Aging Young

With the occurrence of my birthday this past week and lots of birthdays of family members this month, I have been thinking about longevity, the aging process, and why—for so many of us—there is a glaring discrepancy between how old we are and how old we look.

Our collective longevity has improved dramatically over the past few centuries.  The 19th century was the Century of Hygiene (improved public health and sanitation saved more lives than any other cause), the 20th century was the Century of Medicine (vaccines, antibiotics, transfusions, chemotherapy, etc., helped contribute to longevity), and the 21st century will be the Century of Healthy Lifestyles—whereby longevity will be increased by reducing risky behaviors and making positive changes with regards to exercise and nutrition.

Aging is an inevitable occurrence, but how we age is within our control to a significant extent. We have it within our own power to maintain health, vitality, and quality longevity—to walk with a spring in our steps and to feel energized and content. Aging is, of course, a 100% fatal proposition, and the best recommendation to push the limit of it is to first do no harm by avoiding malignant behaviors. So the first general rule is active omission—avoid doing bad—do not eat excessively, stay away from harmful substances such as fast food, tobacco and drugs, be moderate when it comes to such things as alcohol and ultra-violet light exposure, minimize stress, etc. The second recommendation to push the limit of aging is active commission—do good—eat properly, exercise vigorously, get enough sleep, seek preventative maintenance, respect yourself, invest in yourself, engage in the fitness and health lifestyle, live well!

“You have to work on longevity…” “My ‘secret’ is that you have to plan for your life. You need to plant the seeds and cultivate them well. Then you can reap the bountiful harvest of health and longevity.” 

(Jack LaLanne, at age 92)

“The secret to aging well is simply living well.”

(A rabbi in his 80’s, who is a patient of mine)

Chronological age refers to how old you actually are (in years, months, days, etc.); physiological age refers to your functional age, the age at which your organ systems and other body parts are functioning.  There can be a great disconnect between chronological and functional ages—one can have a chronological age of 40 and a functional age of 30; or alternatively, someone may chronologically be age 40, yet have a functional age of 60. This disparity basically comes down to genetics and lifestyle. A desirable goal is to maintain a functional age that is as young as possible.

Through my interviews with many chronologically older adults who were physiologically much younger than their years of life would seemingly indicate, certain attributes of aging well and aging long became obvious:

  • An active, purposeful and meaningful existence—for many this means continuing to work in some capacity or involvement in other endeavors that create purpose
  • Ample exercise and physical activity
  • Mental engagement and commitment to interests and hobbies—reading, travel, games, art, music, crafts, pets
  • A healthy diet
  • Avoidance of self-abusive behavior—junk food, obesity, tobacco, excessive alcohol, excessive sun, excessive risks—an “everything in moderation” attitude
  • Close relationships with family and friends with sources of strength being a good social network and perhaps religious/spiritual pursuits; in particular, being in a good marriage seems to be a very important attribute of aging well
  • Optimistic and grateful attitude—cheery, happy and upbeat dispositions with a sense of hope about what the future will bring, a good sense of humor and the ability to deal positively with stress
  • The ability to adapt to loss or change
  • Good genes
  • The practice of preventative maintenance
  • Care about yourself, respect yourself and invest in yourself—live well

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

If interested in a free electronic download of Finding Your Own Fountain of Youth: The Essential Guide to Health, Wellness, Fitness & Longevity, go to the Promiscuous Eating site and click on “links.”

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