Holding back the years – the secret to ageing well
Living a healthier and happier life is something that we all aspire to achieve, but often the path to that goal can be a difficult one to find, and then stay on, particularly as we get older.
So ‘the mentl space‘ podcast sat down with Professor Rose Anne Kenny, author Age Proof, which explores how we age and advances research that shows that 80 percent of the aging process is within our control.
Her research is based on 21 years as the founding Principal Investigator of Ireland’s largest adult population study on the experience of ageing in Ireland – The Irish LongituDinal study on Ageing (TILDA).
According to Prof Kenny, the key, she told the podcast, is through understanding the connection between our physical and mental health, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits that can positively impact both.
Prof Kenny believes that the factors that contribute to a long and healthy life are also important for maintaining good mental health.
“There is a good science now behind you are as young as you feel, and attitude matters, and having a positive attitude matters and believing in yourself. Therefore that should give people confidence that ‘I don’t feel whatever age I am, I feel this age, and therefore I am that age biologically’.
“Our body isn’t separate from our mental or brain health. And, all of the factors that we know make for a healthier, happier, long life are things that are really important for mental health,” she explains.
“And the solutions to having a healthier, happier, longer life are the same solutions like having a purpose in your day, creativity, volunteering, social engagement, curiosity, variety, variety in your diet.”
The importance of diet on ageing
The importance of diet in maintaining good mental health is something that Kenny emphasises. She explains that the microbiome, or the collection of microorganisms that live in our gut, can have a significant impact on our mental health. “We know the diet is really important through the microbiome, that good bacteria for mental health,” she says.
Kenny also stresses the importance of reducing stress levels in order to maintain good physical and mental health. She explains that chronic stress can accelerate the aging process and contribute to a range of diseases. To combat this, she recommends finding ways to share and offload stress with others, such as through social engagement and peer groups. “A solution to this is sharing your issues with others,” she says.
Kenny points to a study that demonstrated the benefits of social engagement in reducing stress levels. In the study, psychology students were divided into two groups, one of which was allowed to discuss a topic with their peers before a debate, while the other group had to work alone. The stress levels of both groups were measured, and those who were able to share and engage with others had significantly lower stress levels than those who worked alone.
“It’s never too late” to impact your ageing
Kenny notes that many cultures that have traditionally longer lifespans and lower rates of disease also have rituals built into their day that help to reduce stress levels. For example, in Sardinia, people share a meal in the afternoon, while in Loma Linda in California, groups pray together as a way of de-stressing. “All of those factors are de-stressing,” Kenny explains.
In Ireland, Kenny notes that religion and social engagement go hand in hand for many older individuals. “Practice, religion is very common, particularly amongst people over 60, certainly over 70. And that involves usually meeting others and engaging in a ceremony on a Sunday morning in church,” she says. Kenny and her colleagues have found it difficult to separate the impact of social engagement from the impact of spirituality or belief in this context.
Ultimately, Kenny believes that adopting healthy lifestyle habits early on can have a significant impact on both physical and mental health as we age. She emphasises that it’s never too late to make positive changes, but the earlier we can introduce those changes, the better. “The earlier we can introduce those behavioural changes, the better,” she says.
In conclusion, Professor Rose Anne Kenny believes that the key to living a healthier and happier life is through understanding the connection between our physical and mental health, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits that can positively impact both. She emphasizes the importance of diet, social engagement, and stress reduction in maintaining good mental health, and points to the importance of incorporating de-stressing rituals into our daily lives. By making positive changes early on, we can set ourselves up for a healthier and happier future.
Key ageing takeaways from Prof Rose Anne Kenny
- “The solutions to having a healthier, happier, longer life are having a purpose in your day, creativity, volunteering, social engagement, curiosity, and variety in your life and diet.”
- “Stress is really bad for physical and brain health, and a solution to this is sharing your issues with others and having a peer group that you can share with and offload.”
- “All of the cultures which have traditionally longer-lived numbers in their population proportionately with less diseases like Alzheimer’s, arthritis, high blood pressure, etc., have de-stressing rituals built into their day.”
- “As individuals, we need to take responsibility for our own health, both physical and mental.”
- “The earlier we can introduce behavioral changes for a healthy lifestyle, the better.”