The New Science of Getting Old
Back in 1974, the National Institute of Ageing (NIA) was established. Its core objectives were to develop an understanding of the ageing process, and how to improve healthy living as we get older.
The initial NIA funding was used to kick-start the emerging field of geroscience (a new interdisciplinary approach to ageing research) to study ageing and its link to chronic diseases.
The study suggested a revolutionary approach: that various age-related diseases have a single, shared root cause, rather than being an inevitable consequence of time passing by. These root causes included genetics, environment, and – interestingly – life choices.
Now for a short mythology lesson. ‘Gero’ derives from the Greek god Geras. In Greek mythology, the Greek gods were represented as young, strong and beautiful human-like creatures.
However, Geras was depicted as shrivelled and small. Geras translates into ‘gift of honour’ or ‘privilege of age’, meaning that this particular god had other attributes to offer than physical beauty.
As youth lessens, we gain courage, wisdom, experience and countless other rewards. I love this idea, and as such I constantly carry out my own research and adopt new ideas to help my health thrive as I age. My outlook is enriched, my resolve is strengthened and I feel privileged to be alive. This naturally leads to a strong sense of wanting to look after myself, so that I can enjoy my life to the max.
And so the term Geroscience feels very apt. It’s the perfect metaphor for the human relationship with ageing; our fear of physical weakening, coupled with the awareness that without those vital years of experience, the gifts of a life well spent cannot be fully realised.
Geroscience is attempting to reconcile these two views, by investigating how we can remain strong and vital as we age.
According to geroscientists, ageing is the biggest single risk factor in chronic illness. Examples include cardiovascular disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and neuro-degeneration diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Recently, observational studies assessing how the choices people make affect their wellness over long periods of time have been useful in helping us understand the ageing process.
These studies, of humans, human cells, animal cells, bacteria, mould and fungi, have shown that the environment you live in, together with the lifestyle choices you make every day, contribute to your health and wellbeing.
These choices all have a massive impact on how you age, what makes you sick and how your body heals.
This is vital evidence, showing us that as we grow older weakening is inevitable, but becoming strong is a choice. Certainly, the phrase “it’s my age” should be made obsolete!
Diseases of old age are not necessarily a given for any one of us, as long as we are prepared to make educated decisions about our wellbeing.
Nevertheless, it is of course far more challenging to make new choices or to try out new behaviours if you don’t fully understand the reasons behind them. Advice such as “eat healthy” and “exercise every day” does not really mean anything in a vacuum.
With or without context, we need to understand why we should “eat in rainbow colours” or “walk to escape every day”. For me, Cameron Diaz’s enlightening The Longevity Book (written with Sandra Bark) goes a long way to helping along the understanding about how our life choices influence our health as a whole, and particularly our health as we age.
To become better advocates for our own health, we must start by learning the facts. Modern present day living is affecting our health, impacting our prospects of ageing well and living our best life:
- Stress limits our cells to reproduce properly
- Eating well enables our bodies to produce strong cells, eradicate toxins and manage our weight, blood sugar and fat
- Moving every day maintains our muscle and bone mass, also relieving stress
- Stretching enables free joint mobility (easing pain) and emotional tension
- Quality sleep and active rest enables our minds and bodies to reboot and refresh
- Not all medication is tested for a female body in terms of strength and quantity; prevention is better than cure
- Sex is a fundamental factor to good health
- Good quality movement triggers good sleep, better eating, maintains good stress levels (stress that is creative and positive), and protects the brain keeping it agile
In short, you can age longer and stronger by eating well, working out regularly, reducing stress, getting enough rest…
…and enjoying a glass or two of red wine! Life is there to be lived, after all.
Sounds pretty good to us! Find out more about how Simply Stride can help you enjoy these new wellbeing ideas. We can coach you personally or within a group setting, so why not give us a call?