Anti-aging is the new “niche” in medicine and treatments, including supplements and “superfoods.” It’s a big market: 90% of our health care funds are spent on the last 2-3 years of life and 50% of all health care monies are spent on the degenerative and chronic conditions associated with aging.
Doctors are still arguing about what “anti-aging” means. Some believe that it means extending the life span; others believe it is about quality of life in later years. More and more, people understand “anti-aging” treatments and research to mean improvements in both quality and quantity of life.
Prevention of the Aging Mind
The biggest shift in thinking about aging is the perception that aging is a preventable disease or condition. Although most people dismiss lack of energy, reduced memory capability, muscle weakness and changes in mood as natural processes involved in “just getting old,” these are all preventable conditions.
Improper nutrition, lack of exercise and declining hormone levels all contribute to the development of chronic diseases associated with aging, and these are preventable as well.
Gerontology specialist Andy Crocker says, “Many clinicians and family members attribute an altered mental state to someone’s age rather than recognizing symptoms of disease and seeking treatment for it.”
- Something as simple as a faulty prescription for eyeglasses can cause disorientation and lead people to believe age-related dementia is at work.
- New learning and social support has been found to increase longevity and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Our bodies are designed for physical activity and yet only 7.5% of those over 65 get regular aerobic exercise and fewer than that do any type of resistance training.
- The mind/body connection is a potent component of mental and physical health and those who actively engage in meditative processes and social interactions enjoy both increased quality of life and longer life.
The brain is an organ and needs regular exercise. Mental decline and memory loss are not inevitable aging processes.
Brain cells and neural pathways continue to grow throughout the whole of the life span with stimulation and challenge. Declining mental activity leads to brain deterioration.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia have been linked to the formulation of plaques in the brain, which are thought to inhibit communication between brain cells. These may also be linked to insulin that brain cells have been found to secrete. In fact, diabetes and Alzheimer’s are so closely linked, researchers have proposed that Alzheimer’s could be re-named Diabetes Type 3.
Interestingly enough, many studies have found that regular brain stimulation and mental challenges decrease the incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia, whether or not plaques are present.
Studies have also found cognitive activity can reduce plaque formation, plaque size and reverse degeneration in many brain regions.
There are plenty of ways to increase brain activity and function.
- Play games like chess, bingo, word puzzles and Suduko
- Learn a new language
- Join an internet group
- Take a class
- Take up a new craft
- Change routines—change the order and way you do daily activities: try getting dressed with your eyes closed or brushing your hair with the hand you don’t normally use.
- Make use of two or more senses: sing while you wash dishes, light a fragrant candle while you read.
- Get regular exercise. Physical activity increases learning ability, concentration, memory function and abstract reasoning.
Emotional health is linked to both physical and mental function. The aging population goes through many transitions that affect emotional health. Retirement results in a change in identity and sense of worth, reduced mental challenge and physical activity and limited social interactions. Family constellations change, spouses and friends sicken and die and chronic disease limits one’s ability to get out, interact and invest time in additional activities.
Depression is connected to decreased brain function. Both mental and physical exercises increase the communication between brain cells and decrease depressive symptoms.
Meditative practices lift mood, increase brain function, help to manage pain and other chronic conditions and increase well-being. Meditative practices include deep breathing, prayer, yoga, tai chi and expressive arts therapies. Anything that engages one fully, makes time lose meaning, and restores and refreshes body, mind and spirit will boost your emotional health.
Social support systems are one of the most important anti-aging weapons. Many user-friendly internet sites have been developed especially for the elderly and have had fantastic results, increasing social support and connection and so the physical and mental health of many.
Physical activity declines as we age. The loss of muscle mass and flexibility increases physical handicap and the risk of falls. It also limits the ability to engage in social activity and contributes to depression. This is not how we were meant to live as we get older.
Aerobic exercise increases cardiovascular health and endurance. Resistance training keeps muscles growing. Swimming, Pilates, Yoga and Tai Chi are all exercises that can be modulated to any level of fitness and have the added benefit of group involvement. Even a 5-minute walk everyday is linked to increased brain function and well-being. Running has been found to result in brain cell growth and it actually reversesbrain cell death and damage. But remember, the best way to exercise is by running, swimming, walking, etc. in bursts, combined with light resistance training such as weight lifting.
We were born to move. Our bodies are like machinery that rusts with disuse. All of the most long-lived peoples of the world engage in regular, daily physical activity.
A word of warning: intense physical exercise is linked with increased oxidative stress in the body and can impair health in the long run. Regular moderate exercise creates slow growth changes that are beneficial. “Weekend warriors,” those who get little exercise during the week and engage in sports or intense yard work on the weekends often experience negative health effects.
Hormones are a complex, delicate and integral part of health. Hormones decline as we age due to toxin loads, chronic stress, environmental pollutants and the waning of reproductive function. It’s not just women who suffer from hormone imbalances after menopause…men go through a male menopause or andropause. A 40-year old man has only 2/3 of his original amount of testosterone, at 50 only half and after 70 years only 10%.
Testosterone is very important to women’s health too. Testosterone imbalance is related to bone and muscle mass, concentration, depression, fatigue, stress and cardiovascular health.
Hormone therapy got a lot of attention after a study found increased risk of heart disease and breast cancer with the use of synthetic hormones. Bioidentical hormones are natural hormones that are not associated with these health risks, but your best bet is still to balance your hormones naturally with your diet and lifestyle.
It’s important to remember also that menopause is not a disease in itself–it is a natural bodily process. As mentioned above, toxins, stress and environmental pollutants, among other things, contribute to the presence of negative symptoms such as hormonal imbalance.