By DEEPAK CHOPRA, M.D.
In the past five decades, researchers have found irrefutable evidence that the mind can play a decisive part in prevention of illness and also in healing. This is particularly true in the field of aging. We now know that the human body doesn’t simply wear out like an old car with too many miles on it. Even though we all have genetic predispositions, our health and aging aren’t predetermined. By making conscious choices in our behavior and where we focus our attention, we can transform the experience of our body and decrease our biological age.
To grow younger and live longer, I offer seven practical steps to harness the power of the mind-body connection.
1 | Change your perceptions of your body and aging
Perception is a selective act of attention and interpretation. What you experience as “reality,” including your physical body and aging, is shaped by your habits of perception. While most people are conditioned to see the body as a machine destined to break down, you can begin to view it as a field of energy, transformation, and intelligence that is constantly renewing itself.
Begin to notice both your internal dialogue and how you speak about your body and aging. If you find yourself saying things like, “I’m hitting the age where I’ll need reading glasses,” or “I’m too old to try yoga (or some other activity),” or “I inherited my dad’s bad back,” make a conscious choice to shift your perspective and tell yourself what you want from your body and age.
2 | Stress reduction and meditation
Meditation is a simple yet powerful tool that takes us to a state of profound relaxation dissolving fatigue and accumulated stress that accelerates the aging process.
Research shows that people who meditate regularly develop less hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, and other stress-related illnesses that speed up the aging process. Long-term meditators can have a biological age between five and twelve years younger than their chronological age. There are many meditation techniques, and it’s important to find one that resonates with you. You may benefit from a mantra-based technique, such as the Primordial Sound Meditation practice taught at the Chopra Center. Another good place to begin is with guided meditations. Also at the Chopra Center we’ve created several series of guided meditations called “The 21-Day Meditation Challenge.”
3 | Restful sleep
Getting regular restful sleep is an essential key to staying healthy and vital, yet it is so often neglected. A lack of restful sleep disrupts the body’s innate balance, weakens our immune system, and speeds up the aging process. Human beings generally need between six and eight hours of restful sleep each night. Restful sleep means that you’re not using pharmaceuticals or alcohol to get to sleep but that you’re drifting off easily once you turn off the light and sleeping soundly through the night.
4 | Nurture your body with healthy food
There are “dead” foods that accelerate aging and entropy and others that renew and revitalize the body. Foods to eliminate or minimize include items that are canned, frozen, microwaved, or highly processed. Focus on eating a variety of fresh and freshly prepared foods.
A simple way to make sure that you’re getting a balanced diet is to include the six tastes (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent) in each meal. The typical American diet is dominated by the sweet, sour, and salty tastes (the main flavors of a hamburger). We do need these tastes, but they can lower metabolism, especially if eaten in excess. The pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes, on the other hand, are anti-inflammatory and increase metabolism. These tastes are found in food such as radishes, ginger, mustard, peppers, spinach, mushrooms, tea, lentils lettuce, and so on.
5 | Exercise
One of the most important ways to grow younger and live longer is regular exercise. Researchers at Tufts University have documented the powerful effects of exercise on many of the biomarkers of aging, including muscle mass, strength, aerobic capacity, bone density, and cholesterol.
Exercising keeps the body young, a vital mind and promotes emotional well-being. In his recent book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Harvard University professor John Ratey, M.D., describes research showing how “physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another.” This spark, as he calls it, increases the brain’s ability to learn, adapt, and perform other cognitive tasks.
The important thing is to start off slowly, find physical activities you enjoy, and do them regularly.
6 | Love and connection
Love and meaningful relationships are vital to physical and emotional well-being. As research reveals, people who continue to nurture long-term and new friendships as they grow older are more likely to enjoy health and vitality. Isolation and loneliness, on the other hand, create the conditions for rapid aging. Heart attack and death rates have been shown to increase among the recently widowed, and among men who have been suddenly terminated from their jobs without warning or against their will.
The key is to stay connected and open to new relationships throughout your life. Losing friends and loved ones is an inevitable part of aging, and many people have a tendency to go quietly into semi-isolation. Instead, set your intention on expanding and deepening the love in your life.
7 | Maintain a youthful mind
An ancient Vedic aphorism says, “Infinite flexibility is the secret to immortality.” When we cultivate flexibility in our consciousness, we renew ourselves and reverse the aging process. To maintain a youthful mind, write down a few things you can do that are totally childlike. Think of something that evokes childhood for you—eating an ice cream cone, coloring a picture, jumping rope, or building a sand castle. Choose one of these activities to do today and allow yourself to have fun.