Is There Such A Thing as Aging Gracefully?

Friday Apr 3, 2015 | BY |
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ageing gracefully

All old people have been young, but no young person has ever been old.

This biological and chronological fact is at the root of one of life’s most ancient problems. Understanding between adults and elders, children and parents, is often troublesome. We may develop more patience and greater empathy for each other, but we’ll never know what it’s like to be old until we are old.

That’s why it’s very strange to me when youthful looking 45-year-old medical doctors write books about aging gracefully. Even stranger is the 30-year-old self-styled health expert who has no medical training or clinical experience but blogs about living to 150.

In a March 2013 post in Tech Blog, I learned that the average reader’s age of the top blogs is 41 years old. Women over 55 make up 40 percent of the online audience. That means the content creator, often younger than his or her readers, is very likely making up catchy but irrelevant material for readers who are a decade or older than the writer.

Is graceful healthy aging possible?

What is the upper limit of how old a human can live, and how old you can remain at peak function? Some young researchers and self-styled experts claim that living to 150 is not only possible but in the next decade people will routinely do it. What do older people think about living that long?

Imagine if researchers were to survey 500 reasonably healthy people over 95 with this question: “Given your current state of health, if it were scientifically possible, would you want to live to 150?” My guess is that all 500 would say no.

Not long ago, I told my 95-year-old healthy mother that she’d likely make it to 100. She politely answered: “No thank you.”

Who Ages Better and Lives Longer: Men or Women?

Men mostly read books about money and success. More men read blogs, but more women read books especially fiction and self-help books. Men want to know what’s going on in the business world. Women want to learn how to help others and know what other people are doing.

For example, Hollywood Life attracts mostly female readers. In comparison, men account for only 20 percent of the fiction book market. Most book clubs and reader groups consist entirely of women. Women buy about 75 percent of all self-help health books.

Why is it that most health books are written by men for women?

Women outlive men by more than 5 years. And, they end up with most of the money. Women over 50 control about $40 trillion, which makes up two thirds of consumer wealth in the U.S. Once children are grown, finished college, and set up their own households, the spending power of American women over 50 soars. They also take advantage of more medical, including natural health, services making up 85 percent of healthcare spending.

Women not only spend more on healthcare, but also on learning about health. Women represent the majority of the online market, read more health books, and engage in regular preventive medicine, and value wellness more than men. Women’s values are different than men who value performance over underlying health. It’s not surprising that women live longer.

In my practice, I rarely hear men talking about aging gracefully. Men want to pump iron at 65. They want to have firm erections at 85. Men skip out on regular blood testing, even for important ones like HDL cholesterol, but are eager to see if their testosterone levels are high enough. While they find it bothersome to take high quality nutritional supplements, they willingly pop Viagra and Cialis, despite the warnings associated with these drugs including irregular heartbeat, loss of vision, decreased hearing, and dizziness.

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Call it what you will, “The John Wayne Syndrome” is real. Men don’t age well and they die sooner than women.

Who are the best guides for healthier aging?

At the top of the list should be women, while men rate at the bottom. But, it’s men who write most of the books, blogs, scientific papers, and give presentations at the anti-aging medicine conferences.

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Why didn’t Eugenie V. Peterson, widely known as Indra Devi, who was an early disciple of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya become better known? Krishnamacharya was the grandfather of the modern yoga movement. Three of his male students became internationally famous yoga masters: K. Pattabhi Josh, B.K.S. Iyengar, and his son T.K.V. Desikachar. Indra Devi died in 2002 at the age of 103, beating Josh by ten years and Iyengar by seven years.

The Healthy Aging Myth

American is getting older. The State of Aging & Health documents two factors that created this trend: (1) people are living longer in general, and (2) baby boomers are entering retirement age. By 2030, all baby boomers will be older than 65, making up about 20 percent of the population in America.

I was surprised to learn that Florida is not the state with the most seniors. It’s California with 4.3 million over 65. Florida is second, but has the largest percentage of seniors at 17 percent. The Northeast is the region with the largest percentage of people over 65. Scottsdale, Arizona is the city with the most seniors at about 20 percent. The national average is 13 percent.

Older people have chronic health problems.

Two out of every three older Americans has more than one chronic condition, and some have as many as six conditions. Medical treatment for these conditions in this age group accounts for 66 percent of the nation’s healthcare spending.

Even if modern medicine is keeping people alive a few years longer, doctors are not keeping up with chronic diseases. Cure is out of the question; management is the best they can do, but at high cost. Chronic conditions are now the leading cause of death among people over 65.

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People with the most diseases also have the unhealthiest lifestyles. They don’t exercise enough; they sit too much, smoke, and are overweight. They eat too much sugar and consume the wrong kinds of fats. Binge alcohol drinking is another major health risk in older people. And, they take too many prescription drugs that result in unnecessary adverse reactions. For this group of Americans, healthy aging is unachievable.

There is no such thing as healthy aging. It’s true that some older people age slower and have fewer diseases than others. I call this healthier aging, but we all still get old. If we could only learn from these people! The problem with sage advice on healthier aging is that the experts, the longest-lived people forgot how they did it!

New Directions For Healthier Aging

Our search for health begins the moment we’re born under the care of our mother. Living full, active lives takes up the first half of adult life. Living longer and healthier lives occupies the second half. Our pursuit of health should continue until our last day.

Women live the longest and are more likely to age gracefully. Women are more health literate. They are more likely to listen to common sense, good medical wisdom, and are more willing to work towards long-range goals, like healthier aging. Though women take better care of their health, and gender is important, it’s not enough.

Prolonging health as long as possible is crucial. If you tend to your health over a lifetime, the longer you’ll live. It starts with a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a plant-based diet, avoiding processed foods and refined sugar, not smoking, not drinking too much alcohol, and becoming health literate. But, it doesn’t end there.

You have to make a positive impact on key modifiable factors associated with longevity like inflammation, glucose control, detoxification pathways, and hormone balance.

Researchers are finding that using geroprotectors like resveratrol and telomere extenders like Astragalus extract make a positive difference in preventing diseases associated with aging. They may also have a longevity dividend.

Ultimately, the secret to longevity is to not get old. The key to not getting old is to prolong your health. To prolong your health, we would all do well to take some tips from health literate women.

Dr. J. E. Williams

J. E. WILLIAMS, OMD, FAAIM

Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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11 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. June Hanson says:

    It is about time, that someone with your great experience, brings to light, the real truth about aging. Thank you, Dr Williams, for this excellent blog. Do hope, men, see the importance of monitoring blood tests and following your instructions.

    Yes, it is possible to age gracefully. Should know, as I, am one of them. Following your anti-aging program. Monitoring my blood tests, hormones. Changing to high quality supplements. Eating natural foods and making exercise, a priority.

    Living in a Retirement Community, where there are both kinds of Seniors. Those , who keep active, take charge of their health, age gracefully in their 90’s and even over 100. Others, who are 60’s thru 70’s, who look and act old.

    Why? They have resigned themselves to being old. Never, prepared their bodies for aging. Feel, they have earned the right to eat rich foods and consuming many alcoholic drinks. No interest in learning alternative or natural way of living.

    Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, we die. No! Death, does not come easy. Most of the time, there is a big price to pay. Financially and physically. All the diseases you listed, worse, losing their mind. Crippled, bound to walkers, wheel chairs, pain and suffering. No one wants to live to be 150.

    So, very true! How can a young Doctor, advise us on aging? Have been to so many. I, amaze them, at my age, End up saying, you have taught me, so much. Others, gave up on me, years ago. Until, I met you, Dr Williams, changed my life around. Full of vitality and life. Feel so blessed, that I, am always sharing with others, there are ways to slow down aging process.

    Always was researching, learning, when raising my family on natural, wholesome foods. Too poor, for fast food restaurants. Had to learn to make everything from scratch. Now, synthetic foods, fast foods are the norm. No wonder, there is so much disease. Family conversations replaced by technology, texting, tweeting, googling, boob tube. Information galore, but, never really learning the important things in life. Taking care and respecting our bodies, which are wonderfully and intricately made.

    Then, living to be 150, dying, peacefully, with the knowledge that there is a beautiful life after death. We have honored the Creator of human life, who will give us a glorified body that lives forever.

    • Richard Paguirigan says:

      I’m not impressed by anyone in their 80’s through 100’s for one simple reason. They all LOOK like they are in their 80’s through 100’s. I’m 49 and will be 50 in August. I’m mistaken for being in my 20’s and 30’s all the time, with those who think I’m in my 30s only thinking so after talking to me from which they can deduce I must be older than I look given my demeanor, as well as wisdom and knowledge. I have absolutely no medical issues of any kind, am highly active mentally and physically. I swim, bike, run and continue to be not just sexually active, but mentally active. In other words my body and mind feel no different than when I was in my 20’s. As long as I continue to feel this way, I will change neither my habits nor my activities.

      So, how do I do it? Well it doesn’t matter because I have freely given out my methods to anyone and everyone interested and willing to listen. Unfortunately, people don’t listen or perhaps they feel that the information I impart lacks merit since it is free, or that it is so very simple that it cannot possibly be true.

      I will say this though. Although the secret consists of practicing several lifestyle habits, they are easy and effective and one of them is DONT EAT DEAD ANIMAL FLESH! That is, no meat period!

      One day, perhaps when I’m in my 60’s and able to establish some credibility, and the things that I’m espousing gain traction toward legitimacy and acceptance, I will write a book and have people PAY me for the information that I’m now giving for free.

      • Larkspur says:

        Yes absolutely. Don’t eat meat (or fish) or processed foods. Makes an enormous difference and is probably an evolutionary development.

      • grh says:

        I know what you mean; I am 60 but get mistaken for 45; I feel 30. I can do everything I could at 30, this annoys some people who want me to be sitting in a winged chair with a blanket around my legs handing out Wurther’s Originals and telling stories of ‘olden days’ to wide eyed grandchildren. I told them: ‘It’s not going to happen, get over it’
        You are as young as you feel you are and your body acquiesces to your wishes. But I think there is a more insidious conditioner. Adverts and other media are full of end of life and fears about what to do when you get past it (sooner rather than later). One hoarding around a new build of ‘secure aged flats’ proclaimed in large bold letters ‘COMING SOON’ with pictures of old people all sitting about drinking and laughing. Think what you may; such subliminals all go into the mind and generate a mindset that kicks in when you reach a certain age; and if it doesn’t there are any number of people and organisations willing to tell you that you must slow down at ‘your age’. In the same way that people are conditioned to believe that smoking is hard to give up old age is presented as a time to slow down and die. Little wonder that people adopt the ‘you have to go sometime…another cream cake and double scotch anyone; what’s on the telly’.
        Taking personal responsibility for your diet and health are key along with throwing the TV out of the window and refusing to listen to people who tell you you can’t do that when you are doing it. Some reading this may say ‘well good for you, I have this and that and the other and can’t do all those things’. I say ‘I rest my case’.

  2. Satori says:

    Great post as always. Thank you!

  3. anna says:

    There is no such thing as healthy aging…? So aging is a disease?… or does this mean health issues are inherent with aging.. So there is no way to avoid becoming ill as you age … one can only age healthier… hmmmm semantics… I am 66 have not been sick for 12 yrs… change of life style of course… most people think I am anywhere between 48 and 55… I believe I will die healthy… I saw all four great-grandmothers and a great grandfather who died without a medical diagnosis; they died at 93, 94 and 95 as far as I know they died Healthy; they died from natural causes… but I guess this is not possible according to your article. thank you.

  4. Sarah says:

    I really like a lot of what has been said in this article, but certain events in my life recently have brought me up short regarding what really ages people. I am a professional nutritionist so you might think I’d be all about the foods you put in yur body, but this is no longer true. I have been practicing for over 20 years and what I have seen with clients along with one specific incident has really altered my thinking. Of course I still believe that nutrition is important. But what I have found to be the absolute truth is how well people can deal with the stress in their lives. I have a colleague, whi is now in her early 70s. She is one of those people who strove to eat “perfectly” and lead a perfectly healthy life. NO smoking, drinking, only organic foods and so on. But she had had a lot of stress especially due to unresolved past abuse. Along with this went gastrointestinal challenges. Nonetheless, it seemed as tohugh this woman’s lifestyle was serving her supremely well. No overt symptoms of any kind except for the lifelong GI issues which she controlled through her diet and lifestyle. Until last year. Last year her health suddenly plummeted and she became very fatigued. She self-treated for an ulcer (which had never been diagnosed but which was what she thought she had had). Sadly, it turned out to be duodenal cancer. She went with the western medicine approach and had “Whipple” surgery which is where they remove the duodenum, the head of the pancreas, the bottom of the stomach, the gall bladder and the re-route all the the ducts into the next part of the small intestine. That was last August. Now, she is a shell of herself, STILL on a feeding tube, leaking from the surgical wound and her surgeon is basically unresonsive to her needs. She lives alone. SO my addition to aging gracefully is to underscore the extreme inportance of resoving past trauma, dealing with stress and on the great importance of community and relationships.

  5. Sarah says:

    Sorry for the typos above but the print on my screen is tiny. Difficult for my 60 year old eyes! 🙂

  6. Susan says:

    I always feel that my viewpoint on a topic has expanded after reading one of Dr. Williams’ articles. Thank you.

  7. gary says:

    Interesting positions you take, but I wonder about the conclusion you come to about the difference between men and women in those statistics. Mother died a few years older than my father… and although my father was far more health conscious, raised most of his own food organically and took care of himself better for many years, and mother mostly ate restaurant food, my father was also in the army. He talked about endless vaccinations and medications, horrific food, plenty of toxic chemical exposure… and those were the things they KNEW they were being exposed to. He wasn’t one of the many wounded or mentally traumatized to the point of lifelong anguish.

    I talked with another woman yesterday whose husband is dying now (there are many). Her husband was exposed to agent orange as a veteran. And his cancer, and other degenerative diseases are directly related. When I see your statistics of 76.4 vs 81.2, I’m amazed that there isn’t MORE of a difference, given the men who were exposed to radiation, physically and mentally devastating chemicals and situations, while the women mostly stayed at home… and as best I can tell, in the age groups in question, it was mostly men being exposed to things while women mostly stayed at home.

    But it wasn’t just in the military. It was also mostly men in industry, handling the creosote used to coat lumber, along with pressure treated wood; installing the asbestos and working around nasty chemicals – dioxin and DDT, burning plastic and toxic wastes at work… lead paint, as well as the toxic enamels that are just recently being replaced; firefighters being told that smoking helps them with their job by desensitizing their lungs, so they won’t be coughing so much while working in burning buildings. Getting good deep breaths of filthy air filled with smoke from burning carpets and furniture.

    I understand, given the demographics you quoted of the readership, it’s good policy to appeal to women in an article like this, but by my reckoning, they should be living significantly longer just based on their lower overall exposure to all these things.

    Am I missing something? Have these differences been taken into account without mentioning them? Then, like Gilda Radner’s old Saturday Night Live character used to say, “Never mind!” : )

    On the other hand, it occurs to me that women also suffered a lot of nasty exposure to chemicals and procedures at the hands of the doctors that they trusted far too much, and often ran to for their mammograms, flu shots and medications.

    My recollection was that women, at least since the 60s and 70s (when I was around to observe) were far more likely than men to run to doctors, accept all kinds of treatments, and submit to many more damaging medications. I don’t know how well that applied across the country and women in general, but it certainly did in my family, our town, and among the people I knew.

    No offense intended in any of this. I very much appreciate your articles and your insight. Just mentioning my thoughts as they came to mind while reading this post.

  8. Dana says:

    I will be 70 at the end of this October. I have been blessed with general good health, all my life. I just don’t see myself as a “sickly” person, never had. Oh, I had mumps, measles and chicken pox as a child, but have had maybe 10, 12 colds and only a handful that I would call ‘bad’ colds; never, EVER, had the flu. And never had a flu shot either…don’t believe in them. I have never had a mammogram, it never made sense to me. And now I’m hearing doctors say the same thing I said without a medical degree. Irradiating and squeezing a breast is not a good thing.
    Being an outdoorsy and a physically active adult, I’ve had a few minor injuries and 1 broken radius, a Colles
    fracture from skiing. I still ride my horses as much as I can, but not as much as I did, because I’m busy caregiving my 91 y. o. mother. She’s relatively in decent shape but her dementia is making her fade. She does have type 2 diabetes but I have it under control, mostly with decent food. Because I watch her sugar intake, we all benefit from less sugar in our diet. And we NEVER have ANY food with HFCS in it…I avoid that crap like the plague, as well as any other artificial sweeteners. We use Lakanto and Sweet Leaf organic stevia…both are zero calorie and zero glycemic.

    We eat as much organic as we can afford and we do eat grass-fed, organic beef and now I get organic chicken @ Whole Foods. We rarely eat fish, I think it’s getting to be too dangerous since Fukushima and farmed fish seems toxic, and tuna well, that has too much mercury. I miss sea food and fresh water fish; fish was always one of my favorites.

    I’m healthy at this point, and I don’t take that for granted. But I don’t deny myself food I enjoy, I’m not a total fanatic…I just don’t eat junk food anymore. We do have organic chips once in a great while or organic popcorn with yummy Irish butter topping it off and sweet treats too, occasionally. But since cutting back on the salts and sweets, I really can’t take them any more. I shiver when I look in the bakery section of the supermarket…Yikes!

    I’ve never listened to all the food advice over the years, (that was usually retracted years later) and ate plenty of saturated fats, when everyone was going low or no fat, and in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t fall for all that hype.

    I believe in what George Burns famously said, “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” Remember, you’re only as old as you feel and I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around my next birthday, because there is no way on God’s green earth I feel 70.

    And yes, if I could stay as healthy as I am now, I would LOVE to live to 150…hell yeah! (As long as I could ride horses. 😉 )

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