Active Ageing: Grow Older Without Getting Old

Genes make only a quarter of how we manage the ageing process. The rest depends on how well we manage our lifestyle. What this means is that your date of birth may not reflect your biological age. For instance, your biological age may be 45 years and you actually look 25, or the reverse may be the case. I don’t roll out the drums for my birthday. It’s usually a very quiet one with gratitude to God for another 12 months addition to my sojourn on earth.  Most importantly I pray for good health, boundless energy, and graceful ‘active ageing’.

As the signs of ageing begin to show, some people start looking around for anti-ageing miracles.  After all, we all want to be younger and the tendency to live longer is there, though people are now far less healthy. About a hundred years ago, a 50 year old looked really elderly, but today the same woman can expect to enjoy another 30 years in good health wearing trendy Calvin jeans or Nike jogging pants. Living longer is not enough though, but remaining fit, healthy and active until the last possible moment is the new goal.

Why are we frightened of getting old? Mind you, we all seek longer lives, but the fear of becoming weak, dependable, and urinating uncontrollably, remain.  Moreover, youth is associated with beauty in our culture, while older people are often asked to take the back seat.  Result? We starve the ageing process, or hide our real age while trying to be youthful instead. Efforts to checkmate the ageing process include cosmetic surgeries, money spent on gym membership, food supplements and complementary beauty therapies to maintain good health and youthful appearance.

Active ageing is more positive
Ageing which is ‘a progressive loss of bodily function accompanied by a growing risk of age-related diseases’, has thankfully given way to a more positive concept of ‘active ageing’. The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes active ageing as ‘the process of growing older without growing old’, which can be achieved through the maintenance of physical, social and spiritual activities throughout a lifetime. The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to improve your chances of staying younger for longer.  Eating healthily, managing your weight, and taking regular cardiovascular and weight bearing exercise (like swimming), don’t just increase life expectancy but increase ‘healthy life’ expectancy. 

The evidence is also there that no matter how old you are or what condition, exercise is of benefit for fitness and health.  The powerful slogan for healthy ageing is ‘use it or lose it’. Why the slogan? This is because our repair systems are not good enough to keep us going, so we age.  For instance, sometimes there is a breakdown of the antioxidant defenses which protect us from free radicals that cause ageing.  Also, nutrition is crucial because bad food can contribute to faults in DNA that make us age, whereas good food can help the body’s defense mechanisms protect us from free radicals.

While age remains the biggest risk factor for the major killers such as cancer, heart disease and stroke, there is more to ageing that meets the eye. Researchers are trying to unravel the mystery of ageing: in particular what makes the cells go haywire.  If the process can be understood, the belief is that this will be a credible basis to measure how well individuals are doing in terms of ageing. A great insight is that an individual’s actual age (chronological) can differ from their biological age (physical).  In other words, a woman aged 40 could have the bones and skin of a 30 year old, but the heart and lungs of a 50 year old.

What causes ageing?
A study showed that the telomeres (bits of DNA on the ends of chromosomes) of obese women and smokers were far shorter than those of women of the same age who were lean and had never smoked.  Obesity added 8.8years to a person’s biological age, and smoking added 4.6 years.

Stress is another culprit found to shorten telomeres.  In another study, women with the highest stress levels showed the equivalent of 10 years of additional cellular ageing when compared with women who had the lowest stress levels. Cutting out alcohol, cigarettes and getting restful sleep also helps keep you within your actual age.

Taking care of your organs
How can you make your organs younger for a long healthy life?  We provide some tips for you below:
Heart:  A good exercise for the heart increases your breathing rate, strengthens the heart muscle and keeps the arteries elastic, while lowering blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. You should do this sort of exercise for thirty minutes, five times a week.

Basic dietary rules for a healthy heart should be less saturated fat, at least five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, oily fish at least twice a week, or a fish oil supplement.  Studies have also shown that garlic can reduce blood cholesterol levels.

 Keep your blood pressure under control by limiting intake of alcohol, managing your weight, and reducing salt consumption. Fruits such as banana, melon, dried fruit, avocado, and tomato juice are also good for lowering blood pressure, while Coenzyme Q10 has been found to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.

Brain: The brain loses cells and shrinks as we age, which leads to memory loss and cognitive decline. The cheery news is that older people who have regular mental stimulus appear to maintain their cognitive abilities better. How? Try new activities and experiences that will keep the brain active throughout life.  Also essential are social contacts, strong family networks and regular exercise. For instance, men who take moderate exercise have been found to have a lower risk of Parkinson’s than sedentary men, while really fit people have little cognitive decline, as they get older.

The herb, ginkgo biloba, is number one for brain function because it improves blood flow, and can slow down the deterioration of cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. In addition to this herb, supplementing with Vitamin C and E and eating a diet rich in antioxidants, including berries and dark green leafy vegetables, sharpens your mind.

Muscles, joints and bones: After the age of 50, you lose one per cent of your muscle tissue each year. This is not joyful news, as muscle weakening slows us down, likelihood of developing osteoarthritis, and more dependent on others. Too much weight is also a risk factor for osteoarthritis.  We reach peak bone density at 35, and after that bone loss begins.  The higher the peak bone density, the lower your risk of osteoporosis in later life. Doing exercises improves strength, power, balance, flexibility, stamina and bone density. Not only does exercise prevent bone loss, but also can help reduce back pain.

Eating calcium rich foods such as milk and dairy products and green vegetables will help to build strong bones. Exposing your skin to the sun (safely of course) produces vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Reduce your caffeine and salt intake, as well as fizzy drink, which cause calcium to leak from the bones. A bone supplement, which contains calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, may help.  

If you suffer from joint pain, omega- 3 fish oils and cod liver oils, have anti-inflammatory properties, while glucosamine and chondroitin have been found to ease arthritis. 

Eyes: Cataracts, glaucoma, and age related macular degeneration (AMD) become common with age.  It is advised to have regular eye tests.  There is however growing evidence that by improving your diet you may also improve the health of your eyes.  Diets rich in saturated fats may be associated with AMD, while fresh fruits and dark green leafy vegetables rich in vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin may delay the condition or reduce its severity. Try also to protect your eyes from sunlight to reduce the risk of AMD. Use of sunglasses or baseball cap can be useful.

Skin: Cell production slows, the epidermis thins and cells hold less water as you age.  There is loss of elasticity leading to wrinkles, furrows and jowls. The ageing of skin depends on lifestyle and gene type. Sun damages and ages the skin, so does alcohol, smoking, stress and yo-yo dieting which causes the skin to sag.  Experts advise wearing sunscreen when exposed to the sun, which nowadays doubles as a moisturiser, and use a night cream too.  Ensure you embark on a good cleansing routine, choose a good sunscreen and follow a healthy diet.  A daily multivitamin, mineral and antioxidant such as selenium, are recommended.

Finally, 'don't  regret growing old. It's a priviledge denied to many'.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons


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