Watching my father and other older people in my life struggle with brain health has been a wake-up call for me. I’ve been too complacent in what I put in my mouth, and I’ve been adjusting my dietary intake over the last few months as a corrective measure. There are three things that I’m most concerned about as I get older: Brain health, heart health and avoiding cancer as long as possible on my march to 100. We can’t control everything, but we can control what we eat and drink. So with that in mind, there are the foods that most experts agree improve your overall health and resilience, and the foods that are harmful to your health. It seems simple to adjust the menu accordingly.
“Good” foods include fatty cold water fish like salmon, blue fish and sardines, blueberries, green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, extra virgin olive oil, avocados, eggs, seeds and nuts and dark chocolate(!). Wash it all down with lots of water, coffee and tea and some red wine in moderation. Hey! This is pretty much my diet already! Easy, right?
“Bad” foods include french fries, hot dogs and hamburgers, donuts, cheese, refined carbs like white rice and foods associated with high mercury like tuna. Wash this toxic mix down with soft drinks (either regular or diet) and alcohol and you’re asking for trouble….. I have work to do on this one. I dropped all sugar drinks and largely avoid artificial sweeteners, but tuna, bacon, burgers and cheese are tough subtractions. Making them a rare treat instead of a regular part of the menu is a good step forward.
The x factor is exercise and sleep. I used to pride myself on working on five hours of sleep. No longer. I sleep until I wake up, and I’m not shy about going to bed earlier than everyone else in the house. I like getting up early, I just need to go to bed earlier to make up for it. Exercise is the one that misses the mark too often for me, and it’s the one I’m focused on most now. Walk, row, hike, bike and swim. Those are my favorite exercises, and they all lend themselves to better health. But listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast with Peter Attia woke me up. Attia talked about the “Centennial Olympics”, which for him means being healthy enough to lift a great-grandchild or get up off the floor by yourself when you’ve been playing with them. Dial that back factoring in the decline in strength and muscle mass that comes naturally with aging, and he’s figured out the amount he has to do now as a late 40’s active adult to build the endurance necessary to get there. Interesting… As someone who casually states that I’ll live to be 100 as a target number (knowing fate may intervene), wouldn’t it be good for me to get there healthy in mind and body? What’s the point of living to 100 if you don’t really live when you get there?
Nothing keeps the mind sharp like daily work, and I’m pushing myself with more diverse reading, travel, writing more, playing chess, picking back up on French and learning other new skills. Writing daily established the habit, and refined the skill. Reading opens my mind to new ideas from the greatest minds in history. Travel offers new perspective on living. And the rest just keeps the mind challenged in different ways. If nothing else I have more to talk about at parties.
So I’m exercising the mind, modifying the diet, drinking more water, getting more sleep and prioritizing daily exercise. Will it get me to 100 healthy and sharp? Only time will tell, but it’s a better way to live anyway, and who doesn’t want to be more vibrant, engaged and active now, the only time guaranteed to us?