The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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December 11, 2012

6 simple steps that can help you age healthfully

People have a wide variety of wish lists for improving their health, but we all share one goal: Everyone wants to age well.

Of course, aging is somewhat unfair, because a few lucky people will breeze easily through eight or nine decades without even trying — due to their good genes — while the rest of us have to put in some effort just to get that far.

But not necessarily a lot of effort. Aging well — or, at least, aging better — doesn't have to be that hard. After talking to many aging experts and looking at the latest findings on aging from around the world, it's clear that people can improve the way they will age.

To start with, you need to know what makes you age, and that means you have to pay attention to what happens inside your cells, where aging begins. Scientists are finding that most of the cellular processes that cause the body to gradually decline with age are affected by diet, lifestyle, exercise, stress and other outside influences.

For example, the food you eat influences the production of harmful free radicals during metabolism. These are unstable, unpaired electrons that cause tremendous damage as they flail around inside your cells. Although research on this subject is far from complete, damage from free radicals (called oxidative stress) is widely considered one of many factors that cause cells to age and malfunction in various ways.

Scientists have also discovered the role of telomeres in aging. These are caps on the ends of strands of DNA that protect a cell's genetic material when it divides. But they get a little shorter with each division, and once they get too short, a cell can no longer function normally. Older people have shorter telomeres, but so do people with high stress and poor sleep habits.

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