Emerson was echoing one of the emerging debates of medicine. While traditionalists consider aging as an inevitable event, a small group of experts believe that aging is merely the aggregation of diseases that become more prevalent among the elderly. These diseases include Alzheimer’s dementia, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis and cataracts. The hypothesis is that if we can prevent the diseases that afflict the elderly, we can effectively prevent aging.
This is a very sensible proposition. Even if you’re older in years, if your body and mind are as strong as in your youth, doesn’t age just become a number?
My dear aunt Nitay, or Ninang Nitay as we call her, is a 73-year-old lady who is as vibrant now as she was when she retired from government service two decades ago. Until recently, she would even climb up her roof to remove leaves clogging the gutter. She would’ve continued to do so had the ladder not been attacked by termites.
If you don’t use it …
What is the secret to her seeming youth? She replies, “Galaw galaw lang.” Her philosophy is, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This has scientific merit when trying to prevent most age-related diseases. Staying active helps prevent diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Exercise is one of the most potent measures to counter aging. Aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, swimming and jogging strengthen the heart and lungs while preventing obesity and all the ills it brings. Resistance training and calisthenics strengthens the muscles, which averts age-related muscle wasting, at the same time supporting your joints, protecting them from arthritis. What is important is to do a variety of exercises, and to get adequate rest and sleep after.
Aging researchers have long known that restricting calorie intake lengthens the life of lower forms of animals. In humans though, caloric restriction isn’t always a good idea. We know that our bodies need a certain amount of calories and nutrients to stay healthy. However, overeating also has a detrimental effect, leading to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Ninang Nitay eats like a small bird. And it shows in her lean frame. This is also one of the reasons why she’s able to stay active, unencumbered by excessive body weight.
One of the risks of eating small quantities of food is the possibility of developing deficiencies in some micronutrients. To prevent this problem, short of popping a multivitamin capsule, is to eat a wide variety of foods, all in small measures. Make sure that in a day, you get your necessary meats, which are not only rich in protein, but also minerals and vitamins; fruits, for your dose of vitamins and antioxidants; and vegetables for vitamins and dietary fiber.
Fruit of the vine
In the 1990s, antioxidants became the boon in the fight against aging. It was discovered that oxidation played a major role in many age-related diseases, including cancer, and that antioxidants may help prevent them. One antioxidant that has shown promise in slowing down aging is resveratrol.
Resveratrol is naturally found in grapes and peanuts. In addition to its antioxidant properties, resveratrol seems to also help prevent some cancers, heart disease, diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease. The National Institute of Aging in the U.S. is intensively studying this chemical in the hopes of finding the right dose to best control aging. While the jury is still out on the right dose, it’s best to get your dose of resveratrol from whole foods. A cup of boiled peanuts have roughly the same amount of resveratrol as a cup of red grapes.
If there’s one single thing that can hurt your body and push you into old age, even in your thirties, I would boldly say it’s stress. In the past, it was commonly believed that stress was all in the head, but we now know that psychological stress can cause a cascade of devastating effects on the body. About 75 percent of all doctor's visits are for stress-related complaints, such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, insomnia, depression and anxiety.
In general, acute stress such as what happens during catastrophes or crises or major life events don’t affect your body. However, chronic unresolved day-to-day stress can hasten the manifestations of aging and age-related diseases. Not to mention that chronic frowning accelerates the emergence of wrinkles.
Ninang Nitay seemed to know the importance of stress and de-stressing. She could be hot-tempered at times, but in general, she had a happy disposition despite long commutes and late nights. She talked her day-to-day stresses with day-to-day de-stressors, and relaxed by playing with her dogs—and later her nieces and nephews. She prayed the rosary every day, and research has shown that repetitive prayer raises a person’s tolerance to psychological stress. If prayer isn’t your thing, try going for a brisk walk, self-talk, deep breathing and drinking cool water. Also, if aging is an illness, laughter is definitely the best medicine.