15 ways to age well and stay healthy
To grow older gracefully, you should slow down and live life at your own gentle pace, according to Carl Honore, the author of the best-selling book In Praise of Slowness. Ailin Quinlan finds out more.
1. Invest in healthy skin - the shift towards slow ageing is inspired by the slow movement; the concept of doing things at the right pace, doing them well, and obtaining the best results.
The beauty industry can often nudge women towards the quick fix, says Carl Honore, but the slow movement is about slow fixes - moving away from the idea of a miracle overnight cure or magic bullet.
When it comes to skincare, it's important to use good-quality products which suit you and also, he emphasises, to understand that their use must be embedded in a healthy, positive lifestyle. At the end of the day, he says, the way you live your life will determine how well your skin ages.
2. Chill out - stress can add up to 10 years to your appearance. Dial it down with meditation, exercise or simply taking regular me-time.
"Studies suggest that high stress takes a toll on the nervous system and this affects the skin.
"A little stress goes a long way and can be useful, but if you're in a permanent state of fight-or-flight mode your system's pumping out harmful hormones which take a toll on your body, inside and out," Honore says.
3. Enjoy vices in moderation - there is nothing wrong with alcohol or mouth-watering foods; just avoid having too much of a good thing.
"We have a tyranny of 'clean eating' at the moment, in which people tend to demonise everything except kale and oats," says Honore, who believes there's nothing wrong with having a drink now and again.
"We're only human, after all," he says, pointing out eating the right amount of the right things all the time can be stressful.
"So, loosen up and have a bit of fun. A big part of the slow culture is about striking a balance, finding your personal equilibrium and knowing when to have a glass of wine and when not."
However, he advises, always avoid smoking.
4. Eat well - put healthy fare in your body and your body and mind will reward you by ageing gracefully. "Eat as little processed food as possible. Try to avoid eating anything that has ingredients you neither recognise nor understand," Honore counsels.
"It's possible to maintain a healthy diet through small acts of discipline - but don't turn it into a stick with which to beat yourself."
Make a point of eating mindfully, he emphasises: "Too often we dine 'al desko' while doing something else." Last, but not least, eating is ideally a social event - when we break bread with others, we connect.
5. Don't rush - do less. Boost your happiness and protect your body and mind from burnout by giving everything you do the time it deserves, Honore advises. As Mae West said: "Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly."
Look at what you are trying to squash into your schedule and prioritise. Identify what's really important and let the rest go. "We're manically overscheduling ourselves because we are terrified of wasting time," he warns. So learn to press 'pause' during your day and check your personal speedometer. If you find you're going too fast, take a few deep breaths and slow down.
6. Turn off the telly! - too much TV can make you lonely and depressed. "People are still watching TV for up to four hours a day," observes Honore.
So switch off, go out into the world and age more gracefully. "Watching TV is a passive interaction; it's a kind of apathy," he explains. "Too much TV can leave you feeling glum, possibly because watching it switches you into passive or 'receiver' mode."
7. Keep your mind active - the brain is a muscle that needs exercising. Do anything - blogging, art, crafts, reading, Sudoku - to give it a workout by pushing out of your comfort zone and learning new stuff.
"When you're active and engaged, you tend to be more comfortable in your own skin and more alive to the world," says Honore. "Your brain is switched on. This transmits to your face and makes you a person people want to be around and to talk to."
8. Be in nature - the natural world acts like a soothing balm, cutting stress, boosting happiness and improving cognition, all of which helps you age better.
"There is a huge library of research that shows when we go into green spaces, the level of our stress hormones reduces and we feel calmer and more centred. It nourishes body and soul, which feeds into ageing well," Honore says.
9. Have purpose in your life - nothing helps you age well like having a reason to get up in the morning! "It's important to have purpose, whether it's volunteering for Oxfam or caring for an elderly parent," Honore says.
It's simply crucial to have something that gives shape and meaning to your life. "Many of us have an altruistic gene and, as people get older, they often feel they want to leave something good behind - this goes hand in hand with ageing well," Honore adds.
10. Be positive about ageing - study after study has shown that embracing ageing, rather than recoiling from it, can help you age better. According to Honore, a positive attitude to getting older can even add 7.5 years to your life.
"A big part of this is about ageing stereotypes becoming self-fulfilling prophecies," he explains.
"If you firmly believe that getting older means being less mobile, or well, or happy, there's a chance you will suffer more of these things because you believe that they're inevitable.
"It's very uplifting to see the research that shows that people who don't dread ageing, and see it as a good thing, actually age better physically and mentally."
11. Know thyself - ageing can bring greater self-knowledge. Delve deeper into yourself and develop the kind of inner peace that will help you age well.
Become comfortable with yourself. "Part of the problem with the 'fast' culture is that we lose touch with ourselves and end up running away from ourselves," Honore says.
"A big benefit of slowing down means you encounter yourself and become comfortable with who you are and how you want to be in the world." A big part of ageing badly is living the wrong life for yourself. "Ageing well is all about becoming who you are meant to be and if you leave doing that till you are 75, it's a shame."
12. Sleep more - sleeping is nature's way of keeping your body and mind in good working order. Adequate sleep is a given for overall health, as well as healthy ageing, says Honore.
"There's a mountain of research showing that too little sleep takes a toll on you mentally and physically. Sleeping less equals ageing badly."
13. Socialise - we are social animals and interacting with other people - friends, family, lovers, colleagues, perfect strangers, anyone really - helps us flourish. "There's lots of research showing that one thing that keeps us well is social contact, and one thing that takes a heavy toll is loneliness and isolation. Social media is not the same as being in the physical environment with another human being. If you're lonely, you will be less well and you won't age as well."
14. Do your mental housework - dealing with emotional baggage from the past is a good way to lighten your load and help you age with a spring in your step.
"If you're carrying around a rucksack of emotional baggage and trauma, it is not good, so put your emotional house in order, rather than boxing off the baggage and letting it fester," Honore urges.
You will need to pause and reflect on what the baggage means - so don't be afraid to share some of your emotional heavy lifting with a loved one, a friend or a professional.
15. Exercise - scientists have shown that regular, moderate exercise three times a week, for about 40 minutes at a time, can help to slow down the symptoms of ageing, Honore points out. "Being actives makes a huge difference to the way the body ages and develops as we get old. It keeps us stronger, both physically and mentally."
Well-known personalities on keeping well
Pamela Ballentine (58), who lives in Belfast, presents UTV Life. She says:
I like to walk a lot and go to Pilates classes a few times a week. I also try to squeeze in 10 minutes of Pilates at home if I remember. I have a very good diet and would usually cook a healthy meal in the evening, like a stir fry. For lunch I would make a salad or something like that, and get my five a day, every day. I also drink a lot of water, and think that a positive mind set is key. Also I feel like you should listen to your body, if you need to sleep, then sleep. My one fall down is savoury food, I love crisps and cheese and then sometimes a little glass of something to accompany it.”
Belfast-born This Morning host Eamonn Holmes (57), lives in Surrey, with wife, Ruth Langsford, (57), and their son, Jack, (15). He has three grown-up children Declan, Niall and Rebecca from his first marriage. He says:
Once a week I go to the gym and do about an hour’s training, to build up stamina after my double hip operation. I also go to a Pilates class once a week, and cycle for 10 minutes on a daily basis, to get my heart rate up. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke but I wouldn’t say that my diet is healthy. My problem is regularity with meals and I am an emotional eater and an overeater, but I am very good at getting my five day. I love pak choi. Ruth is also very good at making homemade soups and things like that, but my one downfall would be savoury food. My water intake is good and I would have a couple of pints of water a day.”
INTERVIEWS: CHRISTINE CARRIGAN