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Everyone's looking for the fountain of youth, but you don't have to wait for a (fictional) fix to look young while you grow older. Aine McAteer reveals what you should do, eat and avoid to look your best and help slow down the aging process.
"May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young."

Bob Dylan

I read a newspaper headline recently: "Senioritis, the diagnosis; the race for a cure is on." I have to say, it saddened me to see such a natural part of the process of life being declared an illness.

Sure, if I had a genie to grant my every wish, among them might be that I stay youthful and beautiful forever, but that's never going to be a reality. I do have a wish—it's that I embrace all stages of my life with grace and acceptance.

One day, while driving through the English countryside, I got a flat tire and was standing by the side of the road looking every bit the damsel in distress. Along came a lovely gentleman on his bicycle, and he stopped to help me. We chatted as he deftly changed my tire, and he told me that he had just ridden his bicycle for 30 miles and had another 10 to go before he got home! He did this three times a week—he was 86 years of age.

Later that evening, I met a wonderful lady at a dinner party in my neighborhood. She told me that she never starts her day without lighting her candles, putting on some mellow music and doing a one-hour yoga session. She looked like she was in her 60s, but, coincidentally, she was also 86.

Meeting people like these is truly a revelation and an inspiration, and I only hope that by the time I'm 86, I'll at least be able to bend down to tie my own shoelaces!

Get the secrets to healthy aging
On every shelf in our pharmacy or beauty supply store, we're offered youth in a bottle or a pill. Our role models, the icons of stage and screen, claim they're maintaining their youthful good looks by drinking water, eating vegetables and staying out of the sun—but seriously? The fight is on against the clock, and it's hard not to jump into the ring. I'm as guilty as the next, standing in front of the mirror on occasion and pulling my face back to see how I'd look with a little nip and a tuck. I check out those bottles that state "anti-aging" or promise to erase all my lines and wrinkles, but I know for sure that real and lasting beauty can only be achieved by nurturing and nourishing my being from the inside out.

If I truly knew the secret to healthy aging and could bottle it, I would be a wealthy woman, but I can only offer you the wisdom of my own personal experience and observations. If I were asked what the secrets of healthy aging are, here are some of my thoughts.

Stay stress-free. Studies have shown that chronic stress elevates cortisol levels, which can reduce lean body mass, decrease bone density and cause a buildup of fat around the midsection of the body. Stress can also stimulate the onset of many age-related diseases like osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease and metabolic syndrome.

Eat simply and don't overeat. Diet obviously plays a huge role in how we age. Foods that bring life force and energy into the cells of our bodies go a long way toward making us look and feel youthful and vital. I can literally see what I've eaten reflected on my face. As we age and our hormonal levels change, our metabolism tends to slow down, so it's best to eat smaller meals on a more regular basis to keep our metabolism stable.

Smile. I was looking at my mum recently and realized that the reason she looks so youthful and lovely is that she almost always has a smile on her face. As we age, we can lose muscle tone and, especially on our face, the skin and muscles can start to droop. The very act of smiling lifts and tones the facial muscles as well as bringing a little more sunshine into the world.

Be wise: alkalize. Overacidity in the body weakens all body systems and is a major contributor to premature aging. Many of our diets are high in acid-forming foods like sugar, meat, dairy products and refined carbohydrates and are far too low in alkalizing fresh vegetables and mineral-rich foods. Try to tip the scales in favor of alkalizing vegetables and include some mineral-rich sea vegetables in your diet. It's a good idea to have some pH strips available so you can keep a check on your acid/alkaline balance.

Include enzymes in your diet. Enzymes are another vital component to support the healthy aging of the cells in the body. Make sure to include a percentage of enzyme-rich raw, pickled and very lightly cooked vegetables and fruits in your daily diet and chew them thoroughly to release their enzymes and to avoid putting any stress on the digestive system. When our foods are getting properly digested and assimilated, circulation of blood and nutrients to the skin is improved, keeping it youthful and wrinkle-free.

Eat healthy dietary fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are regarded as healthy fats, as opposed to saturated fats and transfats. They are concentrated in the brain and are associated with cognitive function as well as protecting against inflammation and high cholesterol. Sources include cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, tuna, halibut and mackerel; walnuts and walnut oil; flaxseed and flaxseed oil; and leafy green vegetables.

Exercise. Some cardiovascular exercise at least three times a week will keep your heart strong and bring extra oxygen to all your cells. A report in the British Daily Mail (April 11, 2008) stated that regular exercise can help slow down the effects of aging by up to 12 years. It quoted a study that found aerobic exercise, such as jogging or brisk walking, from middle age onward can slow and "even reverse the decline in muscle power, balance and coordination in later life." I particularly recommend exercising out in nature where we take good oxygen into our system. Oxygen also is important to keep our bodies alkaline.

Have fun! We often hear that "laughter is the best medicine." As well as cheering others up, laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body: It decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, improving your resistance to disease. Laughter also improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow as well as releasing endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. Best of all, it is free and readily available!

Embrace body, mind and spirit medicine. The holistic approach seeks to treat the person as a whole, looking at all aspects of her life—lifestyle, diet, occupation and emotions—rather than just looking at and treating the symptoms of illness. A great number of today's illnesses come about as a result of the stress and tension in the lives we lead. We need to pay attention to what helps keep us in balance, and the natural healing arts can be very powerful in helping to restore and maintain the body's natural equilibrium.

I've created my Mango Coconut Dream Pie so that you can get your essential omega oils in the most delicious and decadent way. Unrefined coconut oil, although considered a saturated fat, is said to have many health and anti-aging benefits. It's high in lauric acid, which is naturally antiviral and can help strengthen the immune system. It can also help rebuild collagen and skin tone, giving you radiant healthy skin from the inside out. Now that's my kind of medicine!

With love,

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