Successful Strategies for Healthy Aging
By Joseph Brady and Jacqui Shumway
Both in Traditional Chinese Medicine and western science two strategies have emerged for improving health, improving the nutrient density of the diet and balancing diet and exercise.
The evolutionary Biologist George Baker defines Aging as “an organism’s (our) fitness to withstand the stresses of everyday life” by improving our fitness we function in a more youthful fashion in very real ways.
Normal aging is defined as aging at a rate of 2%/year after the age of
thirty. Successful aging, on the other hand is aging at only half that rate or 1%/year. This makes a difference of 10-30 years in the onset of the age of disability, depending on whose research you wish to look at. Which aging curve are you on? Eat right and get some exercise and you have control of much of the rate of aging.
Exercise slows the rate of decline: Use it or Lose it
Exercise has been shown to cut the normal rate of aging in half allowing us to maintain independence for many years, 80-90% of us still do not include physical activity as an important aspect of our lives. We know that numerous health benefits have been attributed to moderate exercise, including less risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis. So why do we quit exercising or not make the time for physical activity? Because it hurts or we simply find it boring. Unfortunately, many of us put off starting exercise programs and end up needing expensive therapy or even surgery to fix what could have been prevented. The sooner we can start on an exercise program, the better.
Health education and promotion is one of the most important issues in the aging of America. Successful aging is dependent upon individuals having access to information and resources necessary to take control of our own aging. We need to create an environment that supports the efforts of individuals to makes these changes in lifestyle. Small changes in diet, exercise levels and attitude can make a huge difference in the levels of functional ability in older adults and fully functional older adults is money in the bank for the whole society.
What is “the right way to walk”? “How do i get the most benefit from the exercise”? These are two of the most common questions Trainers get from clients. The answer is always “use your head”. If you want to get the most out of your exercise program, exercise smart, not just harder. First of all, if its a lifelong commitment and not just a passing phase, you can afford to start off easy, truly go at your own pace. You know your body better than anybody. If you exercise properly it should feel good, it should feel comfortable, pay attention to your body and you can get the most mileage out of it that you can.
According to Dr. Walter Boritz former head of the American Geriatric
Society, we can slow down the rate of aging by one half, by exercising properly. Setting back the onset of disability by as much as 20 years.
For each hour we exercise we add an hour to our lives, and more
importantly, we can add functional, enjoyable years to our lives. The average person can expect to spend the last ten years of their lives frail and dependent upon others and society, and the last one year completely dependent, Exercise can prevent this for the greatest majority of us who choose to get out there and DO IT.
Prevention of Injuries is Crucial
Stay injury free. One of the primary reasons a person will drop out of
an activity program is due to injury. Too much too soon with inappropriate equipment can all lead to increased risk of injury. Allow yourself the opportunity to start slowly and gradually progress to reach your long-term goals.
Plan for lapses in your program. Life sometimes gets in the way of
even the most well intentioned and carefully planned fitness program. Again, how you set your "rules" can determine whether you will stick to your program. It is OK to take time off and return to your program, especially during times of illness. Learn to treat your body with respect and care.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Variety can be the spice that keeps you interested and motivated to
work out. Experiment; cross-train. More exercise options translate into greater control over your physical activity program.
Set up a series of prompts and reminders. An energetic and fun-
loving springer spaniel is an excellent reminder to workout. The wagging stub of a tail is difficult to turn down for an evening run. Come up with your own prompts.
Organize a social support network. Get a workout partner. Find
friends and/or a spouse who will encourage and support you. You will always be able to find someone with reasons why you should not do something. Protect your dreams. Join a team. Support a cause. Most important of all, have fun!
"That which is used develops; that which is not used wastes away." --
Diet and Aging
A nutrient dense diet is one where there is a high level of nutrition for fewer empty calories and this diet is the basis for all the dietary recommendations from the U.S. Surgeon General’s office. The efficacy of a nutrient dense diet has been proven in hundreds of experiments including some evidence in humans. The Okinawan diet, the Mediterranean diet and the Ornish diet all lend evidence for the value of nutrient dense diets. . Basically it's what your grandmother told you " eat your veggies".
The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) nutritional strategy of the five flavors and tastes comprise a simple yet effective approach to nutrient density. The nature of food eaten is of paramount importance in TCM diet therapy. Foods are classified according to their nature (hot, warm, cold, cool or neutral) and their taste (sour, bitter, sweet, pungent or salty). Although the subject of foods and their action in health and disease is a vast one we can summarize as follows. Foods must be varied to ensure nutrient density.
The Role of Diet in Aging
The first gerontologist to notice that there was a relationship between diet and longevity was a gerontologist by the name of Aristotle. Aristotle was the first one to notice that the larger animal is the longer lives. These days in biology this phenomenon is known as specific metabolic rate. Basically what that means is that for every species of animal you get the same number of calories to burn per pound per lifetime when you burn them up, that's it over and out that's all she wrote you die. What this means is that an elephant that lives 70 years burns exactly the same number of calories per gram of body weight as a hummingbird does that lives that lives seven years. The hummingbird burns those calories very quickly and very inefficiently and so does a lot of metabolic damage to its body and the elephant burns those calories very slowly and very efficiently which by comparison does very little metabolic stress to its body and the elephant gets to live a good long time. In 1935 Doctor Clive McKay at Cornell University wanted to know, if that's true then what would happen if you only fed animals half as many calories would they live longer. He took a bunch of rats and from the time they were weaned from their mothers only allow them to half as many calories as they would normally eat ad libitum or if you let them eat whatever they wanted. What he found was that it worked. Sure enough when you cut the calories in half
you double the lifespan even exceeding the maximum genetic lifespan for that strain of rat.
The phenomenon of caloric restriction increasing life expectancy remained just a laboratory curiosity from 1935 till the 1970's and 80's when Dr. Roy Walford and the Dr. Richard Weindruch at UCLA decided to see if they could extend that phenomenon and so they did a whole bunch of experiments using laboratory animals in many different species. They found that if you slowly reduce the number of calories in the diet while increasing the amount of nutrition you could dramatically extend the lifespans of adult animals. Early experiments only worked if you fed the animals this nutrient dense diet from birth. Roy Walford's experiments at UCLA show that you could do this even starting an advanced age if you did it very carefully and try to avoid malnutrition. If the rat was eating a lousy diet to begin with and you cut the calories in half you just put the animal into malnutrition.
Since that time literally thousands of experiments have been done testing the phenomenon and basically the higher the nutrition and the lower the calories the longer the lifespan. These days the phenomenon is known as a nutrient dense diet and is the basis of all the dietary recommendations from the Surgeon General's office from the Heart Association and the Diabetes Association. Basically you want to pack as much nutrition into the diet as possible with as few calories. It is sort of like having an old-fashioned pot belly stove. If you cram a lot of wood into the stove it doesn't burn very efficiently. You get a lot of smoke and in the cells that smoke is known as free radicals damage and according to the free radical theory of aging that damage is what causes aging. However if you take the pot belly stove and feed the wood into it very carefully and very slowly it burns those calories very slowly and very efficiently. As a result you get a lot more heat a lot more work out of the fuel that you're burning and at the same time very little smoke. Basically in order to be alive you have to burn fuel (calories) and as you burn stuff that's called oxidation when you burn stuff inefficiently do you create a lot of smoke that metabolic smoke does damage in the cells and that damage is what we call aging. Reduce the calories, increase the nutrition (anti-oxidants) and you slow down the rate of aging.
Nutrient Density the Basis of Chinese Dietary Therapy
In traditional Chinese medicine the ancient Taoist alchemists discovered this phenomenon several thousand years ago and in early writings they talked about avoiding the five grains and basically subsisting on a diet that consisted mainly of vegetables and herbs and a little bit of meat here and there. In fact when you look these days of the healthiest diets around the world the Okinawan diet the Mediterranean diet and other longevity promoting diets these are diets that also subscribe to that prescription of eating as few calories as you can get away with depending upon the needs of daily life and packing in as much nutrition as possible into the diet, vitamins minerals and other essential stuff that you need.
This is all nothing new. The relationship between diet and aging have been known for a long time. Luigi Coronaro wrote about nutrient density in his book the Art of Long Living, Luigi lived to be hundred and three and his book was published in 1537.
These days the challenge with the modern food supply is you are competing for convenience with a lot of foods that are maybe not so healthy and so really the trick is to find healthy diets that are nutrient dense and at the same time delicious and easy and convenient for people to prepare.
Stress Management Skills for Healthy Longevity
Eight Silken Forms (Ba Duan Chin)
Many of us have experienced rapid aging due to stress. For example a person can age before our eyes after a stressful or traumatic experience. Also, studies have found that if stress related hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and ACTH, are injected into young healthy rats, they quickly turn their hair gray, wrinkle their skin and age their muscles and bones.
In Tom Johnson’s laboratory at CU in Boulder, they are studying the genes that have been implicated in aging. As more is understood about how these aging genes work, they seem to be stress response genes. For instance when you stress an animal too much, it ages quickly and dies. If you don’t stress an animal at all, it atrophy’s and dies. But if you stress an animal a little bit and then allow it to rest, it grows stronger and lives longer. It seems a strong mind in a strong body may be the key to a strong and long life- right down to the genetics level.
Mind/Body Exercises are Key
Kenneth Pelltier with the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention writes in the American Journal of Health Promotion; ” there is an increasingly compelling body of evidence indicating that mind/body interactions are at the root of both health and disease”. Psychological characteristics such as mood, depression and anger have been shown to be important mediators in health and immune system response.
You have Control of How You Age
One of the greatest advances in scientific history is very quietly sneaking up on us. The discovery over the past fifty years that lifespan, aging and the quality of life are in large part determined by the quality of the way we live our lives on a daily basis. This knowledge promises to change our world more profoundly than anything else in history.
At the end of the last century an fundamental shift in medical biology set the course for the predicament we are in today. In the 1860's. French physiologist Claude Bernard theorized that health was determined partly by the internal strength of an individual to respond to the challenges in the environment. Forsaking that idea, for more than a century modern medicine followed Louis Pasteur's germ theory that disease could be traced to a single bacterium, virus or biochemical defect. This choice allowed great advances in medicine's ability to poison and kill germs, cut out or replace defective parts however unfortunately at enormous expense.
By emphasizing technology and neglecting lifestyle we have driven health care costs to the point of absurdity. By the year 2057 health care costs are expected to consume 100% of the U.S. gross national product. The barbarians are at the gate in health care and if we wish to avoid the fate of our Roman predecessors it is time to reevaluate. Louis Pasteur on his deathbed even admitted that Bernard was right. That the health of an individual depended upon the strength, fitness and nourishment of a healthy body. A strong mind and body are capable of fending off the onslaught of most (but not all) of the germs, viruses and other threats from the environment. Even when infected with the same cold virus only 18 out of every hundred people will actually get sick.
Increasing longevity has resulted in a increase in the need for well developed, products, services, community, hospital and university based programs to keep older adults healthy and independent. Funding for such programs is scarce and the need exists for providers to combine their efforts.
Whether we like it or not we are evolving into a longer living species. The only question remaining is whether the elderly become what Harry Moody of Hunter College calls the illderly or grow into the wellderly.