Much of midlife – for women at any rate – is spent rushing, juggling and caring for others while our own health languishes. When we manage to squeeze a few frantic minutes for ourselves, it’s invariably with a short-term goal in mind. Like desperately dieting for the bikini we want to wear in two months’ time or a panicked detox to shed the excesses of Christmas.
This has to change! From our 40s onwards the key to ageing well is nurturing our bodies and brains; we need to give our health the priority it deserves; we need to treat our future wellbeing as a project.
We experiment, trialling everything from cold showers to herbal sleep supplements to backwards walking.
Why? Because we now know that the diseases of later life (cancer, dementia, heart disease, diabetes) take root in middle-age. Our own Age-Well Project had its genesis in a piece of research published seven years ago, pinpointing midlife as the critical time for laying the foundations of a healthy older age.
Scroll down to discover the 12 Commandments of Ageing Well
Why we started the Age-Well Project
We realised it was within our power to live longer and better than our ancestors, and that our fates weren’t determined by the genes we’d inherited. Our genes – it turns out – account for as little as 7% of our future health.
At the time we were both in our 40s, with just enough time to mend our bad habits. We responded by overhauling our health, one step at a time, little realising that we’d reap the benefits in a matter of months, as well as (we hope) in the decades to come.
Having grown up in the shadow of disease, watching and caring for beloved family members stricken by cancer, heart disease and dementia, we turned to geroscience (the science of ageing) for help on our Age-Well journey.
How have we learned how to ageing well?
For the last seven years we’ve combined careers, raising families and caring for elderly parents with a passion for reading medical reports. Every day, hundreds of scientific studies are published, many of which languish in libraries and laboratories. We trawl through them, trying to find out what really works and how best to nudge it into the busy lives of midlifers.
We also attend lectures, cook, talk to scientists, longevity experts, researchers, and nonagenarians – and we experiment, trialling everything from cold showers to herbal sleep supplements to backwards walking. We question, examine and explain the data in a series of regular blog posts on our site agewellproject.com with additional material in our workshops and books. For us, ageing well means understanding our bodies through the lens of science. Facts not fads.
What ageing well isn’t
We don’t believe in prescriptive diets, draconian exercise regimes or shelves of costly supplements. Our own age-well projects involve exploring our own DNA, making time to cook, dance and hike through forests, experimenting with herbs, spices, meditation, kettlebells, fasting, gratitude, breathing and ping-pong, to name a few. We don’t aim for perfection, just progression – one step at a time.
Our lifestyle changes work: We feel better in our 50s than we’ve ever felt. We’re still modifying our routines and practices and we expect this to continue for as long as we do. After all, this is the golden age of medical research.
We’ll continue to age better
As scientists continue to unpick the complex inter-relationship of genes, cells, biochemicals, phytonutrients, microbiota and neurons (among other things), we expect more and more studies illuminating the science of successful ageing. Will there be a magic potion or an elixir of youth? Sadly, we doubt it. And so do the geroscientists.
For us, ageing well means understanding our bodies through the lens of science. Facts not fads.
Say yes to getting older
And yet growing older, done with dignity, grace and care, is something we should welcome and embrace – a new chapter in our lives with its own joys and pleasures. Studies show that those who enter mid-life and beyond with enthusiasm often have better health. Besides, no one gets a second chance. So buckle up, embrace the change and enjoy the ride!
12 Commandments for Ageing Well
Annabel and Susan started the Age-Well Project to combat the degenerative diseases and physical challenges of older age using the latest science. They devour research studies, try out a huge range of practices and document their experiences on their site The Age-Well Project.
Here they share a dozen science-based, age-well practises that they swear by. Consider it your 12 Commandments for Ageing Well.
1. Know your purpose
Having a sense of purpose gets you out of bed in the morning and gives meaning to your world. Understand what you want from life. Visualise it, write it down and carry it in your mind’s eye.
2. Eat SMASH fish at least twice a week
DHA and EPA from Omega-3 fatty acids found in SMASH (sardine, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, herring) fish are vital for brain health – there’s a strong correlation between eating oily fish and thinking clearly in older adults. Tinned sardines (bones and all, for calcium) are an inexpensive age-well superfood.
3. Don’t fret about supplements
Studies suggest most don’t work, with the exception of Vitamin D, which has been repeatedly linked to better brain, bone and mental health, not to mention a better chance of recovering from COVID-19.
4. Aim for seven portions of vegetables and fruit a day
Replace junk food with green and brightly-coloured vegetables and fruits. Phyto nutrients (the biochemicals found in plants) are vital for our health, providing essential nutrients and fermentable fibre, beloved by our gut microbiota.
5. 10 mins of weight/resistance training every day
Building and maintaining muscle is vital – and about so much more than staying strong. Muscle has been linked to improved cell function, reduced inflammation, (a hallmark of ageing), better cognition and slower bone loss.
6. Raise your heart rate
Get moving every day, aiming to feel a little breathless. Mix it up, the more variety the better. And move every hour, even if it’s just to stretch at your desk. Our sedentary, work-bound lives are killing us.
7. Get outside in the morning
Morning light, within an hour of waking, helps set the circadian ‘clock’ which dictates our sleep/wake cycle. A good night’s sleep starts in the morning. Bonus points if you exercise outside.
8. Have a sleep/rise routine
As we get older our circadian clocks become disrupted and a second clock develops, fragmenting our sleep. ‘Anchor’ your body clock by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day.
9. Pursue novelty
Seek out new experiences, new people, new landscapes, new flavours, new passions, new languages and hobbies. As we grow older we’re less inclined to hunt down novelty but our brains thrive on it, building neural pathways that keep our brains in good working order.
10. Turn off your phone and read a book
A Yale study found book readers live almost two years longer than non-readers. Reading books leads to greater cognitive engagement and emotional intelligence; reading before bed reduces stress, helping us sleep more soundly (unlike phone scrolling).
11. Invest in chemical-free beauty and cleaning products
All too often our homes harbour outside air pollution and inside contaminants. Review the number of chemical cleaners you use, particularly sprays, and switch to organic, natural beauty products.
12. Spend time in blue/green space
How well we age is directly affected by how much time we spend in nature. Being in green space correlates with slower cognitive decline, particularly for women. Blue space – oceans, lakes and rivers – is linked to better mental health.
Read the Age-Well Project Manifesto to discover the science of ageing and how we can harness it to help our health in later life.
— Annabel Streets and Susan Saunders
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