated tissue damage, and the shortening of our lifespan.

“So healthy eating shouldn’t be just something to consider in our later years, but also in our early life. It’s never too late to start changing our eating habits to help reduce low-grade chronic inflammation. Besides diet, maintaining a healthy body weight, ensuring sufficient quality sleep at similar times daily, managing our stress levels, avoiding smoking, and breaking a sweat with regular aerobic exercise can all help to reduce low-grade chronic inflammation in the body.”

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