Most of us want to live a long life. The key is we want to stay healthy for as long as we can. One aspect of aging that many disregard is how we think about aging itself. Our views on aging can influence how we age. How? Well, our thoughts affect our reality and our physiology. This was proven by scientist Candace Pert in her book “Molecules of Emotion” where she coined the term psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). PNI is a fancy word that when broken down means:
- psycho = thoughts
- neuro = brain
- immunology = immune system/how you feel
The main point is an important component to your health is your subconscious and conscious beliefs. Thoughts create neuropeptides which have a physiological effect on your hormones as they bind to receptors and affect how your body functions and how you feel.
What is the difference between a 60 year old that looks and acts like they are 40 and a 60 year old that looks and acts like they are 80? It could be their views on aging. Ever since I listened to a lecture by Dr. Wayne Dyer and Dr. Christianne Northrup on aging I have changed my attitude about it. Until I listened to that lecture, I have to admit, I had a negative outlook on aging. I viewed it as a state of decline that left one feeling decrepit and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Now that I am turning 50 this year, I am grateful that I have changed my attitude about aging. Dr. Dyer explained that we don’t have to accept the notion that aging must involve deterioration of the body and mind. He writes:
“I don’t believe in “thinking” old. Although I’ve transitioned through many bodies—a baby, toddler, child, teen, young adult, mid-life and older adult—my spirit is unchanged. I support my body with exercise, my mind with reading and writing. Don’t program yourself to break down as you age with thoughts that “decline is inevitable.” Time may be passing for our bodies, but because they house our ageless souls, we never need to see ourselves as old and infirm….Be a force of love as often as you can and turn away negative thoughts whenever you feel them surface.”1
Last year, I read a book called “What Makes Olga Run”. It was a non-fiction story about Olga Koltelko – a senior superstar from North Vancouver. Olga was a schoolteacher turned super-athlete. She competed in track-and-field events into her mid 90s. From growing up on a Saskatchewan farm, to getting through a difficult marriage, surviving as a single mother, and losing a child, this super senior never stopped moving – and she was rewarded for it. She holds 30 world records, has won 750 gold medals and is labelled as one of Canada’s greatest athletes. When scientists studied Olga and what makes her so special they defined her as a “Super Senior”. A Super Senior is defined as someone who is over the age of 85 and who has never been diagnosed with:
- Cardiovascular disease or stroke
- Major lung disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
When I read this list, I realized that I would not be a super senior. As a result of my suicide attempt I have permanent damage to my kidneys, which has caused me to have high blood pressure for which I take medication in order to manage. I have also had a cancer (malignant melanoma stage 2). But, that doesn’t deter me from gracefully aging. As I turn 50 this year I am looking forward to moving out of the speedy 45-49 age category into the 50-55 age category for the running races I participate in. I feel that I look and feel younger than many of my counterparts. I have never needed to colour my hair as I have been blessed with no grey hair…yet.
I view aging as a gift and I am excited to be able to compete in the Masters Track events when I qualify. My former track coach, Olympian Thelma Wright is my role model when it comes to aging gracefully. Who knows, maybe she or even I will be the one to break one of Olga’s track records – that is what I am striving and reaching for. I am thankful to the natural treatment options that are available to support my joints and keep me moving – such as prolotherapy and PRP, as well as massage therapy and chiropractic medicine.
What are your goals for when you turn 90? Will you be skiing? Will you be climbing mountains either physically or mentally in your mind? Remember that our brains need to be exercised just as much as our heart and muscles. In the field of neuroplasticity, the key is to keep learning and trying new things to prevent cognitive decline. I think this is why my grandmother was sharp as a tack until she passed away at 86 from lung cancer. A lifelong smoker, she didn’t beat cancer but she had her mind. She exercised her mind by doing daily crossword puzzles.
Actually, one of things that mattered more to me than the material item it was wrapped in was this unfinished crossword puzzle I found of hers. To me it symbolizes so much – what we leave undone when we die, what we were working on but never finish, what our interests are.
So, what can we learn from Olga’s achievements to help us become “super seniors’?
Olga advocated a life of exercise, eating in moderation, and maintaining a positive attitude through hardships. “I choose not to let the dark stuff have a negative effect on me,” she told Bruce Grierson, author of What Makes Olga Run? While some of us may not be able to achieve what Olga did – its not out of the realm of possibility and by maintaining our physical fitness, with a positive attitude – we can benefit our future self immensely! The sad statistic is that only 2% of Canadians will achieve Super Senior status. With such a small amount of Canadians achieving this clean bill of health into their old age, it would be great to see this number increase. One of the ways to do so is to start seeing a Naturopathic Doctor today. One of the differences between medical doctors and naturopathic doctors is the former focuses on disease management and the latter focuses on health promotion and disease prevention.
For the conditions mentioned above, lifestyle plays a greater role than genetics. Remember this quote: “Genes load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger”. Here are some tips taken from Olga’s story:
- Avoid processed foods & eat the rainbow: Processed foods increase inflammation, a physiological process implicated in almost every condition listed above. Avoiding these foods while eating a variety of coloured foods ensures you are keeping inflammation low while ensuring you are getting health-boosting vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Beta-carotene is a vitamin in orange and red foods, anthocyanidins are antioxidants found in blue-purple foods. Greens have a plethora of important healthy nutrients.
- Eat a balanced diet with lots of leafy greens
- Maintain an active lifestyle and keep moving throughout your day: Getting regular exercise not only keeps the vascular system healthy, but maintains bones and muscle mass. It also benefits our mood to help with keeping positive, which is the next important point.
- Maintain a positive attitude, practicing mindfulness and living in the moment: The mind is an incredibly powerful force in creating our lived experience. If we are resisting or judging the present moment to be different from what we want, we are sure to struggle with it and create dissatisfaction in ourselves. If we simply observe the present moment with non-judgmental curiosity we can create a more positive experience for ourselves. As stated above, the field of psychoneuroimmunology shows us that our thoughts can truly affect our bodies in many ways, so it’s good practice to do everything we can to maintain a positive mindset.
- Cut out smoking and decrease your alcohol intake: It’s well known that smoking is one of the most damaging things we can do to our bodies, and that it contributes to almost every leading cause of death. Quitting as early as possible can help reduce or even reverse some damage done by previous years of smoking. As for alcohol, it is not recommended to have more than 10 drinks/week for women (with no more than 2 drinks at a time) or 15 drinks/week for men (with no more than 3 drinks at a time). Reducing your alcohol intake below this level is even better and can reduce your risk of some cancers.
- Keep your mind sharp by practicing word puzzles and Sudoku: This is one of the best ways to maintain cognitive function and delay or prevent some causes of dementia. You are never too old to learn something new, like a new language or skill. It may be some of the best preventive medicine available to you.
- Eat more fermented foods: Fermented foods are rife with probiotics. We’ve heard a lot about how good they are for your gut, but it is also true that they may have natural antidepressant effects as well. New research is outlining a concept called the “gut-brain axis” that is a two-way communication of nerves and chemicals between our gut and our brains. So not only can our brains give us butterflies or nervous bellies, but our gut bacteria can also change our moods.
- Get a good night sleep so you can ‘charge your batteries’ well: Getting proper sleep is one of the best ways to take care of your body for the long term because like exercise, sleep plays an important role in your physical health and mental health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency (years without getting the proper 7-9 hours) is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, mental health conditions, and stroke.
- Forget expensive anti-aging creams and opt to consume more water: Many creams contain harmful and toxic chemicals under the guise that they are “beautifying” or creating “younger-looking skin”. There are thousands of chemicals in cosmetics and beauty products that are not approved by the FDA for safety. Remember that whatever goes on your skin goes in your body. In addition, the beauty industry is not regulated so there is no one checking the safety levels of chemicals in the products. One of the best ways to naturally help your skin and appearance is to drink more water! The guideline to follow is to drink at least half your body weight (lbs) in water (oz). So if you weigh 150 lb drink at least 75 ounces in water. This will flush toxins and hydrate cells in your skin, helping to decrease blemishes and dull-looking or dry skin. Most importantly however, we must remember that beauty is on the inside! Attractiveness and appearance is dramatically improved when a person is confident and comfortable in their own skin, and in their own bodies. Make friends with how you look and you will see and feel the benefit!
For a long time, genetics have been hailed as the most important ingredient in long-term health outcomes, but now we are seeing that the lifestyle choices we make throughout life are incredibly influential as well, perhaps even more so. In fact, lifestyle choices are so important, they can actually have an effect on our DNA itself! Unhealthy habits like drinking, smoking and other inflammatory or degenerative habit patterns have been shown to shorten telomeres, a section at the end of our DNA that protects our genes (the important part of DNA). Telomeres have been likened to the plastic cap at the end of shoelaces – without them, the shoelaces get frayed and have a harder time doing their job. Shorter telomeres has been linked with shorter cell life and faster aging. What does that mean? You will look older and suffer more chronic diseases if the lifestyle you have is hard on your telomeres. We offer testing to determine the health of your telomeres.
These guidelines are essential building blocks toward long-term health for you, your body and your telomeres. Start seeing a naturopathic doctor to help implement changes into your life that will keep you healthy in the long run. You and you family will be grateful you did.
- Wayne Dyer: http://www.drwaynedyer.com/blog/happy-88th-birthday-louise-hay/
- Grierson, Bruce. “What Makes Olga Run?”
- NIH (2013) National Cancer Institute of NIH https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet
- Here to Help (2012) http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/factsheet/drinking-guidelines-supporting-health-and-life
NIH (2012) National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of NIH https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why