Is There Such A Thing as Aging Gracefully?

Friday Apr 3 | 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.

Visit Dr. Williams’ Website: https://drjewilliams.com/

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