© 2011 Nancy Appleton PhD & G.N. Jacobs
“What a drag it is getting old!” – Rolling Stones, Mother’s Little Helper.
I’m sure that most of you that know me probably find it odd that I’m quoting a very loud rock band for my pithy statement about the myths we believe when it comes to aging. After enjoying the Beatles, I chose to miss the rest of the British Invasion. My staff tells me the line comes from a song about Valium abuse among housewives during the 1960s. I like the irony that drug abuse is one way to wear our bodies out faster, causing us to fear getting older driving us to even more pills to block out our pain, a vicious cycle.
But what do we believe about aging that causes such fear?
- Fasting blood glucose will increase.
- Blood pressure, both diastolic and systolic, will increase.
- Bad cholesterol (LDL) will increase at the expense of good cholesterol (HDL).
- Osteoporosis will set in leading to brittle bones causing dread of falls.
- Our strength decreases.
- We will be fatter and less lean.
- Our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) decreases.
- We will be colder.
- Degenerative diseases become inevitable.
Pretty much, I don’t believe any of the above statements. Aging as we know it is a process created by our own bad habits, because we…
- Stop eating properly.
- Stop exercising and keeping the body aligned.
- Let the stress that is inevitable, become distress that sabotages our health.
- Let various harmful environmental factors stay in our environment.
I will point you at any of my books which each deal with various signs of bad health and provides the most recent citations for further reading. I discuss blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol ratios, osteoporosis, fat retention, metabolic rate, temperature regulation and degenerative diseases in various contexts in Lick the Sugar Habit, Healthy Bones and Suicide by Sugar. Let’s discuss the four solutions.
Eating properly means preferring whole foods to processed foods, cutting back on sugar and the food allergens to which we react. It also means gently cooking the food and eating the proper portions so that our bodies aren’t overworked trying to deal with lots of food. I put the same three food plans in all of my books, because they keep working for people.
Food Plan Three takes many of the foods to which we react out of our mouths. It is a highly restrictive food plan emphasizing vegetables, protein, water and whole grains not loaded with gluten. I recommend it as the sharp transition between unhealthy eating and healthy eating. Then as the person heals the less restrictive Food Plans Two and One may become more appropriate depending on symptoms.
One of the interesting things I found in looking over the source material for this article was how much exercise helps with our aging concerns. Usually, I give equal time to Diet, Exercise, Emotional Health and our Environment that they all work together to make us healthy (or not). This will always be true, but in the specific case of aging well exercise is very important.
For instance, older people who exercise with weight training in addition to their cardiovascular workout resist increases in the fasting blood glucose rate. Some of the insulin made by the body is stored in the muscles. A lack of exercise as we age means these muscles may become body fat and become resistant to insulin resulting in higher fasting blood glucose levels.
And for bone loss, exercise, including weight training, is very important as well. NASA and their Corps of Astronauts have known about weightlessness and bone loss for quite some time. Our bones are designed to hold us up for our lifespan more or less at the bottom of Earth’s gravity well. We’ve all seen the pictures of astronauts in orbit strapped into special bikes to pound out their roadwork. The idea is that the bones will also respond to the strains place on them by overactive muscles working as compensation for no gravity and minimize the bone loss.
However, in the specific case of astronauts at least through the early Shuttle era there were dietary concerns as well, specifically Tang. This was (is?) a powdered drink that replaced orange juice on space flights. It has been a while since I’ve seen the labeling on a bottle of Tang, but sugar, like with many processed foods, was listed at the top. I’ve never seen a study authored by NASA that asked this question: does bone de-mineralization increase for astronauts who drink Tang compared to those who don’t? I hope it’s because no one asked the question instead of someone asking the question and then classifying the answer.
I love repeating this example for those who think we must get weaker as we age. A Tufts University study from some decades ago took 12 older men and put them on resistance training for 12 weeks. Most experienced at least a doubling of the weight they could lift and experienced up to 15-percent increase in muscle mass. Research also seems to show that our metabolism, cholesterol and thermal regulators respond to exercise, as well.
I don’t want to give short shrift to the other factors that help us age healthily. If we are not in a good emotional or intellectual state, we don’t use the foods we eat as well. I have always differentiated between stress and distress: the difference being that stress can happen to you, but distress is what happens when you don’t deal with stress. A family has a big fight and then sits down to eat, bad move. The members are all still angry at each other and this affects their bodies and the digestion of the food.
Another way to define stress compared to distress comes from my earliest research where I took blood samples, dunked peoples’ hands in cold water and then took another blood sample. Key indicators would always be out of whack after the dunking, but presumably because neither my research assistants nor I were berating my subjects for any reason all of them quickly got over the shock. I have always said to deal with stress before eating. That the person, who prays, meditates, writes in his or her journal or even exercises before eating will remain healthy.
Lastly, I must touch on the Environment as the last factor that determines if we will age or if we will be healthy. I used to have fearsome pollen allergies and dreaded going out to play tennis some days. Once I stopped abusing sugar, these allergies cleared up and/or became minor. This allowed me to enjoy being outdoors and reap the benefits of several sets of tennis that included stress reduction, muscle building and all of the other things talked about here.
Since what a 20-year-old should do to remain healthy are the same things that a 60-year-old should do to fight the bad effects of a poor health regimen, we come full circle back to Diet, Exercise, Stress and the Environment. And then I realized that I am talking about Health as an imperfect synonym for Youth, because none of this will keep your hair from turning gray. I use hair color for that.