Have you ever wondered why your 75-year-old uncle is in a rest home, on a cocktail of medications and needing help with dressing, toileting and remembering who visitors are, while a 95-year-old man in Okinawa is a perfect reversal of the picture: mentally and physically active, having great sex, possessing a zest for life and freedom from disease, disability and pain. Genetics? Not really. When it comes to how we age, genes play a very small part.
How often have we heard the adage “Just age gracefully”? Why would you throw away the greatest gift you have: the gift of youthful good health. This is the ability to live your life fully, retaining your youthful looks and sense of self for as long as you can. A disturbing New Zealand statistic is that on average, we will have 12 years of dependent care before we die, and for many there is a degree of suffering before that.
The desire to age well has given rise to the ‘anti-aging medicine’ movement focused on keeping bodies young and well and preventing chronic disease. However, the term is a misnomer. Western medicine waits until we break down and then uses drugs to fix the symptoms. The drug rarely resolves the cause, and invariably has side effects.
The same philosophy applies to aging, our response to the lines on the face, the sagging body parts and the loss of function. We seek the quick fix promised by creams, Botox, implants, surgery and drugs, none of which address the underlying problem. The aging process continues, and resurfaces somewhere else in the body.
Why and how do we age? There are several prominent theories as to the causes and process of aging, the speed of which determines our quality of life. Combining these theories reveals what we need to do to slow down, and in some cases reverse, the aging process. A handful of key measures can help us avoid most chronic diseases, maintain bodily function, and look and feel younger.
These measures include:
- Reducing the levels of free radicals (unbalanced molecules that disrupt other molecules);
- Lengthening our telomeres (part of our chromosomes, which after they shorten to a certain point causes the cell to die);
- Protecting our mitochondria (little factories in the cells that produce energy);
- Regulating our insulin levels (too much insulin can lead to insulin resistance and renders the body unable to deal with sugars);
- Reducing chronic inflammation (an excessive immune reaction that causes many chronic diseases);
- Balancing hormones (little messengers that tell the body how to function);
- Reducing cortisol (the stress hormone, which causes everything from a compromised immune system to overweight).
Why are we aging more quickly and succumbing to more chronic disease than the last few generations? As we have moved away from the lifestyles of our predecessors, we have subjected our bodies to more toxins than ever before, bombarding ourselves with chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, radiation, heavy metals, colourings and preservatives. We put them on our skin, in our bodies and in our houses, and ingest them through the air we breathe. Our bodies employ natural mechanisms to reverse the damage caused by toxins, but without changes to nutrition and lifestyle, it is a losing battle, and speeds up the aging process.
Fortunately, there is much that can be done to slow down and even reverse the aging process. It starts with a full analysis of your current wellness status. A variety of non-invasive tests can determine what is going on inside your body biochemically: levels of oxidative stress, sugar and energy, inflammation, hormone imbalances, toxicity, ability to absorb nutrients and efficiency of bodily functions. Bench-marking chronological age against biological age is a useful measure to gauge progress.
The results of the tests will enable the formulation of an anti-aging plan, which may include antioxidants to combat free radicals, herbs to reduce inflammation and lengthen telomeres, and nutrients to optimize mitochondrial function. Diet and lifestyle are at the foundation of any plan, but they do not need to be onerous. Life is to be enjoyed – if not, why try to extend it?
The key is to find a knowledgeable naturopath who understands and is qualified in anti-aging medicine, has comprehensive testing protocols and can guide you through what can be a cost-effective process that yields valuable results.
Looking and feeling younger are merely superficial benefits of an anti-aging program. The real benefits include avoiding many chronic diseases and retaining mental acuity; put simply, being that 95-year-old, not that 75-year-old.