Stephen is a guest blogger for Paula’s Healthy Living:
Stephen C Schimpff, MD is a quasi-retired internist, professor of medicine and public policy, former CEO of the University of Maryland Medical Center, scientific advisor to Sanovas, senior advisor to Sage Growth Partners and is the author of Fixing the Primary Care Crisis: Reclaiming Relationship Medicine and Returning Healthcare Decisions To You And Your Doctor | www.medicalmegatrends.com | http://medicalmegatrends.
Let’s start with the bad news. If you are in your 20s or 30s you’re not thinking about aging. But the process will start in your 40’s nevertheless. Every organ and function begins a slow but steady 1% decline each year. You will not notice it, probably, until you are in your 60’s or 70’s. Besides the facial wrinkles, you will notice less muscle strength, some memory lapses, balance issues, hearing loss and your doctor will tell you that your bones are getting thinner. Just like a car, “old parts wear out.” Welcome to the “golden years.” Older age is also the time when various chronic illnesses occur, like heart disease, cancer or chronic lung disease. Aging is universal, it affects everyone, and there’s no “fountain of youth”. Some think it would be great if there was a pill to slow the process but there is not – at least not yet.
Now let’s move on to the good news. There is a way that you can slow the aging process and it’s quite effective. It all has to do with your lifestyles and behaviors.
There are four critical lifestyle changes most need to make.
- The first is sound nutrition;
- the second is regular exercise;
- the third is to reduce chronic stress;
- and the fourth is to totally avoid tobacco.
Good sleep patterns are an added value. For this post, I will address only nutrition and exercise.
David Katz, MD, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center said recently, “A Very Short List Of Lifestyle Practices Has A More Massive Influence On Our Medical Destinies Than Anything Else In All Of Medicine.”
By attending to these lifestyle practices, it’s possible to slow that 1% aging process to perhaps 0.75%. This may not seem like so much but it is really a 25% reduction and it adds up over time. If you start when you are a young adult, it will compound like a retirement investment. It makes a huge difference many years down the road to older age with slower aging and fewer age prevalent chronic illnesses. It can mean the difference from the later years being beset with illnesses or having a healthy life right up to the end – an end that comes later.
The Figure shows a 1% decline (middle line, blue) beginning at age forty and continuing out to age 100. The top line (red) shows the impact of slowing the decline to 0.75%. The bottom line (green) demonstrates how being a “couch potato” will speed up the aging process. The cumulative changes are substantial as the years progress.
The exact biological mechanisms that lead to aging or not well understood but as the biology of aging is better understood, it may be possible to take some other approaches to slow the aging process. For now it’s lifestyles, lifestyles, lifestyles. If you would like to learn more about the aging process, take a look at my new series of short videos.
So what exactly should you do?
The first step is to eat a highly nutritious diet. The details of that you can find here on Paula’s blog. But in essence think about eating real food, mostly plant-based, mostly from fresh ingredients, made from scratch at home. The Mediterranean diet is a good reference. Go heavy on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Moderate amounts of fish and limit meats. Use olive oil and have some dark chocolate; alcohol in moderation. Avoid processed foods, avoid heavily prepared foods and avoid fast food. All of these have substantial amounts of added sugar, fat and salt. Read labels very carefully. If there are items on the label that you don’t understand, skip it. If there are more than about five ingredients, skip it. But actually the best thing to do is avoid processed foods altogether. They are “nutrient light” whereas fresh foods like spinach, kale, sweet potato, berries, beans and lentils are “nutrient dense.” It’s good to remember that nutrient dense foods are generally lower in calories whereas nutrient light are high in calories. Cooking from scratch isn’t difficult; it really doesn’t take much time. Unfortunately we Americans have gotten away from doing this but it makes a big difference. It is also a good idea to eat together and make meals an event.
You need about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five days a week. This can be as simple as walking or perhaps bicycling or swimming; it need not be really aggressive like jogging. It just needs to be regular. Add in weight-bearing exercises at least three days a week. Some of these you can do at home with push-ups, sit ups, deep knee bends, the plank, etc. You might want to consider going to a fitness center where there are specific machines and some instruction in good form. Read Paula’s post on functional fitness. As you get older it’s also important to do balance exercises. It is also very important that you have a physician that offers you truly comprehensive primary care. A recent editorial in the Baltimore Sun explains the importance of primary care.
Here is 2400 year old advice from Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. “If We Could Give Every Individual The Right Amount Of Nourishment And Exercise – Not Too Much And Not Too Little – We Would Have Found The Safest Way To Health.”
Adjusting lifestyles can be difficult, no question about it. But the long-term impact can be extremely beneficial as can the short-term impact. It requires attention, perseverance and frankly downright doggedness. But you can do it and you will be proud of yourself while feeling a lot better. And you will thank yourself many years from now when you are enjoying a healthy, productive, enjoyable long life.