What to Do & Eat To "Age Optimally"

Health + Fitness

Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS

As we age, our minds and bodies lose their agility. This can prevent us from living the lives and doing the work that we set out to do. Here, nutrition and anti-aging expert Jonny Bowden tells us what we can do to retain agility and "age optimally."

Is there one exercise or exercise routine that’s most effective for women who want to “age optimally”?

The perfect exercise routine is the one you actually do. That said, weight-bearing exercises should be incorporated into your workout whatever it is.

As you age, you’ll lose half a pound of muscle a year. If you lose a bit of muscle every year, you lose calorie-burning ability, and you’ll gain fat.

From a functional point of view, you want to maintain muscle. People go into retirement homes because they can’t do things that require basic muscular strength – like opening jars and getting up from their chairs.

Combine weight lifting with circuit training, also known as “burst training” or “interval training,” for the best workout. Circuit training gets your heart rate up faster and burns more calories than simply running on a treadmill at a fixed pace.

What top 5 foods should we consume to support “aging optimally”?

  1. Wild salmon would be at top of the list. It’s a great source of protein and of omega 3s, two things that are protective on every level.
  2. The next food would be blueberries. They're the one type of berry that has also been shown to be memory preserving. The antioxidants that give blueberries their color are responsible for slowing memory loss and improving coordination
  3. The third food would be nuts – almonds, walnuts and pecans – nut nuts. [Peanuts are not nuts; they’re legumes.] Studies show that women who eat five 1-ounce portions of nuts a week lower their risk for heart disease by 35%
  4. Then beans – when they study the blue zones – geographic areas with the highest level of healthy centenarians – they see high levels of bean consumption. Beans offer antioxidants and fiber. High fiber foods are very stabilizing on blood sugar, which is good for aging.
  5. Lastly, green leafy vegetables and, with a particular accent for women, the Brassica family – which includes cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. These vegetables contain indoles – traffic cops for estrogen metabolism. When estrogen metabolizes, it can become carcinogenic. The indoles direct estrogens into the more benign kind of estrogen metabolite.

These are the 5 ideal foods for a desert island.

Are there any foods that, surprisingly, we should avoid?

There’s more controversy than you would imagine about some foods that have been promoted as healthy – like canola oil, soy and milk. Canola is a highly processed oil; it is deodorized and treated with chemicals. Soy is one of those things where, due to tremendous marketing, we think anything made with it is good. In the Asian diet they eat fermented soy – like miso and tempeh -- in relatively small amounts. In the U.S. there’s a whole junk food push -- with soy on the labels of chips. These foods have nothing to do with health. Soy also has an estrogenic component – which is not a great thing for everybody.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of foods – like whole eggs and coconut oil -- that we’ve been steered way from, that are actually wonderful.

You are clearly a huge advocate of "aging optimally" -- what personal testimony can you give to inspire us in our quest to age better?

I was 38 when I started getting involved in health and nutrition. I was pretty much a mess before that. I feel like I am living proof that you can start anytime.

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS is a board certified nutritionist, a nationally known expert on weight loss, health and nutrition, and the best-selling author of 8 books including “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth.” Visit him at


More by Jonny Bowden: 11 Foods That Cut Calories, Not Energy

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