Our fountain of youth
By Dr NOR ASHIKIN MOKHTAR
A healthy ageing system encompasses the entire body system so that a person can age well from the inside out.
THERE has been some talk about Malaysia’s ageing population recently, with the 1st World Congress on Healthy Ageing hosted by our country last week.
We are entering an unprecedented era worldwide, where many countries, including Malaysia, have increasing numbers of their population reaching old age and fewer babies being born.
We are all going to live longer, there is no doubt about it.
But wouldn’t you like to reach old age without actually looking or feeling your age? Wouldn’t it be great if you could still perform at your peak, be in good shape and enjoy great health?
The ageing process affects your entire body, from every cell within to your outward appearance. However, the ageing process can be slowed down or tempered so that we can still enjoy our later years.
It is not just about fighting wrinkles and grey hair, but also about maintaining our organ functions, staying mentally active and physically strong.
The right way to address ageing is not with piecemeal methods – an injection here, a supplement there – but to approach the entire body system, so that you can age well from the inside out.
Starting with nutrition
Nutrition is really the key to longevity – we know that populations have been able to live longer because we have access to better food today than we used to.
But good nutrition also helps us to live well – food does not only provide calories for energy, but also a variety of micronutrients, macronutrients and healthful components that work in unique ways to keep our cells, tissues, nerves, muscles and organs healthy.
The reason people age drastically, fall prey to long-term diseases, get brittle bones and become weak is because nutrition has failed them – or rather, they have failed themselves by eating an unhealthy and inappropriate diet.
A balanced diet, with the right proportion of nutrients from a variety of foods, is only the first step. Be sure you do not overeat foods that are high in fat and sugar. The bulk of your carbohydrates should come from whole-grain sources, not simple, processed carbohydrates.
Eat plenty of foods that are rich in fibre, namely fruits, vegetables and the whole-grain foods that I mentioned earlier. Very few people actually eat enough fruits and vegetables every day, so you will be amazed at the difference it will make in your life.
Cut out foods containing pesticides, antibiotics and hormones from your diet. Eat more fresh and natural foods, rather than processed or instant food that comes in a package!
If you are not getting sufficient vitamins and minerals from your diet, you may need nutrient supplements to fill in the gaps.
Finally, drink enough water every day so that your body can flush out toxins from the system and your cells can stay healthy and nourished.
Restful qualities of sleep
I cannot over-emphasise the importance of sleep in helping you to stay well into your older years. If the body and mind do not have the opportunity to rest and restore itself, your cells will be more vulnerable to damage, and this will eventually lead to a breakdown in the system.
Get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Make sure that you sleep in a comfortable environment to get a restful night’s sleep, not one that is disturbed by light and noise.
Exercise to stay young
Some people may be more enthusiastic about exercise if they believe that it can help them to stay young. While exercise may not have unlocked the secret to immortality, it certainly plays a big role in delaying the effects of ageing.
A regular exercise regime – and being physically active in other ways – from a younger age will help your body to build up reserves so that you do not succumb easily to old age problems like falls and frailty.
Make sure you incorporate three different types of exercise into your “anti-ageing” exercise regime. The first is to stretch all the big and small muscle groups in your body, so that they remain flexible and help carry your body well. When our muscles are tight, they easily become injured when we lift heavy objects or make a certain movement.
Strength-training exercises, which include lunges, squats, partial sit-ups, push-ups and training with weights, are also very important. These exercises help you to maintain lean muscle and bone density, not only avoiding the saggy bits that women are so afraid of, but also ensuring better balance.
Finally, you also need cardiovascular exercise to keep your lungs and heart healthy. Every day, accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activities that get your heart pumping and your body sweating. You can take a brisk walk around the neighbourhood, go cycling, swimming or dancing, or play a sport like badminton, tennis or football.
Your hormones are another crucial piece of the ageing-well puzzle. Hormonal imbalance is the underlying cause of many diseases and ageing problems, although it is not well recognised.
Many factors in our lives – including the food we eat, the stress we go through and the environment around us – cause our hormones to become imbalanced.
There is better recognition now of the role that hormones play in our overall health. If you are suffering from problems caused by a disruption in your hormonal milieu, you may want to consider working with an anti-ageing doctor or a compounding pharmacist to optimise your hormonal profile so that you can have better immune health to prevent disease and infections.
Looking at your hormone profile involves minimising the impact of hormones such as cortisol, insulin, and environmental oestrogens, which are the main culprits that cause you to lose muscle, gain fat, and become depressed as age increases.
Then, you can also have bioidentical hormone therapy prescribed to adjust and restore your hormonal balance such as DHEA, cortisol, oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid, melatonin, pregnenolone or growth hormone.
The final approach in the healthy ageing system is regular health screening. These are simple tests that you should do (following a schedule) to keep tabs on various aspects of your health.
Many of these tests should already be part of your regular screening programme, such as blood chemistry, blood glucose, cancer markers, inflammatory markers (eg homocysteine) and hormone levels. You can do these tests when you go for your annual medical check-ups (which should be part of your personal healthcare routine).
Some simple screening tests can be done at home so that you can quickly identify if something needs attention immediately. Tests for blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol can be done with home test kits.
If you have hypertension, diabetes or heart disease, you must measure these levels at home according to your doctor’s advice. This allows you to immediately recognise a problem if your levels suddenly increase or decrease.
You should also weigh yourself at least once a week, otherwise you might find your weight insidiously increasing and putting you at risk of many diseases that are common in older age, such as diabetes and heart disease.
With more advanced research being carried out, there may be even more accurate and personalised health tests available to us in the future. Genomic and DNA testing, metabolic-typing and blood-typing may provide valuable insights into a person’s unique biochemistry and DNA genetics, allowing a holistic health and diet programme to be customised.
You don’t have to wait until you hit old age to start practising a healthy ageing lifestyle. If you want to stay youthful, you have to start taking care of your health when you are young!
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit http://www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.