The color red is universally used to indicate that an action should not be taken or is ill-advised. Stop signs, traffic lights and warning tape are all red to let you know you need to stop what you are doing. In disaster relief, Red Zones refer to a geographical area that has been damaged, such as by an earthquake, and is unsafe to enter. Measuring equipment have a Red Zone to show when, for instance, a temperature or pressure reading is too high and a critical situation could develop.
The term Red Zone is credited to the great former Washington Redskins football coach Joe Gibbs, who started calling the area between the 20-yard line and the end zone the Red Zone. When football teams are within the Red Zone, offenses change their plays and defenses change their strategy. Coaches and players know that when they are in the Red Zone, everything they do is critical to their success for winning the game. Statistically, the smaller the Red Zone (just a few yards) the more likely a team will score a touchdown.
So, what does time in the Red Zone have to do with optimal physical and emotional wellbeing? Consider your personal Red Zone the number of years spent where you have health problems. Do you want the span of your Red Zone to be the full 20 yards or just a few feet? I think most of us would choose the “few feet” option such that 98% of our years on this earth are spent in vibrant health, fully engaging with our family, friends, hobbies and just loving each and every day. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?
Let’s examine a few of the steps you need to take to make sure your personal Red Zone is very narrow. While there is an abundance of information we could provide you on how to achieve longevity and healthy aging, let’s first exam 3 main topics : 1) Healthy Nutrition 2) Sleep Quality 3) Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation
What We Do in Our Early Years Effects Long-Term Health
The attitude in our youthful years is often one of invincibility and bravado, a world lived with less thought to long-term repercussions of our actions. We aren’t really trained in the biology of our own body to understand the unintended consequences of constant late nights, grab-n-go fast-food meals, processed food snacking and unresolved emotional issues. How many of you look back on your teens, 20s and 30s and think “wow, if only I had been trained better to take care of myself?” Below is a couple of big examples of how our health choices in our younger years can stay with us for decades and greatly extend our time in the Red Zone.
Quality Sleep and Sleep Deprivation
Younger adults tend to believe they are immune to the health effects of chronic sleep deprivation. Studies on the differences between young and older adults who are routinely sleep deprived show that young adults are more likely to have lapses of attention and fall asleep during the day than older adults. Did you know that more than a THIRD of U.S. adults report fewer than 6 hours of sleep a night, making chronic sleep deprivation a growing public health concern?
Here are a few reasons why quality sleep is so important:
- Lack of quality and quantity of sleep can cause disruption in emotions, such as increasing anxiety, and lead to a lessening in intellectual abilities.
- The state of sleep helps regulate your metabolism and appetite. When you do not sleep well, you are prone to eating more calories and have trouble regulating your appetite.
- The body needs rest to support your immune, hormonal and cardiovascular systems. When you are sleep deprived, inflammation can increase, hormones tend to get out of balance, and more stress is put on the heart.
- Sleep is one of the main processes deeply affecting the aging process. Evidence has shown that people who successfully reach very old ages do so, in part, through deep, quality sleep.
Establishing proper sleep hygiene, getting adequate quantities of sleep, and understanding the importance of sleep are patterns that must be set at a young age to make sure you get to reach those Golden Years!
Reversing the Pattern of Harmful Eating
The U.S sets dietary guidelines to help people understand the amount of protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts they should consume each day. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD) does not meet these dietary guidelines and 33% of young people aged 2-19 years are obese. Younger adults tend to eat much more processed foods, go to fast food restaurants, and spend limited time in the kitchen preparing healthy meals. Because there is a higher percentage of younger people that are single, they navigate the “cooking for one” dilemma by eating out, grabbing takeout, or ordering from a delivery app. A 2017 Gallup poll found that 72 percent of adults under 35 had eaten dinner at a restaurant in the previous week, and 41 percent had done it two or more times.
Establishing poor eating habits when we are younger almost guarantees there will be health issues as an older adult. But even at a younger age, there are consequences of a poor diet:
- There were 355,000 new cases in 2015 of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in people 18-44 years of age.
- Irritable bowel syndrome, bowel disease, excess stomach acid, and chronic constipation are all intestinal issues affecting people at a much younger age.
- There has been significant research to show the relationship between unhealthy dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents.
Not only are nutritional patterns leading to health crises in younger adults, but add to that the use of alcohol, illegal drugs, and vaping to compound the ill-effects of a lifestyle that will only cause further problems with age.
Health Management in Our Latter Years Adds to Longevity
After a few decades of the Standard American Diet, fueled with too much stress, too little sleep and maybe bit too much alcohol, you are probably left wondering if you can undo the damage. There is no resounding “YES!” to this question because each situation is different but have hope that with a strong commitment to lifestyle changes, you can reduce those years in the Red Zone. There are dozens of practical methods to stretch out your length of time on this earth, but for now let’s concentrate on two major categories: Sleep and Nutrition.
Restorative and Regenerative Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) issued its new recommendations for appropriate sleep durations. While 7-9 hours of sleep a day are the best for someone between the ages of 18-65, older adults require less sleep and can reduce sleep time from between 7-8 hours a day. Unfortunately, almost 70 million people in the US have at least one sleep disorder, Isn’t this all the more reason to figure out how to sleep better? One thing that longevity researchers know for certain is that quality sleep is one of the top 3 mandates for a well-lived, long life.
Discover and Recover from Sleep Abnormalities
It is not just about the time you spend in bed but the time spent in restful sleep. It’s OK if you get up one of two times a night to use the restroom or get some water. However, many people toss and turn all night for a variety of reasons. Did you know that almost 10% of people have sleep apnea, which causes them to wake up dozens of times per hour? Many people don’t know they have this condition until someone else they are sleeping with notices the issue.
A whole slew of other issues can interfere with healthy sleep patterns, including medical causes like heart disease, heartburn, muscle and joint pain, and digestive problems. Circadian rhythm disruptions can also be caused by emotional trauma that is generating anxiety and depression, causing nightmares, and triggering a “spinning mind” that is up all night. If you are someone that knows you have some form of physical or emotional issue that is contributing to sleep loss, please consult with your doctor and let them know that your sleepless nights are putting you at risk for a long time in the Red Zone.
Top Sleep Hygiene Tips to Wake Up Refreshed
In days long gone by, you would put in a good day’s work, have a healthy dinner, maybe read a little and then go to bed. Roll forward to the 21st Century and we now are constantly trying to cram in more per day, spending hours on smart phones, TV, and computers, and staying in motion up to the last minute before bed. Then you wake up groggy, cranky, and unrefreshed, slogging out this pattern day-after-day. That’s not how you are going to reduce your time in the Red Zone! Let’s talk about some fundamental sleep hygiene techniques:
1) Electronic Media– Electronic devices emit artificial blue light which suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Scrolling through your smart phone in bed increases your alertness at a time when you should be getting sleepy. Watching TV in bed and uses other electronic media on a continual basis will add up to a chronic deficiency in sleep. The best practice is to suspend the use of electronic media at least 2 hours before bedtime.
2) Food and Alcohol – Too many people eat their last meal late at night and pair it with a glass or two of wine or other alcohol. The body needs time to digest that food before you enter the bedroom, otherwise your digestive system is working while it should be resting. I bet you didn’t know that drinking alcohol before bedtime blocks the production of REM sleep, which is the most restorative type of sleep. With less REM sleep, you’re likely to wake up feeling groggy and unfocused. It is best to quit eating or drinking alcohol 2 hours before bedtime.
3) Bedroom Preparation – Your bedroom should be viewed as a special place that needs a bit of preparation before you lay down for the night. Several scientific pieces of research have shown that a cooler room temperature leads to better quality sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the choicest temperature for sleeping better lies anywhere between 60 to 67 degrees F, so lower the thermostat or open the windows if the outside temperature will cool down the room.
4) Calming Your “Monkey Mind” – Our mind loves to race with thoughts all the time, particularly when we are trying to clear our mind for sleep. Meditation is a great way to calm your body and destress your mind. There is ample research on the subject that claims meditation can help you sleep better. When you meditate and breathe slowly and deeply, your heart rate lowers, facilitating a better night’s sleep.
Here’s a simple breathing exercise you can do right before laying your head on your pillow: Close your mouth and inhale strongly through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold it for about 7 seconds. Now exhale slowly through your mouth to a count of 8 seconds. Repeat the exercise a few times till your body feels more relaxed and that Monkey Mind’s chatter slows.
Nutrition for Longevity
We all know that whatever we put into our bodies in terms of food and drink affects every aspect of both our physical body and our mind. If you treat your body with the mindset that it can handle whatever your throw at it, you’ll get the undesirable results such as heart disease, digestive issues, diabetes, and cognitive decline. Over and over again research has shown that the healthiest and oldest people in the world got that way through always being mindful of their nutrition. They spend VERY little time in the Red Zone!
There are so many types of diets out on the market, many of them “faddish” and others just based on common sense and high-quality food. People with food sensitivities should always practice caution with their diets, and many people feel much better when they eliminate gluten and dairy from their diet. A basic nutrition mantra you can always use is “Cut Out the Crap!” to help you remove processed, fried, and saturated fatty foods from your daily menu.
The Mediterranean Diet Is One of the Best Approaches for Balanced Nutrition
One of the best non-fad diets to follow for a balanced and easy nutritional plan is the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is based on the diets of people from Crete, Greece, and Southern Italy. This diet has been around since the early 1960’s and has become popular because people who follow it tend to lower their rate of heart disease, reduce chronic health problems and lose weight. The Mediterranean diet profile focuses on whole grains, good fats (fish, olive oil, nuts etc.), vegetables, fruits, fish, and very low consumption of any non-fish meat. This infographic shows the food categories and daily servings of each.
The really great advantage of the Mediterranean Diet is that all the ingredients are found at your local grocery store. Meal planning is super easy and the Internet is filled with recipe websites to get you started. It is always best to try and buy non-GMO, organic fruits and vegetables and sustainably raised fish and meat to reduce the load of pesticides and other chemicals on your food.
Hopefully, you now have some information to get you on your path for establishing the kind of lifestyle that limits those long yards in the Red Zone and sets you up for a winning game! We all hope that our best years are yet to come, we can stay healthy and productive, and we don’t have to grow old without having enough quality time to accomplish our long-cherished dreams.