De-stressing, a Mediterranean diet and good company are some of the ways to improve your ageing journey

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De-stressing, a Mediterranean diet and good company are some of the ways to improve your ageing journey


Kieran Walsh Professor of Ageing & Public Policy and Director of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology University of Galway with Jacquie Lynskey Head of Senior Support Service, Cope Galway and Prof Rose Anne Kenny guest speaker at the talk Age Proof, The New Science of Living a Longer, Healthier Life, hosted by COPE Galway on Monday night.
De-stressing, a Mediterranean diet and good company are just some of the ways you can improve your ageing journey, according to expert in the field Professor Rose Anne Kenny.

“Positive Ageing Week is a point in time every year where we get the opportunity to shine a light on the amazing contribution that actually is the reality of older people in our lives, in our families, in our neighbourhoods and in our communities.”

Jacquie added that, “Unfortunately, for the longest time, but most particularly since Covid, that is not the picture we see in relation to older people in our communities. And that is why it is really important we take every opportunity we can to change the narrative. If we see a positive image of ageing that’s where we will gravitate ourselves.”

During her talk, Prof Kenny explained how genes contribute to 20 – 30 per cent of lifespan and the rest, 70 – 80 per cent, are environmental factors.

“Isn’t that fantastic? We can actually modify our lifespan. It’s all in our own control. And just in case anyone’s thinking it’s too late for me – it’s never too late. But the younger we start the better.”

“Almost everything we can do to modify biological ageing are fun things,” she assured. “It isn’t agony, it’s not misery. If there’s no other message from this evening, I’d love you to appreciate that.”

Prof Kenny said she was doing her bit for her own ageing journey by going for dinner with a friend that evening and then for a morning swim in the bay. She said good quality relationships are “incredibly important”, and friendships as an “anti-oxidant” to human cells.

But she acknowledged the way our societies have evolved for many generations was “fragmenting community and social engagement, making it much more difficult”.

Loneliness has a biological impact and accelerates the dementia process as well as physical ageing. In fact, it’s as important a risk factor for death as cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, smoking and low physical activity.

Prof Kenny warned after the age of 45 we’re losing one per cent of muscle mass a year, and said resistance exercises, such as weight training, were therefore recommended.

She pointed to the behaviour and habits of people living in the blue zone – five regions in the world where life expectancy is longer than the average. They are Loma Linda (California), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Sardinia (Italy), Icaria (Greece) and Okinawa (Japan).

Residents of these regions tended to adopt an 80 per cent calorie satiation, meaning they stopped eating when they were 80 per cent full.

But meat lovers can relax, because she said while many in her field would recommend a plant-based diet, “the jury’s out on this”. She did however say research clearly shows a Mediterranean diet (fruit, vegetables, olive oil, fish, whole grains, nuts, etc) leads to longer, healthier lives.

Prof Kenny repeated the Okinawan Proverb: eat something from the land and something from the sea every day.

Stress is one of the most important external factors that accelerates biological ageing, and she referred to how all blue zone regions practised “de-stressing rituals” of some kind whether that be happy hour in Sardinia or taking a nap in Icaria,”.

She said negative perceptions of ageing influences physical and mental health, but acknowledged that “it’s hard to feel positive about ageing if you’re being bombarded by negative messaging from the media or your family or wherever”.

“There’s good research to show you’re as young as you feel,” she said. “But it’s very important that we embrace a positive societal attitude to ageing to enable people to feel as young as they as they want to be.”

On Tuesday (27 September 2022) it was announced that Prof Kenny’s book, Age Proof, is one of six books to have been shortlisted for the Royal Societies Science Book Award.

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