From eye-lifting serums to wrinkle-reduction creams, we're all on the lookout for the magic formula that will keep us forever young. But while it's easy to be seduced by the claims of the latest lotions and potions, the secret to holding back the years is to work from the inside out. Follow our top-to-toe guide to looking and feeling younger the natural way.
You might also like...
"Thanks to the protective effects of oestrogen, bone mass peaks in our late 20s, then stays fairly stable until the menopause," says osteoporosis nurse Sarah Leyland from the National Osteoporosis Society. "Post-menopause, oestrogen levels drop, however, and we start to lose bone mass, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures."
Smoking, heavy drinking and being underweight all contribute to bone loss. A calcium-rich diet is essential for strong bones. The average adult needs 700mg a day - equivalent to a 200ml glass of semi-skimmed milk, a yoghurt and 40g of cheese. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking, jogging and dancing also protects the skeleton. And make the most of the sunshine: it's the best source of vitamin D, which is important for bone health, so spend 10 minutes outside without sunscreen, once or twice a day from May to September.
Anti-ageing expert Dr Cecilia Tregear, founder of the Wimpole Skincare Clinic, believes that free radicals are responsible for most skin damage. Toxins in our diet and environment - for example alcohol, pollution and UV rays - all increase free-radical exposure and contribute to ageing. "They harden the cell membranes, affecting nutrient absorption, cause inflammation and damage the genetic material," she explains. "This causes the skin to become saggy, wrinkled and pale." Good nutrition is essential. "Salmon is a powerful superfood," Dr Tregear says. "It contains DMAE, an antioxidant that firms the skin and removes free radicals." Invest in a juicer, too: 2009 research by Unilever shows that people with diets rich in vitamin C, particularly in orange juice, citrus fruits and tomatoes, are less prone to wrinkles. And make time to moisturise: "Even cheap moisturisers are effective if used regularly," Dr Tregear adds.
"The heart, like other muscles, becomes unfit if it doesn't get a regular workout," explains Judy O'Sullivan, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation. As we age, our arteries become increasingly blocked by fatty deposits, affecting the supply of oxygen to the heart and this can lead to coronary heart disease.
Regular aerobic exercise is essential for heart health. "We should all do at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week," Judy says. "This can be broken into ten-minute chunks, and should leave you warm and slightly breathless." If you're not keen on the gym, then head outdoors. A survey by pet healthcare company Bob Martin shows that dog owners do eight times more exercise per week than gym members, thanks to their daily walks. Or give your garden some extra attention: gardening for 30 to 45 minutes most days of the week reduces the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, according to Sport Wales. If all that activity leaves you feeling rather hungry, fill up with porridge. Oats contain a unique fibre that stops cholesterol being absorbed by the body, and eating two to four portions a week could help to reduce your cholesterol level within four weeks.
Needing to wear reading glasses is often one of the earliest signs of ageing, thanks to the lens of the eye hardening (presbyopia), affecting our ability to focus. Cataracts - where the lens becomes cloudy, causing misty vision - are also common as we age. "But most serious is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness," says Dr Susan Blakeney from the College of Optometrists. Presbyopia is an unavoidable part of ageing. "However, exposure to UV light is linked with some forms of cataract and AMD, so wearing sunglasses year-round could reduce the risk," explains Dr Blakeney. Also, quit smoking - a big risk factor for AMD - and eat a rainbow of fresh foods.
If you let out a groan whenever you get up from a chair, you're not alone. Over time, the cartilage in our joints gradually wears away, leading to bone rubbing on bone. This causes pain, stiffness and creakiness, and can be exacerbated by obesity, repetitive movements (often work-related) and previous injuries. To maintain supple joints, pull on your walking boots. A 2010 study by the University of Queensland found that people who notched up 3,000 steps per day suffered less joint pain and improved physical function. Research also highlights the benefits of the supplement glucosamine sulphate. Pay a visit to your local fish market, too: University of London scientists have found that DHA, a fatty acid found in oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, is converted to a powerful anti-inflammatory chemical in the body.
Many of us become less sharp mentally as we get older, due to nerve cells and pathways in the brain dying. Blood pressure also rises with age, which can contribute to memory problems, and smokers and physically inactive people seem to be worst affected. The answer? Get your dancing shoes on! According to 2010 research by the University of London, exercising just once a month can improve mental ability in middle age - and ballroom dancing tops the list of brain-boosting activities thanks to the combination of physical exercise and the challenge of learning routines. Mind-teasers such as crosswords and board games keep the brain in shape, too, while surfing the web could also help, say scientists from the University of California, stimulating the brain centres for reasoning and decision-making.
The middle-age spread isn't a myth, according to findings by the Medical Research Council which show that our waistlines thicken as we age - the result of changing hormone levels. We also lose muscle mass. "One of the most surprising ways to slim the fat around your middle is to reduce the stress in your life," says Dr Glenville, author of The Natural Health Bible for Women. "This helps reduce cortisol levels and will train your body to stop storing fat around your middle." Research from Massachusetts General Hospital shows that activities such as yoga and meditation are great tension-busters, changing our genetic response to stress. Eating little and often also keeps you trim.
You might also like...