It’s not been very long (and still continues to some extent today) conventional medicine looked at the body as a machine whose parts would inevitably break down until it could no longer be repaired. In nutrition school and studying biochemistry, I learned that random chemical reactions determined everything that happened in the body, the mind and body were separate and independent from each other, and genes were not only fixed but largely determined our health and lifespan.
Thankfully, scientific research is advancing at such a rate that we are developing a radically different understanding of the body and mind and how it is really a field of intelligent energy inextricably connected. We now are beginning to understand that what we know of normal aging
aging—a progressive descent into physical and mental incapacity—is in large part a conditioned response. The mind influences every cell in the body and therefore human aging is fluid and changeable. It can speed up, slow down, and even reverse itself.
Studies demonstrate the profound influence of the mind and beliefs on aging.
It is true we all have genetic predispositions, our health and aging aren’t predetermined. By making conscious choices in our behavior and where we focus our attention, we can transform our experience of our body to decrease our biological age.
These seven steps are practical ways to tap into your inner reservoir of unlimited energy, creativity, vitality, and love.
Change your perceptions about your body and aging. Perception is simply the selective act of attention and the interpretation of that intention. The experience of your “reality” including what you experience in your physical body and how you age, is shaped by your habits of perception. While most people are conditioned to see the body as a static, biological machine, you can begin to view it as a field of energy, transformation, and intelligence that is constantly renewing itself. Begin to notice both your internal dialogue and how you speak about your body and aging. If you find yourself saying things like, “I’m getting so old. I am beginning to get rickety” “I’m too old to start exercising,” “I inherited my dad’s eyesight,” or other statements like this, make a conscious choice to shift your perspective and change what stories you tell yourself about your body and how you age.
Meditate to manage stress. Meditation is a simple yet powerful tool that takes us to a state of profound relaxation that dissolves fatigue and the accumulated stress all that accelerates the aging process. During meditation, our breathing slows, our blood pressure and heart rate decrease, and stress hormone levels fall. Meditation calms the mind, and when the mind is in a state of restful awareness, the body relaxes too. Research shows that people who meditate regularly develop less hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, and other stress-related illnesses that speed up aging. New studies show that meditation literally restores the brain. A groundbreaking study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital found that as little as eight weeks of meditation not only helped people feel calmer but also produced changes in various areas of the brain, including growth in the areas associated with memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress regulation. This study adds to the expanding body of research about the brain’s amazing plasticity and capacity to grow and change at any stage of life. We can nurture our brain’s power and maintain a youthful mind by developing a regular meditation practice.
Sleep restfully. Getting regular restful sleep is an essential key to staying healthy and vital, yet it is so often neglected or underemphasized. There is even a tendency for people to boast about how little sleep they can get by on. In reality, a lack of restful sleep disrupts the body’s innate balance, weakens our immune system, and speeds up the aging process. Human beings generally need between six and eight hours of restful sleep each night. Restful sleep means that you’re not using pharmaceuticals or alcohol to get to sleep but that you’re drifting off easily once you turn off the light and are sleeping soundly through the night. If you feel energetic and vibrant when you wake up, you’ve had a night of restful sleep. If you feel tired and unenthusiastic, you haven’t had restful sleep. You can get the highest quality sleep by keeping your sleep cycles in tune with the rhythms of the universe, known as circadian rhythms. This means going to bed by about 10 p.m. and waking at 6 a.m. Ideally, eat only a light meal in the evening, before 7:30 if possible, so that your sleep isn’t hampered by the digestive processes. You can go for a leisurely walk after dinner and then be in bed by 10 p.m. It’s also very helpful to download your thoughts from the day in a journal before going to bed so that your mind doesn’t keep you awake.
Nourish your body with high-vibe healthy food. There are “dead” foods that accelerate aging other high-vibe fods that renew and revitalize the body. Foods to eliminate or minimize include items that are canned, frozen, microwaved, or highly processed. Focus on eating a variety of fresh and freshly prepared food.
A simple way to make sure that you are getting a balanced diet is to include the six tastes (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent) in each meal. The typical American diet tends to be dominated by the sweet, sour, and salty tastes (the main flavors of a hamburger). We do need these tastes, but they can lower metabolism,especially if eaten in excess.
The pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes, on the other hand, are anti-inflammatory and increase metabolism. These tastes are found in foods such as radishes, ginger, mustard, peppers, spinach, mushrooms, tea, lentils, lettuce, and so on. Along with the six tastes, filling your plate with the colors of the rainbow promotes a long and healthy life. We can literally ingest the information of the universe into our biology. Foods that are deep blue, purple, red, green, or orange are leaders in antioxidants and contain many nutrients that boost immunity and enhance health.
Examples of foods of the rainbow:
• Red: Red tomatoes (particularly cooked), red peppers, red/pink grapefruit, watermelon, red grapes, beets, red cabbage, apples, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, cranberries
• Orange/yellow: Squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkin, cantaloupe, mangoes, papaya, nectarines
• Green: Broccoli, kale, spinach, cabbage, peas, avocado, collard greens
• Deep blue/purple: Plums, blueberries, black raspberries, blackberries, purple grapes, eggplant (with skin)
Move your body. It is not even a question that exercise benefits the body in so many ways but the slowing down of aging is a really profound benefit on the biomarkers of aging, including muscle mass, strength, aerobic capacity, bone density, and cholesterol. Not only does exercise keep the body young, but it also keeps the mind vital and promotes emotional well-being.
A complete fitness program includes exercises to develop flexibility, cardiovascular conditioning, and strength training. Find an aerobic activity that you can do regularly and that you love—three to four sessions each week for twenty to thirty minutes is usually enough to give you substantial benefits. After your body is warmed up, spend five to ten minutes stretching. You will also want to include strength training in your program to systematically exercise the major muscle groups of your body.
The important thing is to start off slowly, find physical activities you enjoy, and do them regularly. If the most you can do right now is walk around the block, do that, and you will be surprised how quickly you increase your endurance and enthusiasm for moving and breathing. As you get stronger you can add in some ballet or yoga exercises, a dance class, or maybe even martial arts style workouts. Do something that makes you happy and fuels your passion and your body will thank you.
Cultivate loving relationships. Isolation and loneliness create the perfect canvas for rapid aging. Heart attack and death rates are known to increase among the recently widowed and among men who have been suddenly terminated from their jobs without warning and against their will. The emotional value of social bonding is immense, yet in some countries,including the U.S., we have moved in the opposite direction for decades. With increasingly long hours spent working, more time in front of the television, the advent of hours on social media (I know, right? That should bring people more opportunities to be social but it’s actually disconnecting us further) and a population constantly on the move, social bonding keeps declining. The trend will be exacerbated as the fastest-growing population, those eighty and older, move into retirement homes. It’s becoming increasingly rare for older people to be cared for at home, and there is still a stigma in Western countries about seniors being a burden to the young and a drag on society.
The key here is to stay connected and open to new relationships throughout your life. Resist the impulse to go quietly into semi-isolation because you assume that society expects that of you. Losing friends and spouses is an inevitable part of aging, and many people can’t find replacements or lack the motivation to. By “replacement,” I don’t mean a new spouse and family (though that is certainly a possibility), but emotional bonds that mean something to you and offer continued meaning to your existence. No amount of reading and television substitutes for human contact that nourishes on the level of love and caring. One of the most effective steps is for older people to become involved with mentoring programs, education, and youth programs.
Cultivate a youthful mind. There is an ancient Vedic aphorism that says, “Infinite flexibility is the secret to immortality.”
When we cultivate flexibility in or consciousness, we renew ourselves in every moment and reverse the aging process. Children offer the finest expressions of openness and flexibility. They play and laugh freely, and find wonder in the smallest things. They are infinitely creative because they haven’t yet built up the layers of conditioning that create limitations and restrictions.
To maintain a youthful mind, write down two or three things you can do that are totally childlike. Think of something that evokes childhood for you—eating an ice cream cone, going to a playground to swing, coloring a picture, jumping rope, or building a sand castle. Find something that brings back the sense of fun you had as a child, even if you think you’ve outgrown it, and choose one of these activities to do today.
As you carry out your childlike activity, let yourself embody the archetypal carefree and innocent child. The feeling you’re aiming for isn’t a return to childhood, but something more profound, as expressed by the brilliant therapist A.H. Almaas: “When we look at a child, we see that the sense of fullness, of intrinsic aliveness, of joy in being, is not the result of something else. There is value in just being oneself; it is not because of something one does or doesn’t do. It is there in the beginning, when we were children but slowly it gets lost.” By re-experiencing our childlike nature, we not only cultivate a youthful mind, but we also connect to the part of us that is never born and never dies—our eternal spiritual essence.
Aging the way our grandparents or even parents did, in my view, is not a foregone conclusion. Taking steps to cultivate a youthful mind, body and spirit will keep you young at heart and even maybe keep that pretty face beautiful and graceful forever.