Resisting the Aging Process
Increasingly, doctors and scientists concerned with aging are examining a
persons totality of experience: diet, habits, heredity, medications and accumulated
problems. All these elements of the human entity may add up to a prescription for
increased longevity, if various ameliorating factors can be made to work together, making
the individual stronger and more resistant to disease.
of modern medicine and health care has created an ever-expanding group of constituents
vitally interested in all of this. People over 85 constitute the fastest-growing
population segment in America, the best country in the world for octogenarians, where they
live a decade longer on average than citizens of other nations. But the baby boomers are
the real 500-pound gorilla of actuarial America, and they are vitally interested in aging
or, more specifically, in reversing the effects of aging.
being used for the all-inclusive perspective in medicine is "disposable soma"
(soma means body in Greek). It is attributed to a gerontologist named Thomas Kirkwood at
the University of Manchester in England, who suggested that aging is a figurative attic
where our damaged cells and tissue are collected. Human beings, unlike other species, are
not subject to the demands and limited mortality of life in the wild and so have a unique
capacity for accumulating, over time, worn-out or imperfect parts. These must be mended or
replaced if a person's years are to stretch comfortably into the future.
body seeks to shed these cells and to produce better ones. Drugs can make this easier and
more effective. Hormone replacement, for instance, fits nicely into this view, except that
some hormone supplements taken to make one more youthful can also trigger diseases that
might not otherwise have developed, like cancer. Or so tests indicate.
Research continues on hormone replacement for
enhancing everything from immune deficiency to psychological health. But researchers are
also experimenting with enhancing the life span of the cells themselves. "Telomere
shortening" refers to the natural process whereby the body instructs certain cells to
die off. By increasing the enzyme telomerase, which determines the telomere length in
sperm and egg cells, scientists hope to someday make other cells live forever.
This is a potential fountain of youth in a petri dish, but until
the aging American can be saved by science he must find new holding actions against tired
and damaged cells.
body concept has produced some practical guidelines, like those recently put forward by
Johns Hopkins University in its medical letter, "Health After 50." Pointing out
that by the year 2050 most Americans will live to the age of 83, the letter makes specific
recommendations for resisting the aging process.
Foremost among these is not hormone replacement or
cell manipulation, but exercise. Tests prove that men who regularly and strenuously work
out can reduce their cholesterol levels as much as 27 percent below those of inactive
males. This translates into better cardiovascular and respiratory activity, but it also
affects bone mass, digestion, rest and attitude.
We are not
talking about walking around the block, but sweating through endurance training. The Johns
Hopkins people recommend burning as much as 3,000 calories a week above the "normal
sedentary baseline." That means jogging about four miles five times a week a
lot of exercise (and more than I get).
Walking briskly for half an hour three times a week
does help reduce blood pressure, but rigorous exercise is "the single most important
anti-aging measure anyone can follow, regardless of age, disability or general level of
fitness," according to Johns Hopkins.
Diet is the
next most important aspect of aging. Consuming a lot of fruits and vegetables halves the
likelihood of some cancers and lowers the odds of developing heart disease, diabetes and
gastrointestinal problems. Abandoning high-fat foods for low-fat reduces cholesterol and
blood pressure. Five servings a day of fruit and vegetables are recommended, and two to
four serving of low-fat dairy products for calcium, with daily cholesterol intake limited
to 300 milligrams.
should be taken regularly to correct the natural deficiencies in older people of vitamins
B6, B12, and D, and folic acid and calcium. Lots of water is necessary. Older men are prone to dehydration and need six to
eight glasses a day to keep the system running smoothly and efficiently.
out, since it spikes the risk of congestive heart failure, lung cancer and other problems.
Alcohol is permitted under this regimen, but only one glass of wine or one drink of
spirits a day, the most conservative recommendation I have seen.
exposure to the sun is blamed for deterioration of eyes and of skin, both cosmetically and
in terms of cancer risk. Stress hampers the immune system and so should be avoided. Again,
exercise is sited as an antidote to stress, and as a spur to increased mental activity.
Regularly challenging the mind can improve reaction
time, a problem with older people, and help counteract short-term memory loss.
One more thing. Unless you have a bleeding ulcer, are
taking anticoagulants or have had a hemorrhagic stroke, take a baby aspirin (65 mg.) once
a day. It could do wonders for your aging soma, say the experts.