Simple Advice on Living Well and Aging Gracefully
Four elegant habits you can add to your daily routine today to feel better from the inside out.
My maternal grandparents lived a captivating life.
My grandfather, an Ashkenazi Jew, lived through Nazi-occupied Romania during World War II as a child. He also fell off an icy mountain twice and lived to tell the tale. My grandmother was a chemist and a damn good one. They escaped communist Romania when my mother was 12 to give their family a better life.
My grandmother passed away seven years ago from Alzheimer’s. My grandfather is still alive and is working on his fourth book. He is an active and intelligent 87-year-old who doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
My grandparents taught my mother four principles of living well that she’s passed onto me. I live by these rules with fierce devotion, and they have changed the way I take care of my mind and my body. I can’t imagine living any other way.
Learn to read the nutrition facts.
I’m fortunate enough to have a mother who taught me how to eat well from an early age. My grandfather was a pediatrician, pathologist, and nutritionist. He taught my mom how to read nutrition facts and slowly started teaching me when I was a teenager. I can’t buy anything now without reading the nutrition facts.
Even if you don’t want to eat a fully organic, all-natural, health crazed diet, it’s important to know what you’re putting in your body. With all the crap out there today, it can be hard to nit-pick ingredients lists, but here are some basics of the food label:
- Avoid trans-fat and limit saturated fat. Aim for mono and polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids.
- ‘Added sugar’ is the sugar you want to look out for. I try to avoid it in my store-bought foods as much as possible. According to the AHA, most women should eat no more than 24 grams of added sugar, 36 grams for most men.
- The ingredients list is in order of quantity in descending order. The first few ingredients can tell you a lot about the content of your food. A complicated ingredients list is usually a bad sign. The theme of this article: simpler is generally better.
- Know some ‘buzz word’ ingredients to avoid: artificial sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, hydrogenated oil, nitrates and nitrites, safflower oil, vegetable oil, to name a few.
Eat the rainbow.
Try to eat something of every color every day. By that, I mean fruits and vegetables, not skittles.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, the phytonutrients in plant foods that give them their colors, tastes, and aromas protect us from chronic disease and have anti-cancer and anti-heart disease effects. All colors count, and each color has its own unique benefits. Here are some examples, according to Harvard’s article:
- Red fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, apples, red onions, and red peppers contain lycopene, which can protect against prostate cancer and heart and lung disease.
- Orange and yellow foods such as carrots, oranges, bananas, pineapple, squash, corn, and yellow peppers contain beta cryptothanxin, supporting intracellular communication and preventing heart disease.
- Green foods such as spinach, avocados, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi, green tea, and green herbs contain cancer-blocking chemicals such as sulforaphane and indoles.
- Blue and purple fruits and veggies like blueberries, raisins, eggplant, purple cabbage, and Concord grapes contain anthocyanins, antioxidants that prevent blood clots and delay aging.
- White and brown foods such as onions, cauliflower, garlic, mushrooms, and leeks contain allicin (found in the onion family), which has anti-tumor properties, and quercetin and kaempferol, antioxidant flavonoids.
Eating something of every color isn’t as hard as it looks. Make a fruit salad (they’re delicious), smoothies are a great option to combine fruits AND vegetables, add tea to your diet, throw some shaved carrots on your salad, grab an apple for a snack instead of a bag of chips. Buy frozen, canned, or pre-cut fruits and veggies if convenience is holding you back.
The idea is to go for variety. I rarely eat the same fruits and vegetables every week, so I get a variety of nutrients from my meals.
Adhere to a simple and disciplined skincare routine.
My grandmother had beautiful skin up until the day she died. Her skincare routine was surprisingly simple, and she taught my mom how to take care of her skin from a young age. It came down to three basic ingredients:
- A gentle cleanser, once or twice a day.
- Even if it’s just a cheap moisturizer from the drug store, use a moisturizer every day.
- Wear sunscreen. This is especially important for my family. We sunburn easily, and skin cancer runs in the family.
I was always skeptical of a skincare routine that lacked serums, eye creams, and anti-aging products. Until my early 20s, my skincare routine was complicated. My bathroom counter was covered in products. I was a skincare junkie. I had pretty bad acne, so I was afraid if I left my skin to its own devices that it would implode.
I went on a 3-month road trip and backpacking trip when I graduated from college, which naturally limited how often I could wash my face and use products. I ended up washing my face about once a day, maybe, sometimes just with water and using a basic moisturizer. My skin was never clearer. I was converted.
Now I wash my face in the morning with water and at night with cleanser. I use moisturizer twice a day (sometimes I throw in a serum if I’m feeling fancy). My skin could breathe.
Sometimes simpler is better.
Walk every day.
We’ve probably all heard this one before, but that’s because it’s such a great habit. Especially with a lot of us quarantining and working from home, we might not get up and walk around as much as we used to.
My grandfather walks a mile every day by walking circles around his pool. He uses it as a contemplative time to think and ponder. There really are few excuses to not get up and move. Walk around your neighborhood or even around your house. Set a timer and get up and walk to the kitchen to get water every hour. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Harvard Health Publishing lists five unique and little known benefits of regular walking:
- Briskly walking for an hour a day can reduce the effects of weight-promoting genes by 50%.
- A 15-minute walk can “reduce cravings and intake of sugary snacks.”
- Walking 7+ hours per week can lower breast cancer risk by 14% in even high-risk women.
- By lubricating joints and strengthening muscles, walking “reduces arthritis-related pain” and even prevent arthritis with as little as five to six miles per week.
- Walking 5 days a week for at least 20 minutes can boost immune function, even reducing sick days by 43% and lessening duration and symptoms.
Disclaimer: A few healthy habits can’t fix an overall unhealthy life.
“Building a healthy lifestyle is all about making small changes that are sustainable in the long term. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
There’s no single agreed-upon definition for health and wellness. the World Health Organization defines health as:
“A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. A resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources as well as physical capabilities.”
An article published in the Croatian Medical Journal goes even further to provide three accepted definitions of health:
1. The absence of any disease or impairment.
2. A state that allows the individual to adequately cope with all demands of daily life.
3. A state of balance that an individual has established within himself and between himself and his social and physical environment.
The same goes for defining a healthy lifestyle. Harvard Health Publishing defines a healthy lifestyle as a healthy diet, physical activity, healthy body weight, no smoking, and moderate alcohol intake. WebMD goes a step further to add sleep, good posture, solace, family time, good dental hygiene, and ‘happy feelings’ and a positive attitude to the mix.
Health and wellbeing are subjective. What is healthy for one person may not work for another person. It’s up to you to define what health and wellbeing mean to you and live it.