Old -- Older -- Oldest (February 14, 2017)
"I'm getting older," my 82-year-old landlady once remarked to me, a bit sadly. "We all are," I responded -- rude twenty-something brat that I was. It is a tribute to her (or maybe to her arthritis) that she didn't flatten me on the spot.
However irritating I was, though, I was correct. We ARE all aging, and as any pathologist will tell you, we're pretty much dying from the day that we're born. And I'm going to make a bold assumption here and posit that all of us (once we become legal adults, anyway) would like to slow the process down. Or at least make it a little less grim.
Much of the recent discussion on the subject in the popular press was prompted by a 2015 study that interrogated one thousand people at three stages in their lives -- at ages 26, 32 and 38. By the time they reached 38, the participants' actual biological ages ranged from 30 to 60. Those who were aging the fastest were seeing their metrics (including the status of their chromosomes and their cognition) decline two to three years with the passage of every single calendar year. Eeeep!
Chinese medicine has an interesting take on aging and death. Quick and dirty, the idea is that you are born with a certain amount of fundamental energy, and when that’s used up, that's it. How fast that energy declines, however, depends on how you live your life. That means good diet, exercise, use of herbs, enough sleep -- you know the drill. Same as Western medicine, essentially. Many of the details are different. But the essence is the same.
But, you probably already knew that your chronological age and your biological age are two different entities. You might even have done one of these curious little tests:
which tell you if you are living your life in a fashion that isn’t killing you too quickly. They usually also have a few suggestions for improving your health and possibly lengthening your lifespan.
(Or maybe you did this one, which pretends to be like the first one, but is really just a bunch of unrelated questions intended to trap you into buying their stuff. Caveat emptor, now and always:
Coming back to chinese medicine, is there anything it tells us that we don't already know? There are herbs and exercises that are supposed to support your fundamental biological energy. You know, ginseng and various mushrooms for the former, and tai chi and qi gong for the latter. But basically, it all boils down to balance and moderation.
Moderation. Again. If there's a royal road to health and longevity, that's probably it. And that's pretty much all I've got for you. Because once you get past genes (centenarians tend to run in families) and the ordinary rules of healthy living, the experts (meaning the people who get paid money to study this kind of thing) run dry.
So that suggests two things to me. One is that since moderation is so important, we should try to make it a little more interesting. That would be stuff like eating nuts instead of cookies, or mounting the television on a treadmill to make the walk less tortuous. For some, it's the opposite -- going for a nice bird-chirpy walk instead of boot camp, or eating a sandwich instead of salad once in a while.
The other thing is my own personal take on our typical American lifestyle. My opinion is that the element most lacking in our lives is proper exercise. For other peoples, or in a different century, maybe not. But for our sitting, driving, TV-watching society, it's exercise.
Can we manage just the federal guidelines? 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise plus two strength-training sessions a week? That's really pretty easy. It could even be enjoyable, once we finally get started, right?
This is my reason for picking on exercise. In discussions of aging we tend to be distracted by dramatic, life-threatening illnesses like heart disease. But living to and through a pleasant, healthy old age has a whole lot more to do with your muscles and joints and pain -- or the lack thereof -- associated with them.
As long as you can move around easily and comfortably, put your own socks on and fry your own eggs, you can control your own life. And if you can do THAT, you will be able to get much more of what you want from it. Regardless of how long it happens to wind up being. So, enjoyable moderation for general health. And, exercise to stay limber and pain-free. My two cents this week.
--dr. diane holmes
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