The topic of ageing is a complex issue. To live a long and fulfilled life is a blessing of which many don't get the privilege, yet we're a society obsessed with feeling -- and certainly looking -- younger.
Looks aren't everything, but they make us feel good. More important, though, is true inner health. But how can we be healthy in order to slow down the ageing process?
"Firstly, people who look terrific on the outside don't always look great on the inside. You can't look at someone and think 'gee they look good, they must be healthy'. It doesn't work like that. But, the more you practise the five keys of being healthy, the less disease you'll have and the slower the ageing process," Doctor Ross Walker told The Huffington Post Australia.
And Walker is a pretty reliable source on the topic. An expert in integrative cardiology, Walker has over 35 years experience as a clinician, has performed 15,000 studies and published seven books on the topics of health and cardiology.
"Here's the problem though. Our body was physiologically designed to work well for 30 to 40 years wandering around a jungle with a spear. We would have had our head ripped off by a saber tooth tiger or died of infection. So the peak of anyone's life is 30 and it's all downhill from there," Walker said.
Though it's not all bad news. Walker believes you can reduce the degeneration of the body by certain techniques. Here, the five keys of being healthy which help to slow down the ageing process, in the increasing number of importance:
You can not be healthy and smoke, drink too much grog, or snort cocaine. Anyone who has any addiction to any substance is unhealthy, end of story.
It's the same thing with coffee. Coffee, in low doses, is good for you. A couple of cups of coffee a day reduces the risk of gallstones, kidney stones, parkinson's, alzheimer's, many of the common cancers, type 2 diabetes and stroke. But, if you have more than four a day you lose the benefit.
And it's the same thing with alcohol. One or two glasses of red wine has been shown, when you combine it with a healthy diet, to have some benefits. But, if you go overboard you lose the benefits.
The dose here is what is important.
Seven to eight hours of good quality sleep every night is as good for your body as not smoking. People who cultivate a nightly good sleeping habit are slowing down the ageing process and also get less disease.
30 percent of the population has a sleeping problem. There is a clear link between people with insomnia and diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancers. It's the same with shift workers and international pilots and flight attendants. So cultivating a sleep habit is very important.
What you put in your mouth. Nutrition is easy -- eat less and eat more naturally.
Last week a study came out from the British Medical Journal showing that there is no link between LDL (bad) cholesterol and heart disease. In fact, the higher your LDL the longer you live. So all this cholesterol and saturated fat talk is nonsense. There is no link between the intake of meat, eggs and dairy and cardiovascular disease.
The best studied diet in the world that has been around for 5000 years is the Mediterranean diet. It's very simple and is based on completely natural foods. It contains none of this processed, packaged muck masquerading as food. We are taking about having 2-3 pieces of fruit per day and 3-5 servings of veggies a day, and a serving is only as big as about half a carrot. Then little bits of meat, eggs, dairy, chicken, fish, nuts and olive oil. It's a high quality fat, high quality protein, low-ish carb diet all based around a simple Mediterranean lifestyle.
The blue zones of the world are where we need to be looking. In Okinawa, which is a little island in Japan, the natives practise a thing called 'Hara hachi bun me', which is only eating to being 80 percent full. They just don't eat a lot, and that's the point. It's the same in Sardinia, Corsica, and all of these areas are in the 'blue zones' which have similar characteristics. None of them smoke, low dose alcohol, Mediterranean diet. Of all the diets it has the best proven results for ageing, cardiovascular prevention, cancer prevention, diabetes prevention and other diseases.
Because here's another thing, it's not just about what you eat, but when you eat it. In the Mediterranean they have a good healthy breakfast with natural fruits and grains, then they go and burn off any extra carbs in the hot sun. Then they have their biggest meal at lunchtime, having a glass of wine and some pasta. The wine and the carbs make them sleepy so they have an afternoon nap -- a study of 23, 000 Greeks showed that those who had an afternoon sleep had a 40 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease just by sleeping in the afternoon -- and then they don't have much to eat at nighttime.
But what do we do in the West? Small breakfast, eat crappy stuff or a small lunch during the day, huge dinner, television. The body is not like a car. With a car you put the fuel in and use it when you want to. In the body if you put the fuel in but don't burn it off it gets laid down as fat. Eating fat doesn't create fat, excessive carbs and calories create fat.
Number four is what I refer to as the second best drug on the planet. Three to five hours a week of some form of testing exercise.
One of the problems that we all have in our modern world is we sit on our bums all day. Studies are showing that people who sit for more than 11 hours a day, which is a lot of us, have much worse musculoskeletal systems from the neck and the back, but also higher rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes cancer and obesity. So sitting is really the new smoking.
Not only should we be trying to move as much as we can during the day, we should also have, outside of that, 3 to 5 hours of dedicated exercise every week.
A lot of people don't do that, but the ones who go over that and go overboard with more than five hours of exercise per week are losing the benefits of the exercise, as they are putting too much strain on the system. So like everything, the dose is very important.
You often hear of the premature death of high performance athletes. There's a heart condition called atrial fibrillation, which is where the electrics of the heart wear out. This is all part of the ageing process, and it's much more common in athletes than it is in non-athletes.
I believe people should play sport up until the age of 30 and after that you exercise. It should be a mix of two thirds cardio, one third strength resistance training, or yoga etc. If you do the same thing all the time your body adjusts to that and you're not using different muscles, so varying your exercise is important.
It is easily the best drug on the planet. It's a thing called happiness.
Happiness has nothing to do with what's in front of you, because shit happens to everybody. Happiness is how you handle it that's important. It's cultivating that peace and contentment inside your head.
I tell my patients to never give anyone the power to cause them a heart attack. Put the effort into the people who will be standing around your bed when you do have the heart attack, and the people who will be crying at your funeral.
It's about having an attitude everyday of of choosing peace over 'this'. Another point I make to people is that it's better to be kind than to be right. Cultivating happiness is a responsibility for all of us. Happiness is an internal thing, not an external thing.
There's so much scientific data that proves that by being happy and contented generates the happy hormones. They are serotonin, our happy mood chemical, our pleasure hormone which is dopamine, oxytocin, the love hormone and the final happy hormone, anandamide, the bliss hormone.
On the flip side there are the two stress hormones, which are adrenaline and cortisone what weaken the body and can accelerate the ageing process. So if you're constantly stressed and constantly unhappy you're releasing adrenaline which constricts arteries and damages our immune system, as does cortisone in excessive doses, which is why being unhappy is incredibly bad for your body.