50s and beyond
Boost your brainpower. In 2009, epidemiologists predicted a coming wave of Alzheimer's disease that will bankrupt the health care system and ruin millions of lives. But don't freak out: Your can take steps to protect yourself with the right combination of diet, exercise and stress–relief techniques, says Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., president of the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation in Tucson, Ariz., and author of Brain Longevity (Grand Central Publishing). Stave off "senior moments" with a brain–boosting power practice known as Kirtan Kriya (see below). Drawn from the Kundalini Yoga tradition, Kirtan Kriya combines meditations with sound and movement to engage the brain in a uniquely healing way. Studies at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Spirituality and the Mind have found that practicing this breathing technique just 12 minutes a day is enough to reverse age–related mental decline. "It improves verbal fluency and memory by increasing blood flow to the brain," says Khalsa.
Support your structure. With the onset of menopause—which will be happening any day now, if it hasn’t already—bone density takes a big hit. Add foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, suggests Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and author of The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life (McGraw-Hill). See 10 Dairy-Free, Calcium-Rich Foods. Supplements are smart, too–though the best one may surprise you. "Calcium is overrated as a supplement for osteoporosis," says Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., the Maryland–based author of From Fatigued to Fantastic (Avery Trade). Teitelbaum's top pick? Strontium. "There are good double–blind studies that show strontium is effective in increasing bone density and decreasing fractures," he says. If you don't have bone loss yet—or it's very mild—take 340 milligrams a day. If you have full–blown osteoporosis, take 680 milligrams per day. Try EuroPharma Strontium ($20 for 60 340–milligram capsules; vitaminlife.com).
Share what you know. Yes, you can work to keep your memory intact. But there's no denying that a 50-year-old brain simply has different priorities than a 20-year-old's. "At midlife, hormonal changes cause your attention to naturally be directed more toward emotions and intuition than all the details of the outer world," explains Mona Lisa Schulz, M.D., Ph.D., a Maine-based specialist in the field of behavioral neuroscience and author of The Intuitive Advisor (Hay House). "It's not that we're losing attention; it's that we're gaining a new kind of cognition." Schulz calls this "the wiring of wisdom," and asserts that the key to happiness at 50 and beyond is learning to love it—and use it for good. The mind starts to winnow down its memories, maintaining the ones that have something to teach, Schulz explains. "Go with it—figure out what you have to say that can be helpful to the younger generation, and find a way to express it." You'll be happier and healthier if you do.
Find your balance. To maintain a happy, healthy lifestyle as you age, you have to stay mobile. And that means maintaining both flexibility and balance. When her patients reach age 50, Anderson has three words of advice: yoga, yoga, yoga. "At this age, you have to make a bit more effort to stay in a balanced place," she says. "It will only become more important as you continue to age. A hip fracture is a real game changer, and the No. 1 reason hip fractures happen is lack of balance." What's more, flexibility will help you stay walking upright into your 90s. Along with yoga, Krucoff suggests giving yourself a daily foot massage. "I think that by age 50, a lot of women get out of touch with their feet," she says. "Falls might be related to stiff feet and a loss of adequate sensation of their feet on the ground. One of the simplest things you can do is take a tip from Ayurveda and massage warm sesame oil into the soles of your feet every day."
How to practice kirtan kriya
1. Come to a comfortable seated position and rest the backs of your hands on your knees.
2. Inhale deeply, imagining that you're drawing your breath in through the crown of your head; exhale and send that breath out through the center of your forehead. Continue to visualize this L–shaped breath throughout this exercise.
3. Inhale and as you exhale, chant aloud the four–syllable mantra, "Sa–ta–na–ma." On the syllable "Sa," touch your index finger to your thumb; on "ta," touch your middle finger to your thumb; on "na," touch your ring finger to your thumb; on "ma," touch your pinky finger to your thumb.
4. Continue these finger movements throughout the exercise (and use enough pressure so that your fingertips turn white).
Chant the mantra aloud for two minutes, then chant in a whisper for two minutes. Next, say the chant silently for four minutes. Then say it in a whisper for two more minutes. Finish by chanting aloud for two minutes. The entire meditation takes 12 minutes.