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Happy Golden Years: How Lifestyle Choices Can Support Healthy Aging

By Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN+

Aging is a natural, inevitable process that every person must face, but how we age—whether we simply get older or age healthily—is partially within our control.


Getting older often conjures up images of frailty and decline. On the other hand, healthy aging, sometimes called the "healthspan," describes the collection of cognitive, emotional, and physical wellness that allows us to maintain and enjoy life. 1 Healthy aging allows you to remain independent, mobile, and resilient so you can continue to engage in meaningful activities and relationships despite the changes with age.


The outside reflection of getting older may appear as aging skin or a slower gait, but the physical and health transformations associated with aging are driven by microscopic changes at a cellular level. Understanding these processes opens the door to healthier aging, highlighting the areas where our choices can impact our overall well-being as we age.


What is Cellular Aging?


Cellular aging is when cells in our body become less efficient at performing their functions. As we age, our cells become older and more unstable, increasing signs of aging and opening the door to health concerns. 2 How fast or slow this occurs can differ depending on factors like genetics, but lifestyle also plays a role.


Research suggests there are multiple pillars of aging, but oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction within the cells are two critical contributors to cellular aging.1 Mitochondria are tiny organelles that generate energy for cells as a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The process of generating ATP also creates free radicals as a normal byproduct. Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause oxidative damage if they overwhelm the body's natural antioxidant defense system.3 4


The body's ability to fight off free radicals weakens, and oxidative damage occurs at a faster rate with age, further accelerating the cellular aging process. ATP and mitochondrial production also drop, contributing to less cellular energy and a decreased ability to defend against free radical damage. 5 6


Mother and daughter taking a photo on cellphone


What Lifestyle Choices Support Healthy Aging?


Time won't stop marching on, but you can take specific steps to support the aging process and healthy cellular function. Try focusing on the following lifestyle strategies at any age:


Get Enough Sleep


Sleep is essential for cell and tissue repair. While you are dreaming, your body undergoes restorative processes and repairs cellular damage that has occurred during the day. Circadian rhythms, the 24-hour cycles that tell your body when to sleep and be awake, also influence aging. Circadian rhythms affect hormones and metabolic health, which also influence cellular function, so lack of sleep can increase cellular aging. 7


Sleep recommendations vary depending on the individual, but healthy adults generally need 7 to 9 hours a night. It can take trial and error to find what works for you, but options include:


  • Adjusting the temperature of your room to make sure it's cool enough
  • Going to bed and waking up around the same time every day
  • Avoiding large meals late at night
  • Turning off screens an hour before bed
  • Gentle stretching and breath work before bed to calm the nervous system
  • Sleep-supportive supplements like melatonin or magnesium may help encourage a state of relaxation.8 9


Be Mindful of Stress


Stress is the body's natural and healthy response to perceived threat or danger. It can help us through tough times, but continual stress can lead to physical and mental health consequences over time. Study after study points to stress management and resilience as necessary for optimal health—including healthy aging.10


Stress is closely linked to accelerated aging, possibly because as the body prioritizes fight-or-flight responses, it moves away from the growth and repair of cells.11 This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, where our bodies prioritize energy and resources to respond more quickly in the face of danger, but if there is never a resolution of the perceived threat, the body's normal equilibrium is thrown off balance.


Simply telling yourself to stop stressing isn't likely helpful. There may be situations where you can remove yourself from stressful situations, but in many cases, we can't simply walk away from our job or daily tasks. Instead, you can look for ways to manage stress in the present and practice resilience-building strategies.


Maybe this means finding moments of peace by walking in nature first thing in the morning, practicing mindfulness and meditation, or finding healthy outlets for stress, such as yoga or breathing exercises. It could also mean looking at ways to remove yourself from situations that no longer serve you.


Women doing yoga in her living room


Prioritize Movement


Movement can help with stress and sleep, but it also independently supports healthy aging, even at the cellular level. 12 Some research suggests that a single session of heart-pumping aerobic exercise can alter the expression of nearly 10,000 molecules in the blood, including proteins, metabolites, and lipids. 13


Physical activity also supports functional aging measurements like muscle mass. Muscle mass drops with age, but regular movement may help reduce falls and even support healthy cognitive function. 13


How can you move more? Just get started. If you're new to exercise, getting started may mean a ten-minute walk after dinner, but it can also mean dancing, hiking, or gardening. Finding activities you enjoy makes it easier to stick with them long-term. Over time, you can build up to a goal of 30 minutes daily.


Avoid Cellular Toxins


If healthy aging means protecting the cells in our body, taking steps to avoid toxins and chemicals is essential. This can mean avoiding environmental toxins from air pollution, smoke, water contamination, or even household products. These toxins can contribute to free radical production and accelerated aging.14


Smoking, for example, is linked to increased wrinkles, less collagen production, and low vitamin C levels (an important cellular antioxidant). 15 Fragrances found in many cleaning products may also add to the toxic load. You can't avoid all toxins, but limiting those you can control is integral to healthy aging.


Nourish Your Body with Nutrients


Food provides the nutrients your body needs to support cellular health and building blocks for healthy bones, skin, and more—all essential for healthy aging inside and out.


For example, protein supports healthy muscle strength and function, which is especially important as muscle loss contributes to a lack of mobility as you age.16 B vitamins are cofactors for optimizing cellular metabolism (how your cells make and use energy) and support nervous system function.17 Antioxidants from food like berries, spices, chocolate, or green tea can help keep that healthy balance of free radicals to limit oxidative damage.18


Eating for healthy aging means eating a diet filled with fresh produce, protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich carbohydrates. Nutrients work together as a team; no single vitamin or mineral can do everything.


Women holding her Pure Encapsulations supplement bottle


Embrace a Holistic Approach for Healthy Aging


Healthy aging is a multifaceted approach encompassing various aspects of lifestyle, from engaging in regular physical activity to nourishing your body with nutrient-dense foods and limiting exposure to toxins. It's not solely about warding off health issues but enhancing the quality of life as we age.


A holistic approach, focusing on the interplay of lifestyle factors, can help optimize aging from the inside out. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, and it's never too early or late to start making healthier choices.


Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian and freelance health writer. She has a master's degree in nutrition and over ten years of experience as a registered dietitian.


+The views expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Pure Encapsulations®.



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