How can a car run for almost 50 years and still look as sharp as the day it rolled off the lot? The answer is simple: proper maintenance. If the tires wear out, they’re replaced. If the oil needs changing, it’s changed. Not surprisingly, maintenance is also the secret to a long and healthy life for humans. Think of your cells as anti-aging mechanics. If you treat them right, by eating well and exercising, they will tune you up on a daily basis. If you don’t take care of them, they will go on strike, and you will age faster. You’re in the driver’s seat. You have the power to slow down the aging process, and I have the plan. All you need is 24 hours!
Do Yoga, Reduce Stress
I hope you had a good night’s sleep, because we’re starting early. I begin each day with a seven-minute yoga-inspired exercise routine. By the time you’re 50, your heart has beaten about 2 billion times ; a lot of wear and tear. Yoga can repair some of the damage by helping lower your heart rate. It also relaxes your blood vessels and reduces stress, which is especially important as you begin the day. (One recent study found there are 36 percent more heart attacks on Mondays — just when people are heading back to work — than there are on Sundays.) So start your day with yoga or a light exercise routine.
Eat Breakfast, Look Younger
Now that you’re warmed up, let’s tackle a common complaint about getting older: wrinkles. Two substances — collagen and elastin — make up the supportive scaffolding beneath your skin, like a hammock. When you’re young, the scaffolding is intact, and your skin appears smooth. As you get older, though, the scaffolding starts to break down, like a hammock whose strings have been cut. Even worse, sugar in your bloodstream can latch onto these strings and tie them in a knot , blocking your cells from repairing them. The earlier you cut added sugar out of your diet, the better. Instead of a sugar-laden breakfast, start your day with oatmeal and eggs. Oatmeal’s low glycemic index raises your blood sugar levels more slowly, and the protein in eggs boosts your metabolism; a perfect combination that might ward off wrinkles and keep your weight in check.
Snack on Berries, Help Stave Off Cancer
Cancer is a frightening thing. I say that from personal experience, having had my own cancer scare. Fortunately, some of the most powerful anticancer weapons can be found in your pantry. The foods you eat might be able to starve cancer cells. I know that sounds counter intuitive, but it’s not. All cells in the body, even cancer cells, need access to the blood supply. Your blood vessels are a highway of nutrients. When a cancer cell starts to grow, even before it’s detectable by your doctor, it must build a ramp so it can hijack nutrients from the blood supply. Berries may help prevent that ramp from forming. They also contain antioxidants, which reduce inflammation and oxidative stress and may help guard against certain cancers.
Take a Walk, Build Muscle
Before eating lunch, go outside for a brisk walk. We lose muscle mass as we age, which leaves us weak and our bones vulnerable. Vigorous physical activity can prevent frailty. And 15 minutes in the sun is typically all you need to make your own vitamin D. In one study, scientists found that those with the highest vitamin D levels had longer telomeres (small bits of DNA on the ends of cells that get shorter each time a cell divides) — giving these people about five extra years worth of cell division. If you can’t get outside, take about 1,000 international units of vitamin D3 daily.
Take a Break, Supercharge Your Cells
By middle age you’re not only feeling exhausted; your cells are also starting to wear out. The reason? Shorter telomeres. Every time a cell divides, a little chunk of telomere gets spent. When you run out of telomeres, the cell stops replicating. My secret cell supercharger is astragalus, an herb that’s been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. New studies suggest that a compound in astragalus can affect telomere length in cells. I recommend taking up to 1,200 milligrams of astragalus with a glass of iced coffee or green tea. The caffeine in these drinks naturally boosts metabolism, helping you burn calories.
Eat Fish for Dinner, Boost Your Brain Health
Twice a week, try serving oily fish such as salmon, tuna, or sardines for dinner. Omega-3 fatty acids in these fish should help boost your memory. And face it, memory decline may be one of the most obvious signs we’re getting older. When we’re young, we can process, store, and recall information like a supercomputer. As we get older, it takes the brain a lot longer to download information, kind of like a computer with a bad Internet connection. In addition to eating more fish, reduce your intake of processed meats – bacon, sausage, hot dogs. These foods contain nitrites, which may be linked to Alzheimer’s.
Have Sex, Live Longer
Preliminary studies suggest that frequent sex might add years to your life. (One European study found that men who had sex less than once a month were twice as likely to die in a 10-year follow-up period as those who had sex at least twice a week.) Set the mood with a glass of red wine beforehand. Red wine contains resveratrol, which might fight off heart disease.
Hit the Sack Early, Reset Your Internal Clock
Getting enough sleep may be the single most important thing you can do to extend your life. I always try to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. We now know that the best sleep comes between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., which is when the highest levels of melatonin are circulating in your brain. So don’t fight your body’s natural cycle. Get to bed! And, last, if your doctor has prescribed aspirin for heart health, take it right before sleep. A new study suggests that this is when it has the most impact — the same way doing yoga in the morning helps lower blood pressure when you first wake up — bringing our 24-hour plan full circle.
When it comes to slowing down aging, just remember: What really works are the small things, done right, every single day. My 24-hour plan is simple and easy to do. Explain the plan to someone you care about, and get started today. Age isn’t just an amount of time passed; it’s a state of mind. If you think young, and feel young, you will be young.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is a cardiothoracic surgeon and the host of “The Dr. Oz Show” on NBC. This originally appeared in the AARP Magazine; www.aarp.org.