We age when our body’s cells die faster than new ones are formed. Aging inevitably results into damage of the cells of most parts of the body such as: eyes, ears, kidneys, liver, lungs, skins etc. As aging steps in, the following are some of the obvious and observable signs of aging:
• Bulging belly
• Cholesterol-choked arteries
• Brain failure and fatigue
• Weakness and impotence
• Frozen joints or back pain
• Spotted, decrepit skin
• Tumors taking over your body
• Parkinson’s tremors
• Menopausal miseries
• Fading, cloudy vision
• And all other indignities of aging!
It is believed that many of the changes and damage that occur as we age are caused by free radicals. Over time, this damage accumulates and causes body deterioration and ill health. These are well known as signs of aging!
Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons and can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. These molecules are very unstable; therefore they look to bond with other molecules, destroying their vigor and vitality. Free radicals have extremely high chemical reactivity, which explains not only their normal biological activities, but how they inflict damage to cells. The chief danger comes from the damage they do when they react with important cellular components such as DNA, or the cell membrane. To prevent free radical damage, the body has a defense system of antioxidants. Free radicals have been linked to such diseases as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s tremors, cancer, premature aging, collagen deterioration, varicose veins, arthritis, asthma, cataracts, retinitis, angina, rheumatism, cataracts, stress, hemorrhoids, heart disease, stroke, senility, impairment of vision due to cataract and glaucoma, brittle bones and bone distortion (usually due to osteoporosis or arthritis), swollen extremities, diseases that shorten life (such as cancer, cardio-vascular diseases and diabetes), kidney and liver disorders, memory loss and so on. Free radicals can be and are often neutralized by antioxidants. Free radicals alter the molecular structure of our body and destroy our cells but we can fight them even in old age.
An antioxidant is a compound that gives up one of its electrons, thus returning the free radical to normal thereby halting the havoc. At the molecular level, there is a constant battle going on in our body between antioxidant nutrients and free radicals. Antioxidants continually combat the harmful effects of oxidation in the body by rendering “wayward” free radicals harmless. The net result of their work is that they prolong the life of cells, and therefore prolong life itself. Antioxidants are readily available from natural food sources and from dietary supplements and vitamins and have the ability to defeat free radicals in the body. Taken in sufficient amounts, antioxidants can saturate all our cells and tissues to provide protection against free radicals. The human body produces antioxidants but most of the time, because of our environment and our lifestyles, they are inadequate.
The major antioxidants are vitamin A, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin E, selenium and beta-carotene. Others are zinc, lipoic acid, glutathione, allium vegetables (garlic, onion and leeks), co-enzyme Q10, bilberry, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, kale, green peppers, oranges, mangoes, resveratrol (found in the skins of dark-colored grapes, and concentrated in red wine) and a lot more.
The Experience of Aging
As most people age, they experience a slowing down of mental ability to some degree. They have mild forgetfulness and memory delays. It takes them longer to remember a name or the right word. It becomes more difficult to learn something new or to remember what they once knew. These symptoms are all part of the normal aging process and do not constitute a disorder.
How to Fight and Defeat Aging
The benefits of moderate exercise cannot be overstated. A regular program of exercises that most of us consider as fun or bother (such as climbing stairs, swimming, cycling, dancing, gardening and simple walks around the neighborhood) is essential for good health especially for the elderly. Exercise is good for us, no matter how old we are. If you truly want to add years to your life, exercise. I recommend brisk walking for at least thirty minutes daily. Exercise boosts immune levels, helps in weight control and stress reduction; exercise also helps older individuals to remain mentally sharp. The mind can be used to keep the body healthy; there is an undeniable link between the mind and the body. Accepting a new way of thinking – namely, that you will live a long, healthy and vibrant life – sets in motion a process that ultimately invests you with the strength you need to make that thought a reality. What you eat, the type of exercise you do and even how you think and breathe play major roles in your health. The United States Surgeon-General estimates that 90 per cent of all lung cancers are due to smoking. High-fat diets have been implicated in heart disease, colon cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer in women. The average life expectancy of an alcohol abuser (i.e. a heavy drinker) is 15.5 years lower than that of a non-drinker of alcohol. People who consume lots of fiber are more likely to have a lower life-time risk for cardiovascular disease. People who do not get enough sleep are likely to develop hypertension and diabetes. Continuing emotional stress often leads to elevation of blood pressure and risk of clots leading to heart attack.
Herbs and Nutrients to Fight Aging
The following important herbs and nutrients have been found to be useful to ward off the diseases that promote rapid aging. These herbs along with vitamins and minerals discussed earlier appear to build up the body’s immunity: astralagus, milk thistle, echinacea, green tea, golden seal, maitake mushroom, Cat’s claw, shiitake and reishi, colostrum, beta-glucan. There are special needs regarding proper nutrition and vitamins for the elderly. Elders are at risk of being malnourished for many reasons including poor appetite due to medications, disability, or reduced food intake due to intestinal disorders, diabetes, or restrictive diets. The most common nutritional disorder is reduced intake of calories and proteins. After age fifty many metabolic and physiological changes impact on the nutritional needs of an individual. The metabolic rate slows and can decline as much as thirty percent over a lifetime. This results in the need for foods that supply calories like carbohydrates. As we age our body composition changes with a decrease in lean tissue mass (as much as 25%) and an increase in body fat. Such changes can be accelerated because older adults utilize dietary protein less efficiently and may actually need a greater than recommended amount of high quality protein in their diet to maintain lean tissue mass.
Longevity and activity
Regular activity is very important for good health. A person whose job is sedentary must find time for regular exercise, which need not be strenuous. Regular exercise achieves the following functions: weight regulation, joint mobility, flexibility, strengthening of the bone and skeletal muscles as well as healthy heart. Exercise improves blood circulation thereby providing nutrients to the whole body especially to the surface of the skin. Exercise helps to lower blood pressure and blood sugar. It also cuts down the risk of heart attack, stroke, arthritis and depression.
Tips for staying fit and living a long and healthy life:
1. Eat a varied diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
2. Take plenty of water.
3. Maintain a healthy weight.
4. Exercise at least 15 minutes every day.
5. Protect yourself against diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and HIV/AIDS.
6. Quit smoking (or do not smoke at all).
7. Drink alcohol in moderation.
8. Do not be promiscuous (or else you may catch dreadful diseases).
9. Try to get at least 15 minutes of direct sunshine two to three days a week.
10. Sleep for six to eight hours per night.
11. Seek prompt medical care when you are ill or injured.
12. Get screened for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, kidney and heart diseases.
13. Follow you treatment schedules for such diseases.
14. Manage your stress; keep it to a minimum level.
15. Practice deep breathing and relaxation exercises (e.g. meditation).
16. Take dietary supplements which include vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
17. Have faith that you will live a long, happy and healthy life.
Aging reduces our strength and energy and removes from us our attitude of being busy always. It is a way God makes us to slow down in order to make more time for Him. When we age, we are able to think more deeply about life, about ourselves, and about others. Though we lose physical strength, agility, memory etc., but God gives us calm, peace and the hope and benefits of salvation as well as His faithfulness. Old age is the best time to grow in grace and godliness, in inner strength and beauty of character. Old age is a gift of God; let us take full advantage of it and age gracefully.