Managing the ageing process

PHOTO: Managing the ageing process

We used to talk about staying young forever, but now we know that this is a pipe dream, even with the most sophisticated medical advances.

Instead, people have come to accept that they will inevitably grow older. But ageing does not have to mean that your health will deteriorate, or that you will become physically weaker. It does not mean you have to be hunched and wrinkly, or depressed and ill all the time.

Instead, you can delay these effects by managing the ageing process well. Some centres are now talking about "age management medicine", or anti-ageing medicine, or advanced preventive and regenerative medicine, which is a new specialty that looks at preventing the medical effects of ageing by treating diseases, conditions and risk factors, as early as the age of 30 years.

Age management medicine believes that by following a plan of health strategies and lifestyle changes, you can decrease these risk factors and eventually achieve the goal of optimising your healthspan (staying healthy for as long as possible) and avoiding diseases.

Age is just a number

Recent medical approaches to ageing are becoming increasingly radical, and the possibilities are exciting.

Underscoring these approaches are a completely new understanding about the process of ageing.

When science replaced myth and magic, we no longer believed in immortality or turning back the hands of time. But we started looking into what happens in the body when we get older.

When we discovered the presence of degeneration in our cells, we assumed that this was a natural process that occured as the years passed by, as if there was a switch that suddenly turned on once we hit the age of 50.

But what if this isn't how it happens? What if the degeneration is not caused by age, but by everything we subject our body to in the earlier years of our lives?

What we eat, the chemicals that we expose ourselves to, and the resulting inflammation in our body, are the real culprits behind the degenerative diseases that rob so many people of their lives today, including heart diseases, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and cancer.

This means that we start "switching on" the degenerative process much earlier in our lives. This redefines disease, not as an inevitable characteristic of age, but as something that can be prevented or delayed.

Looked at another way, this means that we can continue to have optimal health, even at advanced age, simply by avoiding the abuse of our bodies - as much as we possibly can.

All my readers will know what kind of "abusive" practices I am referring to - poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and stress - things that I have covered in this column numerous times before.

Managing good health forever

Managing good health forever

Age management medicine is an individualised therapy, tailored to each individual's health status. It emphasises a pro-active approach, aimed at preventing diseases from developing, rather than treating it when it is too late.

This approach is also holistic, taking into account preventive medicine, nutrition, lifestyle changes, vitamin supplementation, exercise, managing stress, optimising your hormones with bioidentical hormone therapy, and integrative medicine.

Preventive medicine is very comprehensive, looking at preventing the common chronic diseases that afflict people in older age. These include heart, metabolic and brain conditions, cancers, bone and muscle loss, as well as overall quality of life.

Therefore, preventive cardiology seeks to treat the various markers of heart disease, including abnormal cholesterol, high blood pressure, inflammation, diabetes and obesity.

In preventive neurology, the aim is to prevent brain conditions prevalent in seniors, such as Alzheimer's, dementia and memory loss, as well as lower the risk of stroke. There is also an emphasis on reducing the risk of cancer and arthritis.

Many elderly people suffer poor quality of life because their energy levels dip, their bones and muscles become weak, they cannot sleep well, and depression compounds all these problems.

Age management medicine is also about maintaining and optimising our functions so that they do not deteriorate over time. There are many body functions that we take for granted during our younger and prime years, such as our sexual health, skin health, mental health, flexibility, and even our ability to have a good night's sleep!

The problem is that we do not pay attention to these functions until they have deteriorated to a point where we can no longer carry out our normal routines.

When everything is in good condition (when we are disease-free), we eat and imbibe freely, putting our bodies through all sorts of abuses. When the first signs of problems appear, we ignore them. Finally, when we are in real pain, we look for a quick fix, like a pill.

Age management medicine practitioners are trying to tell people that this attitude cannot go on any longer. Seeking the fountain of youth? Don't look for a miracle. The sooner we realise there are no quick fixes and no turning back the hands of time, the better it is for us.

Age is not what makes us sick, we are what makes us sick. With age, we should have the wisdom to behave more responsibly with our bodies.