Want to grow younger in 2012? Pump iron a few times a week.We all know what can happen as we get older: memory loss, aching bones, low libido, heart disease, diabetes . . . But the real culprits aren't the problems per se, but the biological mechanisms that cause them in the first place. Here are 10 major agers -- and what you can do to fight back and stay young.
1. Major Ager: Bad Genes and Short Telomeres
Responsible for: Memory Problems
Your genes are key in determining how you age -- and which conditions and diseases you're most vulnerable to getting. It's true, you can't change your genes, but you can help control the way they're expressed. How? Take telomeres -- the tips of your chromosomes. They're much like the tips of a shoelace, and with general wear and tear, they can shorten and fray, causing age-related health issues, such as memory loss.
Action Plan: Help keep your telomeres -- and memory -- sharp with stress reduction, brain games, and regular exercise.
2. Major Ager: Oxidation and Inefficient Mitochondria
Responsible for: Heart Disease
When mitochondria -- the parts of your cells that turn food into energy -- do their job, they produce oxygen-free radicals that cause dangerous inflammation. Just like an old factory, aging mitochondria spill this "industrial waste" into your body's environment, and the effect -- oxidation -- is what causes "rusting" of your arteries, which contributes to the aging of your cardiovascular system.
Action Plan: Help counter oxidation and get the waste out of your system by taking 162 milligrams of aspirin a day (check with your doc first) and eating healthy foods like fish, fruit, and vegetables.
3. Major Ager: Stem-Cell Slowdown
Responsible for: The Damaging Effects of Stress
Stem cells repair damaged cells throughout your body -- damage that can be caused by anything from sunburn to smoking. But as you age, you lose stem cells, which leaves you more vulnerable to stress-related conditions and less able to recover from damage to your body.
Action Plan: Keep your stem cells intact by avoiding the things that damage them: protect yourself from sunburns; reduce stress, and if you smoke, quit.
Ready to kick the habit? Use this 10-step guide to quit smoking for good.
4. Major Ager: Declining Defenses
Responsible for: Weakened Immunity
When it comes to aging, we're not only concerned with acute infections -- colds, flu, and such. We're also concerned with chronic infections. They're the ones that can trigger an inflammatory response that ages your entire system. How? Chronic inflammation -- from an overworked and stressed-out immune system -- leaves your body underequipped to cope when something goes wrong.
Action Plan: qigong, a series of meditative movements that help calm the immune system to reduce chronic inflammation.
5. Major Ager: Toxins
Responsible for: Cancer and Respiratory Problems
You live in a world with chemicals spewing out all around you -- from cars, cleaning products, and factories. Some of the toxins make themselves obvious (for instance, they smell bad), but many are colorless or odorless, so you don't notice them seeping into your world and your body.
Action Plan: Don't live in fear of every chemical, but be aware of your environment, and make it as healthy as you can.
6. Major Ager: Glycosylation
Responsible for: Diabetes, Vision Problems, Heart Disease
It sounds like something you'd order up at Jiffy Lube, but glycosylation is a form of cellular aging that has dramatic effects. When excess sugar molecules in your blood attach themselves to protein molecules on the surface of your cells, they goop them up and keep them from performing as they should. That's glycosylation. And it contributes to vision problems, heart disease, and diabetes, among other things.
Action Plan: Keep your blood sugar levels under control by maintaining a healthy weight -- and waist size -- being physically active, and eating a balanced diet. If you're overweight, losing just a couple of inches around your middle will help reduce glycosylation.
7. Major Ager: Too Many Calories and Sirtuin Slowdown
Responsible for: Obesity and Digestive Issues
Limiting calories activates a protein in your body called sirtuin, which helps neutralize aging. Here's how: Sirtuin is like sunshine -- it helps your cells thrive, divide, and rejuvenate your body with new stem cells, which repair age-related damage, so you live younger.
Action Plan: Don't consume more calories than you need to maintain a healthy weight.
8. Major Ager: Neurotransmitter Imbalance
Responsible for: Sleep Problems, Cognitive Decline
"Neurotransmitter" is just a fancy name for a messenger in your brain. And we all know the damage that can result from crossed wires and mixed messages. It's no different inside your head. If your neurons aren't communicating effectively, your whole system gets out of whack. As you age, you lose some of your neurotransmitters -- and that's linked to issues such as depression, cognitive decline, and sleep problems.
Action Plan: Deep sleep helps your neurotransmitters fire more efficiently, which in turn helps you sleep better. Adequate sleep also helps prevent weight gain.
9. Major Ager: Wacky Hormones
Responsible for: Menopause
Hormones. They go up and down and all around and eventually start to decline. During menopause, as your body settles into its new hormonal equilibrium, you may experience symptoms that profoundly influence how you feel, from hot flashes and sleep problems to aching joints and forgetfulness.
Action Plan: Try meditation to help calm hot flashes, and get plenty of exercise and calcium to build -- and keep -- strong bones.
10. Major Ager: Not Enough Nitric Oxide
Responsible for: Sexual Dysfunction, Sleep Problems
Swirling around in your body is a gas called nitric oxide (NO). It plays a pretty big role in keeping your body healthy by turning on a chain reaction in your cells that allows blood vessels to relax and dilate. The decline in NO that occurs as we age is partly responsible for such problems as sleep disorders and erectile dysfunction (turns out nitric oxide helps control erections). Action Plan: Activate the release of nitric oxide in your body through deep nasal breathing. Or head for the sauna -- the heat helps your body release NO.
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