Perhaps one of the comments that I hear most frequently in my rooms is, 'I'll tell you what, Doc., Getting old is not for the feint hearted!'
What does this really mean? Because the negative effects of aging are so common we have come to accept that it is inevitable, that, as we get older, we will automatically suffer with ill health.
The forms of ill health can vary dramatically from musculo-skeletal aches and pains to more troublesome problems like arthritis, to a range of cardiovascular diseases like arteriosclerosis, raised cholesterol, hypertensive and stroke, to digestive conditions and of course the absolute dreaded disease – cancer , to name only a few of the common ailments we have almost come to expect will surface as we get older.
Is it really necessary to just accept this as inevitable, or is there actually something that we can do?
Well according to research from the USA the whole process of aging is coming under the spot light.
The aging process is a natural process and as such should not necessarily be associated with dis – ease and often disease. In fact there may well be aspects of aging that are highly desirable – wisdom for example.
Because getting chronologically older is a process that is unavoidable we should really be putting our attention on 'senescence. Senescence is the term given to the processes of age related changes that adversely affect vitality and function of the organism.
We have all known folk in their 70's, 80's and often older that are hale and hearty and the most common comment when around them is 'if or when I'm 80 I'll be quite happy'.
It is commonly thought that senescence is genetically determined and if we are unfortunate enough to have inherited 'unhealthy' genes we will experience all the negative effects of aging.
A study conducted by a group of investigators at the University of Pennsylvania found that only 20% – 30% of our longevity is determined by our genes. In fact, Dr Bruce Lipton, the well known cellular biologist, believes that the genetic influence may actually be as little as 5% – 10%. This means that before that, at best 70% – 80% and sometimes even as much as 95% of how long we live, and the quality of our life is determined by the influence of the external environment on those genes.
This therefore puts the responsibility for our health and longevity fairly and squarely into each of our laps! It is no longer acceptable to blame anyone but ourselves for our state of health.
What can we do then to help ourselves? Actually, as it turns out, the anti aging research says that there is a lot that we can do to prevent cellular destruction.
There are three areas that need to be addressed when looking at taking responsibility for our health, wellness and longevity: our physical / structural system, our biochemical / nutritional system and our psychological / emotional system.
Let's take a closer look at what this actually involves.
Our structural system combines the muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, cartilage and connective tissue. The structural system is generally very resilient, however the lifestyles that we live today subject this system to pending 'repetitive strain'. Repetitive strain means subjecting the body to continuous, repetitive activities such as driving or sitting behind a desk or computer.
As a general rule the hectic life styles that we live today, or the type of lifestyle we lived in our earlier years, and the need to be busy all the time means that we do not get enough R & R time. During time of rest the bodies 'repair teams' become active, replenishing energy stores, rebuilding muscle, producing new cells and 'recharging the batteries'. Deprive the body of rest and relaxation, not to mention sleep, and you place all body systems under physiological stress, which will eventually lead to tissue breakdown, quicklyened aging and eventually the manifestation of symptoms.
My older patients often ask me what the single most important thing is that I would recommend for an older person when it comes to the structural system. Well, with out doubt it would be to increase muscle tone.
As we age our muscles get weaker and smaller. The muscles are the source of our energy production and structural support. A light resistance exercise program, to strengthen the muscular system, will offer remarkable support for many different body systems.
The second portfolio that we need to invest more thought and planning into is our nutritional and bio-chemical system. Our bodies can essentially be described as complex chemical laboratories. Chemical reactions occurring every milli- second producing pain killers, antibiotics, cortisone, hormones, enzymes, energy molecules and thousands of other substances that keep us alive. These chemical reactions are dependent on that wonderful substance called food.
More important than food alone, it is the correct type of food that is so critical to the optimum functioning of our bodies. Every meal should contain a combination of carbohydrates (potato, rice, breads, grains), proteins (fish, meat, chicken, nuts, seeds, cheese, eggs, beans, soya) and fats (olive oil, fish oils, flax oils) . Meals should always be eaten while sitting down and not 'on the run' and each mouth should be chewed 20 times!
Refined foods such as sugar and white flour, processed foods such as frozen meals and packet foods, 'deli' meats and tinned foods, fast food and junk foods are all 'nutrient deficient' and should be taken in moderation, if at all.
If these foods are consumed on a regular basis it places the bodies coping mechanisms under stress, resulting in such conditions as 'insulin resistance', which has been directly linked to cardiovascular disease, adult onset diabetes, raised cholesterol levels and elevated uric acid. The body is at greater risk of free radical damage, also directly linked to quickened aging. The bodies immune system is 'up-regulated' as is adrenal gland stimulation, resulting in many of the adverse effects of getting older eg increased susceptibility to bacterial and viral infections, bowel disturbance, reduced libido, fatigue, menopausal symptoms and the list goes on and on.
Finally our psychological / emotional systems need to be considered as it is these systems that allow us to cope with stress. It is a well known fact that on going stress makes us 'feel' old. Why is it though that some people are more negatively affected by stress than others?
It's quite simple. We have learned responses to certain stimuli that we are subjected to on a daily basis – time pressure, excessive deadlines, perfectionism, dealing with on going relationship problems, living in regret of the past and fear of the future, for example. These learned responses result in the production of certain 'messenger molecules' (hormones) like noradrenalin and cortisol that have the effect of 'up-regulating' virtually every system and cell in the body in order to assist the body in coping with the persistent stress .
As time progresses the body becomes less and less able to cope, the coping mechanisms become exhausted and begin to falter and symptoms start manifesting.
In order to handle these stressful stimuli the subconscious memory banks, where the learned responses are stored, need to be reprogrammed. Reprogramming a negative stimulus into a positive is, admittedly, not easy, but it's not impossible.
Meditation, visualization and affirmations, when practiced regularly, are techniques that will provide the impetus for reprogramming. The amazing power of positivity, as a healing tool, is becoming more and more accepted, even among some of the die hard traditionalist.
As we become more proficient at seeing everything in a more positive light the body is less traumatized and therefore can follow the process of 'youthful aging'.
So it's not too late, take control, make the necessary lifestyle changes that will add years to life and life to your years.