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You don’t know what you had until it’s gone. Our younger bodies were miraculous. And yet, in what feels like the blink of an eye you have arrived here, destination midlife, and it's time to take stock, reflect and reset. Time waits for no-one.
Everything you do is connected. It’s not enough to say eat less or this, more of that. By mid-life, we need more evidence. If you were to try to isolate a bit of how your body works and say "that's the bit in charge of ageing” or "here’s the bit that will stop me getting cancer." Well, sorry, but that's a fantasy.
So let's first contemplate those who already enjoy health for longer. The incredible statistics of the Sardinian locals, and of any Blue Zone population, involves eating a plant-based whole foods diet, sleeping well, living close to nature, moving more and being with each other. There’s no discussion about it, it is just how things are done. Being outdoors in the fresh air is considered an essential component of a life well lived too.
In Sardinia, a place I have come to know well through work and pleasure, the day starts with a strong espresso and winds down with a glass of wine - but just a small amount. Whilst their locally grown red wine has exceptional levels of polyphenols (the naturally occurring micronutrients in plants) my glass of Malbec on the sofa watching Netflix back in the UK won't be enough of a plan to add years to my life, and life to my years.
Another 2019 trip (ah, the heady days of travel!) was to Iceland. Again, a place of long-lived locals high on the global happiness index. The countries couldn't be more different - in Iceland the longevity 'secret' is linked to the high intake of protective omega-3 from sea fish and local delicacies, including sea cucumbers.
I'm all for a glass of red wine, and maybe even a sea cucumber, but I am not out on a limb in suggesting that whilst nutrition is a really exciting - and essential - part of the plan for a long and healthy life, the elephant in the room is the stress that zaps us during our midlife juggle.
We all know someone, maybe it is you, who has aged significantly, been ravaged, by a stressful event in life. Under healthy circumstances, we feel stress as the rush of adrenaline, frenetic heartbeat or the flutterings in your gut. This is the body’s “stress alarm” and it is short lived - like a jolt followed by a recovery, such as a fire alarm going off when you are in deep sleep. However, if that alarm goes off too frequently, or simply doesn’t stop, it wears out the body very quickly.
Your capacity to adapt to stress, or the amount of adaption energy you have ‘in the tank,' is determined largely by your genetic background but factors such as age, hormones, drug interactions and dietary factors such as levels of vitamins and minerals have a significant impact on whether or not that stress becomes a problem for our body. When there’s the luxury of choice, this adaptive energy can either be spent wisely in a balanced lifestyle or lavishly in the course of a stressful and intense life.
Long term stress is what really takes the toll. A brain under constant stress can affect your gut. This reduces your gut’s ability to process and absorb nutrients from food effectively, leading to reduced nutrient levels which will show on the skin, and a reduction in the overall ability to adapt to future stress.
For these reasons, the anchor of my Midlife Reset Retreat began with the word 'compassion' - most of all for ourselves. And part of being compassionate to yourself will mean nourishing with a deliciously good-for-you-now diet. It won’t make the stress itself any better, but it could help you look less haggard by the experience.