By 2009 the average life expectancy for a man is Australia was 79.3 years, and for a woman it was 83.9 years. That’s a big difference compared to the late 19th century when men lived just past 47 and women until about 50.

But while we’re now living longer, we’re not all living longer and well, with the number of years of disability and disease later in life on the rise. But it doesn’t have to be that way – here we uncover some lesser known secrets of ageing well.

Boost your B vitamins to stay smart

As we age the level of an amino acid in our body called homocysteine rises. Homocysteine causes brain shrinkage and brain degeneration leading to memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s. Research from the University of Oxford found high doses of B vitamins reduces homocysteine and may reduce brain shrinkage by up to 53 per cent.

Patrick Holford, author of The 10 Secrets of Healthy Ageing (Piatkus, $35), says “I test my homocysteine level every two years. I also take a high potency multi-vitamin containing B6, B12 and folic acid. You have to take a supplement to get the level of B vitamins you need to lower homocysteine. “The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDI) of B12 is 1mcg, which you can get from a couple of eggs or a piece of fish or meat. But the optimal amount to stop memory loss and brain shrinkage is 10 mcg daily.”

Eat natural anti-inflammatories

Wear and tear on joints is natural, but you can protect your joints from the level of deterioration that leads to fractures, osteoporosis and arthritis. Eating plenty of foods with natural anti-infammatories helps to keep joints healthy, says Holford.

He lists his top four anti-inflammatory foods as turmeric, olives, red onions and omega-3 fish oils found in salmon and mackerel.

“Eating an onion a day is associated with a 5 per cent increase in bone mass,” he says. “Spices such as ginger, turmeric, mustard and chilli are excellent anti-inflammatories, so use them as much as you can in cooking. You can also take a teaspoon of good quality olive oil daily as it contains an anti-inflammatory called hydroxytyrosol. All these foods are excellent for keeping joints healthy.”

Find spiritual peace

The social support provided by a spiritual practice – no matter which religion – may help us age better, says Dr Lynn Ward of the School of Psychology at the University of Adelaide. Ward has researches old age and death and is one of the authors of Lifespan Development (Wiley, $127.95).

“Religious involvement may provide social support networks and it impacts via positive relations with others and by community involvement and a feeling that you are giving back to the community,” says Ward.

“It addresses perceptions of purpose and meaning in life, and it may be associated with improved immune function via stress reduction techniques like meditation, prayer or forgiveness. There is also evidence that religious involvement protects against depression.”

Description: “Vitamin A is found in fish and meat and in orange vegetables”

“Vitamin A is found in fish and meat and in orange vegetables”

Load up your skin with vitamin A

If you want skin to stay supple, stock up on vitamin A. It’s a potent antioxidant stored in skin cells, but over time and due to sun exposure, stores are depleted. “Load your skin with vitamin A – eat it, supplement it and use a vitamin-A-based skin cream,” recommends Holford.

Vitamin A is found in fish and meat and in orange vegetables, so eat plenty of squash, carrots, butternut pumpkin or sweet potato. But the most direct way to feed your skin is to apply a vitamin-A-based skin cream.

“I use it every day and some studies show rapid reversal of age spots and wrinkles with the use of transdermal vitamin A.” says Holford.

See good heath – not declining health – as a natural part of ageing

Attitudes towards ageing play an important role in our experience of older age. “People who perceive health problems to be a normal, inevitable part of ageing are less likely to take preventative care,” she says. “But those people with positive self-perceptions of ageing adopt more preventative health behaviors – such as eating a balanced diet, exercising and following instructions for any medications.”

Ward refers to the international Blue Zones study that identifies areas where people live longer, healthier lives. The research has found having the right outlook can be worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy – referred to as the “why I wake up in the morning” rule.

Having a sense of purpose and empowerment and doing things you like to do is important.

Fill up on fibre

To maintain a healthy weight, Holford recommends a diet rich in fibre, particularly soluble fibre that absorbs water. So fill up on oats, porridge, flax and chia seeds.

“Have a teaspoon pf ground chia seeds with your oats,” recommended Holford.

“Soluble fibre slows down the release of sugars in your foods. This makes you feel fuller for longer, reduces appetite and stabilized blood sugar. The critical point in weight loss is to not feel hungry. Soluble fibre stops you feeling hungry and craving carbohydrates.”

The Japanese have developed a “super-soluble fibre” called glucomannan that comes in powder or capsules.

A teaspoon in a glass of water just before a meal makes you feel fuller and cuts your appetite. It’s also good for constipation,” says Holford.

Protect your eyes from toxins

Almost 1.5 million Australians aged

55 or over suffer from cataracts, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Cataracts occur when our eyes come into contact with toxins from things like sunlight, pollution, cigarette smoke and fried foods. “But increase your intake of antioxidants and you protect your eye health and lower your risk of cataracts,” says Holford.

Three key nutrient groups protect eye health: vitamin A; antioxidants such as vitamins C and E; and carotenoids. These can be found in mustard, turmeric, blueberries, broccoli, spinach, watermelon, beetroot, tomatoes, and carrots.

“The older you get the more vitamin A you need for eye health,” says Holford, who recommends a supplement of 4000mcg of vitamin A daily.

“If you start to have eye problem it’s the first nutrient you should have more of.”

Follow the Almeda 7

The Almeda 7 refers to seven health habits that research has linked to a longer, healthier life. The list is named after Almeda county in the US where the then pioneering research was conducted in 1965, explains Ward.

The seven health habit are:

“People with better health habits at midlife and into old age tend to live longer, but they also postpone disability,” says Ward.

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