Your beauty is more than skin deep. You have more control over the quality and the length of your life than you’ve ever imagined. We will discuss the Major Agers and explain how these affect the various parts of your body, as well as how you can counteract their effects. Understanding the reasons for aging gives you insights into the action steps for extending your own warranty.
In this issue, we’re going to bend your mind about staying young and beautiful by learning to control a nerve that deals with stress: the vagus nerve. You didn’t even know you had a vagus nerve, did you? And you’re probably only still vaguely interested.
More than a great new Scrabble word, the vagus affects your beauty, your stress levels and your telomeres. Telo what? Telomeres—they’re the little tips at the end of your chromosomes (like the tips of shoelaces). When they shorten, you’re at a higher risk of all kinds of problems, most significantly memory loss. Stress shortens telomeres so you’re less able to replenish and repair your organs. How should we deal with stress so our telomeres stay long? We prefer two approaches, including one taught to us by Jerry Seinfeld.
The Seinfeld approach to anger management
In a popular Seinfeld episode, George Costanza turns his life around by doing the opposite of everything he thinks he should do. The episode became a series of signature Costanza moments, but George was really onto something. Doing the opposite of what you think you should do works in one area in particular—dealing with stress and anger.
When we’re angry, our instinct may be to punch, snarl or growl, but these only build our anger even more. What works? Doing the opposite. The opposite of anger is actually empathy. The cure to calming down is to take a moment and think about why that person may have done something to you—maybe the driver who cut you off was trying to get his wife to the hospital to deliver a baby. Maybe your co-worker who flamed out at you in the email is having problems at home. This approach helps you deal with emotions that are hard to manage, including anger, stress and depression, which can severely impact on your health as you age.
Meditate your way to peace
What nerve! Actually, let’s make that a question. What nerve? That would be the vagus nerve—a long nerve that provides information from the gut to the brain and everywhere in between (in fact, vagus is Latin for wandering). It’s becoming a focal point in anti-aging research as scientists are discovering that the vagus nerve holds many of the secrets to handling two of the Major Agers we experience. First, if we can adjust the vagus nerve, we can help control the destructive effects of stress and inflammation throughout our body. How do we do that? Meditation.
Just perform a 5-minute deep-breathing meditation twice a day; you’ll use your diaphragm to stimulate your vagus nerve into calming your mind and body. Simply put your hand on your belly button, close your eyes (after you’re done reading this and not while driving!) and breath in and out, making sure your hand goes away from your spine as you inhale and toward your spine as you exhale. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Just concentrate on your breathing and your hand for 5 minutes twice a day, and you activate your vagus nerve.
All of this calm leads to longer telomeres and prevents you from attracting extra pounds as well. Demanding jobs with long hours—the kind that leave you whipped at the end of the day and seeking solace in the fridge—are a siren call to excess pounds. A little dose of meditation can keep you beautiful—and also keep you from needing a bigger belt.
So can walking or having a good belly laugh (or for both, download Leno or Letterman to your mp3 or iPod and enjoy the walk even more). But if you find yourself smack in a middle of a long day at work, meditation is far easier to do surreptitiously at your desk, while walking to another meeting or even while leaning against the wall in the bathroom—and you’ll be bothered less there. So, keep practicing the habits that keep you healthy. Enjoy adding meditation and empathy to your health routine along with your daily essential fatty acids, including DHA, as you walk 30 minutes a day, knowing that these four choices are keeping your brain, heart, eyes and joints a whole lot younger and better looking all around.