A Galapagos tortoise can live to be nearly 200 years old because longevity is part of its genetic make-up. Although it's unlikely that any human being will blow out 200 candles on a birthday cake any time soon, experts believe that we are actually built to last about 100 years. In fact, most experts place our maximum life expectancy at between 115 and 120 years, and some scientists believe that eventually there may be no limit to our lifespan.
But what's the point of pushing those boundaries – or even reaching age 85 or 90 – if your body is so broken down you practically crawl around like a tortoise? The good news is there's no reason to feel burdened by aging when you can grow old gracefully. What's the best advice for finding your personal Fountain of Youth? It's simple: Eat more fruits and vegetables, eat less fat, get regular exercise and don't smoke.
Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day provides your body with vitamins and nutrients that boost your immunity, combat free radicals and guard against disease. It's best to get these vitamins from a balanced diet, of course, but we all have days when we feel we can't drink one more glass of orange juice or eat another asparagus spear. Rather than compromise your health, take daily vitamin supplements. A multivitamin with folic acid, for example, can reduce the risk of heart disease by 45 percent. Calcium supplements (up to 1200 mg per day) protect against osteoporosis, a leading cause of hip fractures in older adults. And studies have shown that people who take supplements that include vitamins C and E and the carotenoid lutein have a 50-70 percent lower risk of developing cataracts, another age-related disease.
If you equate aging with a decline in physical and mental abilities, remember the basic tenet for maintaining body and brainpower: Use it or lose it. Limited (or lack of) physical activity can cause your joints and muscles to tighten as you age. Regular exercise, on the other hand, helps maintain flexibility and balance, and improves endurance and muscle tone. You don't have to run a marathon or exercise to extremes. Just make sure you get physical activity on a regular basis; for example, take a walk four or five times a week. Exercise not only reduces your risk of certain diseases (eg, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis) and keeps your body agile, it sends oxygen to your brain, which helps you maintain your mental acuity.
And while it's true that some mental tasks may take a bit longer as you get older, it's important to keep your mind active. Play strategy games like chess or backgammon, solve crossword puzzles, or play along with quiz shows on TV. Socializing with friends is another good way to keep your brain stimulated. Additionally, interaction with other people can reduce your stress level and prevent you from becoming isolated, which can lead to depression. A social support system also helps you face the challenges and losses that naturally come along with aging, and that can help you maintain a positive attitude.
Don't forget the importance of a healthy diet for brainpower, too. What you eat affects how your brain functions, so load up on fruits, vegetables and grains. And although you're already taking that vitamin supplement to improve your general health, you might want to consider adding Ginkgo biloba, an herbal supplement that's targeted specifically at improving brain function. Ginkgo biloba is especially helpful in alleviating the common complaints of aging, such as memory loss, dizziness, depression, headaches, and even some symptoms associated with early Alzheimer's disease.
And for those of you that smoke, remember that smoking places you at risk for developing many of the leading causes of death in the US, including heart and lung disease, cancer and stroke. It also causes your skin to age prematurely, and can have a negative impact on your teeth and gums. It doesn't matter how long you've smoked; the important thing is to stop – now.
All of the advice above may not help you rival the number of birthdays of a Galapagos tortoise, but it can certainly help you get more life out of your years. Eat right, exercise, stay connected with friends, use your mind, and remember the words of musician James Taylor: "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time."