Getting your MEDS

Whilst retirement and later life will mean different things for each of us there is likely one common denominator, a desire to enjoy life as much as we can on any given day.

Of course, life will continue to have its ups and downs just as sure as the sun continues to rise and set. At times, especially when life seems to be at its most difficult we have a tendency to see our lives as worse than ever, when very often this is not the case. An advantage of ageing is the capacity to look back at our past and recognise that difficult times pass.

There are a few things that we can do which can have a significant bearing on how much we enjoy life, each essentially leads to one thing, health.

The healthier we are the easier it is to combat life’s more challenging events and the more likely we are to find renewed meaning and purpose in life when we find ourselves a little lost.

I cannot recall where I first came across this helpful acronym ( I have tried to locate the source but as yet I haven’t been able to) which is MEDS. Given how we have been encouraged to think of health the acronym has a certain humorous twist.

MEDS, stands for mindset, exercise, diet and sleep. Four key components to living a healthier life at any age.

Mindset -how we see the world for example. Society largely has a fixed mindset about ageing, one that is largely negative. Which of course makes no sense as it is the alternative to ageing which is negative.

Adopting a mindset towards constant learning and growth and one of seeking to remain engaged in the world can have a hugely beneficial impact on how we manage ageing and what is possible in our lives.

Exercise – In his book Outlive, Dr. Peter Attia describes exercise as the best longevity medicine.

One problem with modern life is the increasing sedentary nature of the lives we lead. The more successful we have been at developing machines to do work for us the less active we have become. Perhaps it is no surprise that in parts of the world where healthy ageing and longevity seem to be baked into society (places like Sardinia Italy and Icaria in Greece) that many people continue to work on the land growing and harvesting their own food. Many Sardinian hillsides are such that as, yet machines have not been developed to take the place of humans.

Getting regular exercise is a must if we are to make the process of physical decline more bearable. This needs to go beyond taking a regular class or visiting the gym for an hour a day several times a week, but should incorporate walking as much as possible, using the stairs and carrying your weekly shop. As I never seem have a coin for the shopping trolley at the supermarket, and an unwillingness to queue at checkouts, I will often carry two shopping baskets around the store. Clearly this is a minor thing on its own, but when added to everything else gives me the best means of mimicking the active lives of earlier generations, which is to say spending as much of the day as I can being active.

Diet – There may be more diet books and blogs than on any other subject in the field of health, frequently expressing firmly entrenched views as to what constitutes a good diet and what does not. I don’t intend to join the debate, well argument really. I will say that what works for one person does not necessarily work for another, we are all different.

There are some basic rules which appear common to all the expressed views, over consumption is not good, nor is refined sugar, overly refined flour or any food that has been
highly processed.

Furthermore, habitual snacking between meals is not good and we should aim to have our last meal of the day two to three hours before sleeping and try to make sure that the time between the last and first meal of the day is over eight hours. There are increasing numbers of experts promoting the idea of time restricted eating, with some suggesting we aim to eat our three meals in a day within as little as an eight hour time window. Personally, I find this hard on a daily basis and find my own eating window works best (based on how I feel) at between ten and twelve hours. At the weekend on one or sometimes two days I can extend the “fast” to as much as sixteen or seventeen hours by eating only twice, mainly as a result of a larger and usually later family lunch. This is by no means a weekly event, but I try.

Nutrition and hydration are non-negotiables for life, avoiding junk and eating as much fresh food as we can contributes to better energy. The more energy we have the greater the motivation for exercise and we also tend to improve the last of the four items, sleep.

Sleep – Forty years ago we came to believe sleep was a hinderance to life getting in the way of productivity. Today we know better, indeed ironically given the view of the 1980’s & 90’s, the more sleep we get the more productive we can be. High performing athletes get a lot of rest and so should the rest of us.

Sleeping between 7 -9 hours a night is better for our health overall. The quality of our sleep is also important, and this can be challenging at times. Certainly, at times I have found a good night’s sleep a challenge, there are some simple things we can do to help.

Avoid eating to close to bedtime. Don’t watch TV in bed or right before bed, don’t check emails and or the news, or anything else that might cause your mind to whir just before bed.

Keep your bedroom as cool as possible, make sure your bedroom is also as dark as possible, if needs be use eye covers ( I do) and if noise is a problem try earplugs.

I have also found not using an alarm clock beneficial, a habit that began courtesy of the Covid lockdowns. I still need to set an alarm on occasion but I have found that provided I get to bed early enough ( by 9.30pm) then I do not need an alarm to be up at the right time of day and if I sleep longer I am less pressured to get on with my day than had I gone to bed at say 11pm.

Over the years I have found most authors, experts and proponents of exercise, diet and sleep to be fairly prescriptive in their views, and for a while I struggled to make sense of either the contradictions or my struggles to maintain a particular regime.

A few brave souls have put their heads above the parapet publicly to suggest that there is no one size fits all approach and that we should experiment to seek what works best for us.

One such resource is the podcast Feel Better Live More by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee.

As mentioned above that whilst experts have differing views about diet and exercise in particular, all agree that a sound diet, exercise and good sleep are essential for better health.

If we add the right mindset following good habits is easier, so keep taking the MEDS.