Aging with vitality leaves the door open to a world of opportunities – the chance to live well and enjoy what we’ve always loved to do, long before our first grey hair appeared.
Vitality is the spark that enables us to live purposefully and with joy. The foundation of vitality is health in all its forms. It’s eating nutritious foods, getting adequate sleep needed to recharge our bodies and keeping active to maintain strong bones and muscles.
Rachel Murphy, an assistant professor with the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, has her own views on vitality. They are based on her ongoing research into aging and health as well as her post-doctorate studies at the National Institute of Aging in the US. “I think vitality is a description that people use when they talk about healthy aging,” she says. “They’re thinking about aging, but also about having the same physical, mental, emotional strengths [they’ve always had] as well. Vitality is incredibly important to people as they age. It’s something that they want to maintain or perhaps work towards if they aren’t in that space to begin with.”
Focus on quality of life
And while there has always been plenty of discussion around longevity, there has been a shift in the last couple of decades to focus on quality of life, too. “There does seem to be a better appreciation for that now,” Murphy notes. “For a long time, we were more focused on years of life. People are really interested in overall life expectancy. Then we started to see that the gains in life expectancy over the past decades have not been accompanied by gains in disability-free life expectancy. So there has been an increased emphasis on eating well – and not just eating.”
A new appreciation of how well we live has been fuelled by an aging population. According to data from Statistics Canada, the number of older Canadians aged 65 and over has grown steadily since 1960. By 2036, they will make nearly one quarter of the population.
If you drill down into what vitality means, it’s more than individual factors such as sleep, healthy eating and exercise. “It’s how all of those things work together,” she says. “Those behaviours tend to cluster together. People who are more active are also more likely to eat better and have an overall healthier lifestyle. People who are active are also less likely to smoke and more likely to be of healthy body weight. I don’t think we should be thinking about these individually. We should be thinking about how people actually behave.”
Eating well is not a singular pillar for aging successfully, but it’s an important one that is also tied to emotional health and ability to be active. Murphy talks about thinking about diet as a whole, instead of concentrating on individual components of it: “It’s about making the overall right choices. That’s a more balanced approach.”
Sleep’s role in good health
There is also a correlation between sleep and eating. A growing body of research is showing poor sleep quality impacts diet. Data published by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that those who slept less than seven hours a night (the generally recommended amount) consumed a lower amount of vitamins A, D, B1, magnesium, calcium, zinc, niacin and phosphorous in their diet.1 Women were more affected than men in this regard, but the impact of inadequate rest was reduced for those who took dietary supplements, suggesting that supplements could help fill in nutrition gaps. New research is suggesting that specific nutrient (or lack thereof) intakes are linked to sleep disorders, poor sleep quality and trouble falling asleep.1
Another consequence of being sleep deprived is that it impairs our ability to make good food choices. Those short on rest gravitate toward high-fat, high-sugar foods in an effort to increase their energy levels, as cited in research from the Cleveland Clinic.2
Get moving and avoid sedentary behaviours
When it comes to exercise, another pillar of health, there’s a clear correlation between healthy eating and energy. Without adequate nutrition, you’ll lack the fuel needed to carry out certain activities. Limiting sedentary behaviour is also part of the big picture around activity. “You can be very physically active, but if you’re only up for, let’s say 30 minutes a day, that meets the recommendation for exercise,” says Murphy. “However, if you sit for the rest of the day, that time is not going to offset [the effects of being sedentary].”
Sometimes called “sitting disease,” sedentary behaviour is an underlying factor in higher mortality rates. A large-scale Norwegian study3 examined the activity habits of more than 23,000 men and women and found that those who were inactive consistently over a 22-year period had double the chance of death from all causes. As well, they had a 2.7-fold greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
To combat it, break up long periods of sitting by standing, stretching, short walks or climbing stairs. At the office, get up while making a phone call, head down the hallway to talk with a colleague rather than sending an email and use breaks for brisk walks or climbing stairs. Whether you’re at home or at work, set a timer on your smartphone to help you get into the habit of being active five to 10 minutes every hour.
Seeking to live a vitality-filled life as you age? The research is pointing to eating well, sleeping well and keeping your body moving. Together, they are a formula that could help you not just live longer, but better, too.
Presented by BOOST©/Nestlé Health Sciences.
- Study links poor sleep with poor nutrition, published by the American Society for Nutrition, June 9, 2019. https://nutrition.org/study-links-poor-sleep-with-poor-nutrition/ [Accessed Oct. 15, 2019.]
- How more sleep can lead to better food choices, published by the Cleveland Clinic, April 24, 2018. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-more-sleep-can-lead-to-better-food-choices/ [Accessed Oct. 15, 2019.]
- Patterns of physical activity over 22 years and mortality: The HUNT Study, published by the European Society of Cardiology, Aug. 31, 2019. https://esc365.escardio.org/Congress/ESC-CONGRESS-2019/Poster-Session-1-Benefit-and-safety-of-physical-activity/197118-patterns-of-physical-activity-over-22-years-and-mortality-the-hunt-study-norway [Accessed Oct. 15, 2019.]