Dr Miriam Stoppard’s ultimate guide to anti-ageing: Staying young is mind over matter

All through my life, each decade has been better than the last – and now with grandchildren, a writing career, my Mirror health columns and a garden to tend to, this is still the case.

As one of the oldies who trekked to India to see if retirement there is better than the UK for the new BBC1 series of The Real Marigold Hotel, I was struck by how fit you have to be to travel.

I’ve always aimed to keep fit and healthy, not just to be able to go places, but to see my grandchildren grow up.

Those ambitions have inspired me to eat healthily, stay active, exercise my brain and be engaged with life – even at 79.

The basis of everything I do is embedded in science, and not in fashions and fads, which I dismiss.


Each time a piece of research appears – which shows, for instance, a new way of eating, new benefits of a food or a new way of exercising – I look at the evidence and if it’s sound, I adopt it and live by it.

This has meant that over the years I’ve amassed a lot of information, which I believe helps me to age well.

My body and mind are in the best condition I can remember. My body responds when I call on it to perform strenuously, and my brain works nearly as fast and as clearly as it did when I was 27 (I think).

Here’s what I’ve found works for me:


  • My brain is stretched by several jobs and by working with a team of young people.
  • I give myself lots of time-outs.
  • My husband is supportive and encouraging.
  • I’m in touch with my family all the time.
  • I have a close circle of loving girlfriends.
  • I eat healthily 80% of the time (10 or more fresh fruit and vegetables a day, lots of fish and few fatty foods).
  • I don’t smoke.
  • I exercise every day.

Also, because I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, I find I have more hours in the day to live life to the full.

I no longer tire out in the early evening as I used to before I took regular exercise.

So over the next four days, I’m going to share my secrets with Mirror readers.

Today we look at nurturing your mental wellbeing in your later years.

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Accentuate the positive – have optimism!

If I were to choose one factor above all others to foster mental wellbeing, it would be optimism.

This can give you real resilience as you get older – it’s a great healer.

Research has shown that people with positive attitudes have fewer illnesses and if they do get sick, they recover more quickly because of a strong immune system.


Optimists are more likely to feel that they can take charge of their health and not just passively slide into old age. They tend to take better care of themselves too. They sleep better, don’t drink or smoke too much, exercise regularly and are freer from depression.

They live longer and age more gently. They stay in touch, have more friends and an active social life.

Believe me, it’s worth cultivating optimism because it makes you ready to open up your mind to new possibilities.

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Exercise can really lift your mood

Physical activity can boost both physical and mental wellbeing, and can change your outlook on life. It can even prevent problems starting in the first place.

I know from personal experience that regular physical activity can lift your mood and help you deal with negative emotions, such as anger and depression.

It brings you a general sense of optimism and mental wellbeing, as well as making you feel in good physical
condition. I’ve noticed if I wake feeling a bit down, 30 minutes on my exercise bike cures the blues.

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That’s because exercise floods the body with hormones which reduce tension levels, and feelings of stress and fatigue.

And there’s no time lag – I find these changes happen straight after a session, even though I don’t pedal strenuously.

No wonder I’m addicted to it – I can’t miss a single day.

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Make yourself feel good with self-affirmations

Teach yourself to think well of yourself. Being negative about yourself usually stems from experiences which have stuck with you from childhood – and they can be difficult to erase.

Affirmations in the form of positive ‘self-talk’ can help get rid of a negative self-image and help you rebuild
self-confidence and self-esteem.

  • Design your own. Say them out loud.
  • I’m a good person.
  • I believe in my potential to succeed.
  • I can make my life better and better.
  • I love and accept myself for who I am.
  • I wasn’t put on earth just to please others.
  • I’m getting stronger, healthier and more energetic.
  • I deserve to be happy.

Relax, feel good and rejuvenate

Deep breathing This lowers stress levels and is an instant tranquilliser. Take very slow, deeply inhaled breaths, followed by long slow exhalations to a count of five – five in and then five out. Repeat two to three times. Stress gone!


There are different types of yoga, some of which emphasise exercises and others meditation. All types teach relaxation and breath control. Yoga postures exercise every part of the body, and result in increased suppleness, endurance and strength. Harmonisation of breathing with yoga postures helps you achieve a state of relaxation, and is very useful in relieving stress and keeping you strong.


The aim of meditation is to free the mind from the usual everyday clutter. This promotes mental relaxation, which is then followed by physical relaxation. Most of us need a focus, a word (mantra), but you can meditate on anything, anywhere – a flower, a painting, a smell, music. Just go into it and free up your mind.

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Meditation tips

  • Try to set aside a specific time of day to meditate.
  • Start with five or 10 minutes, then gradually work up to 20 minutes.
  • Just find a quiet, comfortable spot – even your car will do.
  • Before sitting down to meditate, take a few minutes to stretch.
  • Allow thoughts, feelings and sensations to drift freely.
  • For guidance, find a teacher when you begin.

Be kind to your mind

Just as we become less physically resilient as we grow older, so we also become less mentally resilient and more prone to feelings of anxiety. Changing your vocabulary will help fight this:

Words to avoid/ Words to use

I can’t/ I will

I should/ I could

I hope/ I know

If only/ Next time

It’s not my fault/ I’m responsible

It’s a problem/ It’s an opportunity

What will I do?/ I can handle it

Life’s a struggle/ Life’s an adventure

It’s too hard/ I’ll push through

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Goals for peace of mind in later life

  • Having an income and assets for our material wellbeing when we retire.
  • Some continuation of working activities or social relationships to promote a sense of belonging and participation.
  • Paying attention to your health so you can be more active and have more security.
  • Gainful use of leisure time to give you a sense of achievement, usefulness and happiness.

Ways to keep open and responsive to change

  • Retain your curiosity.
  • Match your skills to the challenge.
  • Be prepared to learn a new skill.
  • Take small, simple steps.
  • Don’t push yourself into dangerous situations.
  • Make sure you have a buddy.
  • Keep your sense of humour.

Resisting social isolation

From adulthood to retirement age, we go through a transition of withdrawal from the activities and obligations that previously linked us and our circle closely together.


This isn’t the same as being alone. A person will always have times when they choose to be alone. Rather, loneliness is the feeling of being alone and feeling sad about it. And, of course, all of us feel lonely some
of the time. It’s only when we’re trapped in our loneliness that it becomes a real problem.

Start socialising

A new hobby or joining a club can take our minds off feeling lonely and change our mood. We meet people with similar interests and practise our people skills, boosting confidence. We start to look forward to things. Joining a club could open up your world.

Here are some reasons why clubs are such great places for meeting people…

  • Unlike a party, it’s not just about socialising – you’re there to participate in an activity that you enjoy.

  • You’ll strike up casual conversations, meet people and make friends.

  • Activities are prearranged for you.

  • You can meet far more people than in everyday life.


Would you like to be a ‘superager’?

That’s someone whose biological brain age is less than their chronological years. Or, put simply, someone who’s young for their years.

It’s a goal worth pursuing because it means you could live to a ripe old age in good health. According to new research, it’s within the grasp of most of us.

Lisa Feldman Barrett, professor of psychology at Northeastern University in
the US, recently studied some so-called superagers to understand exactly what
makes them tick.

She used MRI scans to compare the brains of 17 superagers between the ages of 60 and 80 with those in another group of a similar age.

Certain regions of the brain were thinner for regular agers, but in superagers they were untouched by the ravages of time and indistinguishable from those of young adults in their twenties.

What are these crucial brain regions?

Nearly all were ‘emotional’ regions. It’s our emotional brain that seems to keep us young.

The thicker this region of the brain is, the younger a person’s brain.

So how do you become a superager?

Professor Barrett’s best answer at the moment is: work really hard at something.

These critical brain regions increase in size when people perform difficult tasks, whether the effort is physical or mental.

You can keep these regions thick and healthy through vigorous exercise and bouts of strenuous mental effort.

The road to superaging isn’t easy though. To keep these brain regions young through hard work – both physical and mental – you have to hurt, and then some.

But superagers aren’t put off, they push through. They’re rewarded with a more youthful brain, a sharper memory and better concentration. Work that body. Work that brain. Be a superager!