No doubt, you have certain ideas about what it means to get older, and there’s a pretty good chance those ideas are not pleasant. According to data from Time magazine, Forbes and the New York Times, if you ask 100 people if they want to live to 100, 25 of them will outright say no, they don’t. Another 25 express some serious reservations.
Basically, getting to the upper reaches of age comes with a lot of anxiety, fear and trepidation for people. Why is that?
It’s a mix of perceptions and reality. A lot of us associate old age with not-so-fun things: loss of cognitive function (dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.), loss of mobility due to arthritis, loss of sexual health, loss of control of excretory functions – aka, having to wear diapers. We worry that we’ll be a burden to our kids or that we’ll end up alone in a nursing home drooling all over ourselves.
Now why do I say it’s a mix of reality and perception? Well, I’ve just outlined what many of us PERCEIVE to be old age. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, that is the reality. If you do happen into a nursing home—or worse yet—a hospice facility, you see a lot of people who are just alive for the sake of being alive. It’s hard to imagine they’re getting much enjoyment for life.
But that this isn’t how it has to be. Even if you are in your 40s, 50s or even 60s right now, there is a lot you can do – or change – that will go a long way in your enjoying life well into your 80s, 90s and beyond.
Influencers of cognitive function
Cognitive decline doesn’t just “come with age.” There are several contributing factors. One of the biggest is alcohol consumption. A 2008 study published in the journal “Geriatrics and Aging” said: “Moderate to high alcohol consumption is one of the often overlooked risk factors for development of dementia and cognitive impairment among older adults.”
That may not be all that surprising, but another point the study made is that a major contributing factor is prescription and over-the-counter medications. They pointed out specifically opioids, medications for seizures, insomnia and some mental disorders (benzodiazepines) and medications for dizziness, ulcers, prostatitis and sinus issues—including Benadryl (anticholinergics).
The study also specifically mentioned a term – polypharmacy – or the regular use of multiple prescriptions. This is particularly relevant to mention with age as 40% of Americans over the age of 60 take more than one prescription regularly. And you know how we mentioned nursing homes earlier. Turns out, the average long-term care resident takes 6-8 medications daily.
Some are starting to call it Type III Diabetes because of two things: 1) the link to insulin resistance and 2) the effects sugar has on the development of Alzheimer’s.
This is an interesting sort of social phenomenon as well. It’s only this year that mainstream science has acknowledged a link between high blood sugar and Alzheimer’s. They found the link between sugar and inflammation in the brain, which caused a misfire (so to speak) of an enzyme called macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF). When this enzyme doesn’t work properly, white blood cells enter the brain, attack it and cause oxidization, which rather quickly degrades brain function and reduces even the size of the brain.
Last year, Dr. Sarah Ernst, D.C. had an Alzheimer’s patient who was barely able to talk or even get himself from the car to her office without help. Of course, in her investigation of him, she found he had been eating ice cream almost every night for more than 40 years. She got him off sugar (with his wife’s help) and within 8 months, he was ALMOST normal. He could carry on a conversation, get himself around and was truly living a more enjoyable life. In fact, here is a really beautiful testimonial from “Jim & Vicki” about this very case.
Interestingly, the stress hormone, Cortisol, does the same thing to the MIF enzyme as sugar over time, causing inflammation in the brain and eventually an immune response. So, manage your stress, which should go a long way in keeping your mind sharp in your later years. Beyond that, there are a lot of things you can do regularly just to keep your brain function in top form. One is to get enough sleep. Lack of sleep, particularly over years and years, will make your brain function poorly.
Also, keep learning. Exercise your mind like a muscle. Read books, learn a new language, listen to classical music, etc.
Influencers on the loss of mobility
This has a whole lot less to do with age than it has to do with lethargy and a sedentary lifestyle. Plus, there are some epigenetic factors involved.
Let me explain. Your DNA is regularly regenerating itself. Every time your cells split, the DNA replicates itself. This includes the chromosomes that make up your overall genetic code.
If you’re not familiar with a chromosome, humans have 23 sets. They are tightly-wrapped bundles of genetic material shaped like an “X”. At the tips of these chromosomes are a portion of the chromosome called a telomere.
The thing is, every time our chromosomes regenerate themselves, these telomeres tend to get a little shorter. Thus the chromosomes themselves get shorter. The shorter they get, the “older” you become. Things start to happen like wrinkles on your skin, less efficient organ systems, less efficient brain activity, less efficient detox, less efficient hair growth and regeneration, etc.
At some point, the become too short to where they can’t direct cell division throughout the body at all anymore. That’s when people die of “old age.” Types of cells that reproduce more often than others are more affected by telomere shortening than others. This includes skin, hair and the immune system.
So why do the telomeres shorten?
A big part of it—the part we can control—is oxidative stress. Basically, the exposure to free radicals in the body inhibits the regeneration of DNA, and thus chromosomes, and thus makes the telomeres ultimately shorter. This happens for unknown reasons without the presence of free radicals, but when free radicals are present, telomere shortening happens between 2.5 and 5 times more quickly.
Obviously, the next question becomes: well how do I lengthen my telomeres or at least stop or slow them from shortening???
The six top sources for oxidative stress and free radicals are smoking, alcohol, medications, fried foods, pesticides and air pollution. We’ve discussed how medication, alcohol and smoking is pretty self-explanatory. But I find medication to be a particularly dangerous one for people in their old age as they are more likely to be prescribed more medication. We’ve discussed sugar, but what about our diet in general?
You’ve got to avoid factory-farmed meat and non-organic produce. These are filled with toxins like hormone disruptors, antibiotics, pesticides, etc. which lead to oxidative stress, inflammation and problems like cancer and Parkinson’s.
But the total avoidance of toxins is impossible unless you join a Buddhist monastery deep in the Himalayan mountains. Even then, there are probably toxic materials here and there. So you’ve got to get detoxing. And the most simple, front-line defense against oxidization (therefore the shortening of telomeres and aging) is to eat antioxidant foods.
Those include: berries, green tea, artichokes, dark chocolate, pecans, kidney beans, cranberries, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes and fatty fish.
Vitamins C and E are also helpful for slowing the degradation of telomeres. A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who took a multivitamin had about 5% longer telomeres than those who didn’t. And multivitamins can be a great addition to your health regimen IF you’re not getting the ones that are full of sugar or preservatives or additives. Maximized Living has a good line of multivitamins for both men and women.
Consistency is key. Years and years of a bad diet and sedentary lifestyle is something you can actually turn around in less than 2 years if you’re consistent. Our bodies regenerate themselves naturally. In 16 months, every cell in your body has regenerated, meaning every tissue, every organ and every bone is basically new.
If that regeneration process is enabled, the nutrients are available from your diet and supplements and your oxidative stress is kept to a minimum, plus you stay consistently active, there’s no reason you shouldn’t reach up into your 80s, 90s and beyond while still having energy, doing the things you love and being mentally and physically available for your kids, grandkids and maybe even great-grandkids.