Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
There are some things that don't change much with age. The basic personality does not, the vocabulary continues to grow, and reasoning and problem solving are retained. While there is a decline in memory, impairment of memory is not the rule; meaning that what is remembered is remembered accurately. You should be able to enjoy moderately vigorous activity well into your 80s.
A. Psychological Factors
How long a person will live is in part measure predictable from how conscientious a person is in childhood. A study done on bright children by H.S. Friedman in 1993 showed that there was a strong association between how conscientious the person was in studies, chores, handling money, etc., and how long the person would turn out to live. The protective effect of conscientiousness is not primarily due to accident avoidance and can not be explained by abstinence from alcohol, smoking, and overeating. The mind set of conscientiousness may have more wide-range effects on health relevant activities than has yet been recognized. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 68 (4):696-703, 1995
Studies showed that impulsive, under-controlled personalities and major family stresses were known predictors of impaired adjustment with long-term health effects. Such things as parental divorce during childhood, unstable marriage patterns in adulthood, childhood personality disorders, adult maladjustment, and many psychosocial factors emerged as important risks for premature death. American Psychologist. 50 (2):69-78, February 1995
Senior citizens who do volunteer work for approximately one hour per week live longer than those who do not. In a study done in Michigan, the volunteers were 67% less likely to die over the next 7 years (the length of the study). Too much volunteer time, however, is a stress on senior citizens and should be avoided. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological and Social Sciences. 54(3-S):173, 1999
A fairly large study examined the relationship between the intensity of emotional response to music and risk-taking behavior in adolescence. The more intensely the person reacted to music, whether it is positive or negative, the greater the risk of participating in bold or risky behaviors. Especially a strong negative emotional response to music was correlated with a history of greater risk-taking behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health. 23(1):49, 1998
Since most risk-taking is either directly or indirectly related to the health, we can say that the music of teenagers today is aging.
Divorce of one's parents during childhood decreases length of life unless the child were very conscientious about health laws, exhibited evenness of disposition and mood, and had a determination to get work done before engaging in play (these all predicted increased length of life).
B. Nutritional Factors
Folic acid is especially good for the elderly, for pregnant women, for those with low blood sugar, and those who take the "pill."
Soybeans guard against a number of maladies of aging such as heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, menopause syndrome, and hypercholesterolemia.
Acetyl-L-carnitine causes a reduction in the brownish pigment that accumulates in nerve cells with aging called lipofuscin. Alpha tocopherol (vitamin E) can also reduce the lipofuscin deposits. Brain Research, 634(1):62-8;1994)
Citrus pectin reduces aging and may also reduce blood pressure and the likelihood to have diabetes. An orange or grapefruit a day may protect a diabetic from neurologic or eye diseases that cause a lot of discomfort and disability in diabetics. The active ingredient in citrus lowers the sorbitol level in diabetics, which is usually elevated in most people with diabetes.
An experimental diet used for testing learning performance on aging mice contained 20% of the diet made up by dried and powdered red bell pepper. The sweet peppers were first dried and ground and then mixed with the feed of the mice. It was found that the mice on pepper showed much better acquisition of knowledge and avoidance of injury than did a control group of mice given a common diet. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 45:143-149,1999
Blueberries, one cup per day in humans, has been shown to reverse age-related effects such as loss of balance and a lack of coordination. Clinical Pearls News, 10(2):21, February 2000 and Medical Tribune, 40(17(4);1999
By increasing antioxidants such as vitamins C, E, A, beta carotene, and nutrients such as selenium and those coming from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, we reduce the aging effects on the brain.
Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity Values per 100 grams (3.5 ounces or about one-half cup) of food
White grapes 446
Red grapes 739
Kiwi fruit 602
Spinach, raw 1,260
Peas, frozen 364
Brussel sprouts 980
White potatoes 313
Alfalfa sprouts 930
Sweet potatoes 301
Spinach, steamed 909
Broccoli florets 890
String beans 201
Red bell pepper 713
Yellow squash 150
Agriculture Research, February 1999
C. Lifestyle Factors
Falls and broken bones often mark the first step in a downhill spiral for the elderly. Tests have shown that spinach taken several days per week (4-5 times) can maintain the portion of the brain necessary for good balance and coordination. Alternatives, April 1999, page 172)(ISSN 0893-5025
When the body mass index reaches 27 or higher, weight becomes a serious health concern. Government guidelines recommend a BMI of 25 or less. People with a BMI of 19 to 22 live longer than those with a higher BMI.
How to Check for Your Body Mass Index (BMI):
1. Multiply your weight in pounds by 0.45 to get kilograms.
2. Convert your height to inches.
3. Multiply that number of inches by .0254 to get meters.
4. Square that number (multiply it by itself).
5. Divide this into your weight in kilograms and the answer is your body mass index.
As many as one-third of Americans over the age of 50 are likely to have chronic, mild dehydration; if not moderate or severe. Of medical interns, young men and women, 27% were mildly dehydrated. The concerns of dehydration include the risk it poses for kidney stones (at least 8 cups of water per day can prevent most stones, even in people prone to forming stones), reduction in strength and endurance in physical activities, an increased risk of some cancers, particularly urinary tract cancer. But probably the disease to be feared most from chronic dehydration is strokes. The more calories burned each day, the more water one needs. Coffee and alcoholic drinks, cokes, tea, and chocolate should not be counted as liquids meeting the fluid needs of the body, as they actually encourage loss of water through the kidneys. Internet, Thursday, May 27, 1999
A study on aging done by the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda showed that people over the age of 70 who had difficulty performing daily activities - climbing stairs, ability to walk half a mile, their walking speed, ability to easily get up from a chair, and their balance were all indicators of becoming disabled in the next four years. Those functioning in the middle range of the tests were 60-80% more likely to become disabled than people with the very highest scores. Those with the lowest scores were over 400% more likely to become disabled. New England Journal of Medicine, March 2, 1995
This study indicates a great need for optimum exercise for all older people.The number of times in 30 seconds an elderly person can rise from a straight-backed chair without using their arms measures lower body strength. As an example, an 80-year-old woman who can stand up 10 times in 30 seconds is about normal for that age. But doing only 10 of these chair stands at age 60 is below average. While people at that level may function all right now, they are at risk of losing mobility by age 75. At 60 a woman should be able to do 20 in 30 seconds; at 70, 15; and at 80, 10.
Eating fewer calories lengthens life. A study done by the National Institutes of Health showed that reducing calories by 30% lowered the cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of heart disease; and restricting the calorie intake even lower cut the rate of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. In addition to the NIH study, another research done at the University of Wisconsin, and a third at the University of Maryland substantiated the NIH study. British studies as well have shown that rats on a diet severely restricted in calories enabled them to live 50% longer.
You can take action on this research if you like by eating only breakfast and lunch and no supper, and a diet consisting largely of fresh vegetable salads, cooked vegetables (without fat added), fresh fruit and preserved fruits (canned, frozen, and dried), and a few nuts and seeds, about an ounce once or twice a day. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. May, 1996; also Ibid. 86(11):4225-4229; June, 1989
Calorie restriction is the "only manipulation we currently know that increases life span," said Dr. Richard Sprott of the National Institute of Aging. You may be able to increase your life span by one-third if you reduce your calorie intake by one-third.
Predictors of accelerated aging
Poor pulmonary function is associated with a lower mental functioning in later life. Joint impairment and weak thigh muscles contribute significantly to reduction in vigorous exercise. These factors, therefore, can become predictors for individuals who will develop accelerated aging. How firm are your thigh muscles? Squeeze them to find out how long you are likely to live. The earlier in life you begin strength training and physical exercise, the less likely you are to become frail in old age.
Diabetes has been linked to a 30% increased risk of getting Alzheimer's disease.
Simply restricting one's total calories can increase survival. Reducing total calorie intake is one of the most important things reducing the accelerated rate of aging. At 60% less table sugar than is average, persons can be expected to live about 35% longer. Even when eating lots of calories, if these calories come from starchy carbohydrates rather than heavy table sugars, one can expect about 20% longer life span. Apparently excessive sugar generates free radicals that accelerate aging.
Reduce your exposure all through life to certain solvent groups such as benzene, toluene, phenols, and alcohols, ketones and other organic solvents.
If you don't chew well, you may lose brain cells. Research was done by cutting off the upper molars of laboratory mice. At the end of the test period memory for space was evaluated, and the numbers of hippocampal neurons were counted. Molarless mice showed a decrease in both learning ability in a water maze, and neuron density in the hippocampus area of the brain compared with control mice. These changes increased the longer the molarless condition persisted. The data suggest a possible link between reduced mastication and brain cell loss, and may be one risk factor for senile impairment of spatial memory. Copyright 1999 Elsevier Science Brain Research 826(1)148-53, April 24, 1999
D. Blood Chemistry Factors
Elevated non-fasting plasma homocysteine levels are associated with increased rates of mortality from all causes as well as from heart disease in the elderly. Archives of Internal Medicine 159:1077;1999
A 5-year study done by the National Institutes of Health, showed that high iron levels are an increased risk of coronary heart disease deaths; as well as total number of deaths from all causes. Four thousand men and women aged 71 and over were studied. The higher their iron levels, the higher their risks of total causes of deaths and especially coronary heart disease. There is also growing research indicating high iron levels specifically give an increased risk of heart attacks and cancer. These new studies reveal that the picture is not entirely simple and other factors may be involved. American Journal of Cardiology 79:120;1997]
Insulin resistance is a strong marker for the aging process. The condition is inherited but requires an unhealthful lifestyle for it to fully develop. Measures should be taken at once, as soon as the diagnosis is made, to correct the lifestyle in order that the aging process can be retarded. Internal Medicine World Report, January 15-31, 1995, p. 30
If insulin resistance is not treated, it leads to diabetes, as well as an increased risk of hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and the cluster of disorders associated with each of these diseases.
Adequate quantities of growth hormone promote living long and stimulate muscle growth and strength. Mental acuity is also improved. A number of elderly men were given growth hormone for six months. It was found that 77% of those taking growth hormone developed unwanted side-effects including swelling of the extremities, joint pain, high blood pressure, angina or heart attacks. Furthermore, a year's dose of growth hormone may cost as much as $12,000.00. Annals of Internal Medicine 124:708-716; April 15,1996
There is a way to increase growth hormone naturally. Go to bed 3 hours before midnight, even if you sleep only 3 hours after midnight, which will give you about twice as much growth hormone as you would get if you slept 6 hours after midnight. While growth hormone is naturally produced in adults only during sleep, the pituitary produces about twice as much before midnight as after midnight. There are none of the unwanted side effects from this program that one gets from the hormone supplements, and it will cost you not a penny.
E. Metabolic Factors
Growth hormone naturally decreases as we age. Researchers from London discovered that physical exercise stimulates the production of growth hormone, thus slowing down the aging process. Clinical Endocrinology. (Oxford) 51:687, 1999
Being regular in sleep habits, and getting at least 2 hours of sleep, and preferably 3, before midnight also increase the production of growth hormone.
Rodents who received 40% fewer calories lived 30% longer. Similar studies have been done in monkeys, and certain observations on humans indicate the same thing. Hunger is not a bad thing, and there is a modern proverb, "You should push away from the table when you are 80% full." Sounds good! If you are so full you cannot eat more, you are in a state of taxing all your metabolic systems and encouraging the development of disease. Degenerative disease comes on by repeated insults to metabolic systems.
Studies show oxidized protein accumulation with age, and a decrease of an enzyme (glutamine synthetase) activity in the frontal lobe, especially in Alzheimer's Disease where there is an accumulation of an abnormal protein named amyloid. Annals of New York Academy of Sciences 738:44; November 17, 1994
There is already evidence that animal protein is not handled as well as plant protein, and is more likely to become oxidized before consumption than plant protein.Various excitotoxins from the environment such as might be present in foods from chemicals used on foods in transport, or during production, can be a cause of the death of certain nerve cells in the central nervous system. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 134:1;1995
F. Anti-aging Herbs
Schizandra chinensis, gotu cola, ginseng. Ginseng is said to retard aging and lengthen the life span. It is said to improve muscular motility and stretching.
Wrinkles are very likely to be associated with smoking. Those who smoke regularly and who expose themselves to too much sunlight are likely to become excessively and prematurely wrinkled. The number one factor in making the skin age is ultraviolet sun damage, destroying the ability of the skin to renew itself, and smile and frown lines deepen, crows feet appear, and the skin begins to get scattered pigmented streaks or blotches.
Improper nutrition can make the hair and skin, nails and joints not appear youthful. Lack of activity reduces the blood flow to the skin and robs the skin of the glow and vitality we associate with an athlete. Exercise enables one to have good personal body carriage, appearance of happiness and youthful posture, and to keep the back straight and the shoulders back and down. Well-groomed hair, nails and skin, and neat, attractive clothing go far toward reducing the appearance of aging. Be gentle with the skin and do not apply alcohol or harsh scrubs.
Elderly people, even up to 96 years of age, have been shown to benefit from a high-intensity exercise program. A group of 10 elderly persons in a nursing home were placed on an exercise program and demonstrated marked improvements in strength, walking speed, and mobility. Some of the people in the study group were able to discard their canes. This group demonstrated greater stability on their feet, and were less likely to suffer falls. The study showed increases in leg strength ranging from 61 to 374% over the study period. Journal of the American Medical Association 263:3029-3034, June 13, 1990
Diet/Mental Alertness in Elderly
A 15-year study from Loma Linda University revealed that elderly individuals with high caloric intake had lower cognitive function than did those who consumed a diet lower in calories. Low educational attainment and the use of psychotropic drugs (drugs which affect mental functions) were also associated with poorer mental function. American Journal of Epidemiology 143(12)1181-1190, June 15, 1996
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