How To Conquer Aging


 
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By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS

Look around and you will notice that some people age more gracefully than others. For instance, 60 or 65 years of age looks different on different people. To some extent, it’s unclear why certain people age more gracefully, but healthy living seems to play an important role.

In an exclusive interview double board-certified Carmelo J. Blanquicett, MD, MA, PhD, assistant professor, graduate of Emory University School of Medicine’s General Medicine and Geriatrics Program, Atlanta, GA, and current junior fellow in hematology and oncology, focusing on geriatric oncology, at the Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, FL, provided his thoughts.

Why do some people age more gracefully than others?

Carmelo J. Blanquicett (CJB): This question is complex. Aging involves a complex process that affects overall health, and we realize that there is significant variability from one 65-year-old to another because chronological age alone can say little about a person.

We know that, for example, there are those who are predisposed to debilitating illness because of hereditary factors combined with environmental contributions and other unknown factors that can negatively impact aging. But, we do have substantial evidence that those who engage in physical activity tend to undertake the aging process with more “grace” where they can remain functionally independent longer, have greater quality of life, decreased physiologic changes associated with aging, and lower risk of chronic illness as compared with older individuals who lead sedentary lifestyles.

Are there any studies on graceful aging?

CJB: We have numerous studies that have shown exercise to have positive benefits on many aspects related to aging—from the outside (skin), to bone health, to our minds (improved cognition), and emotional state (reduced risk of depression). More information can be found in Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. If there is a panacea to lessen the effects of aging and associated chronic illness, I would have to say that regular physical activity would be it.

Can people take preventive steps to age more gracefully? If so, please give some examples.

CJB: Absolutely. Steps can be taken to attenuate the aging process or promote “aging gracefully.” I keep emphasizing exercise. Exercise is one such step that can be adopted to positively impact several aspects of our aging lives. It can lessen the age-related declines of muscle mass, aerobic capacity, and cardiopulmonary fitness, among others.

Some recommended practices include socializing and engaging the mind in new learning activities, and routine visits to one’s primary care doctor to help manage chronic conditions associated with aging or to perform the age-appropriate screenings that could help detect disabling or life-altering illness such as cancer, stroke risk, or risk of falls leading to hip fractures.

Maintaining a healthy weight and limiting unhealthful foods (ie, those with high caloric to poor nutritional value ratios), and using sunscreen and other primary prevention strategies that can be discussed with a physician on a case-by-case are other steps that can be taken to promote successful aging.

Are people who age more gracefully healthier, too?

CJB: Psychosocial and genetic factors contribute to successful aging, as well as longevity—although the contribution of heredity to longevity may be as high as 25%. Thus, as previously discussed, there are steps that we can also adopt to help us age gracefully.

Does everyone get wrinkles as they age?

CJB: This is a good question for a dermatology specialist. While the natural skin progression is to lose more volume, elasticity, collagen production, and thickness over time, there are diseases such as scleroderma that result in skin tightness, resulting in lack of wrinkling at the expense of having such a condition.

I think the better question is: If you are the type who would be worried about wrinkling, would there be things that can be done at every age to help slow down the process of wrinkling?

The answer is a resounding “yes.” Not smoking, exercise (sound familiar?), hydration, and using sunscreen all help. And, of course, we now live in a world where neuromodulators and injectables are commonly encountered in one form or another that can lessen the appearance of wrinkling, as can topical ingredients called retinoids.

I would say that if one resorts to these latter options, a board-certified medical professional, such as a dermatologist, should be consulted to determine if these are proper treatment options.

Aging gracefully

Unfortunately, age often goes hand-in-hand with many chronic conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, arthritis, and osteoporosis. According to the CDC, about 85% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 60% have at least two. All of these diseases can take their toll, physically and emotionally, and contribute to a more aged appearance.

Aging is natural, but there are some lifestyle and dietary changes one can make to their daily routine that may aid in graceful aging. These include the following:

Engage in regular exercise, for example, walking 30 minutes a day.

Eat more vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, nuts, and whole grains. Eat less salt, fatty meats, sugar, butter, and packaged foods. Also, eat plenty of fiber.

Stay connected to friends and family.

Consider taking certain supplements under physician guidance, including calcium and vitamin D

Maintain a regular sleep schedule that includes good bed hygiene, such as avoidance of alcohol or caffeine in the evening, as well as keeping the bedroom dark.

Use sunscreen regularly to protect against photoaging.



 
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