The following is a speech given by Fayette County Memorial Hospital CNP, Beth Harper, on health and aging. Harper made this presentation at a recent Silver Sneakers class:
We all want to live longer. Medicine has certainly been able to change that in so many areas. But more than longer life, I know each of you wants to live well, as strong physically, spiritually, mentally, as possible. There is a big difference between living long and living long well.
Recently I read a book entitled, Younger Next Year, by Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry Lodge. My husband and I were introduced to this book one day when we met two men on the bike trail. They were in their 70s and enthusiastically told us how they had logged tens of thousands of miles on their bikes. Jeff was getting ready to turn 60 and I was getting ready to turn 50 and we were starting to get serious about preparing for the next stage of our lives. These men were excited to share how exercise, especially biking, had changed their lives. They encouraged us to wear helmets, keep moving, and suggested this book.
A physician and his patient wrote the book together, and being a healthcare provider, I was intrigued. Chris was drawn to the idea that this doctor really focused on promoting health, not just curing disease. Dr. Lodge was frustrated by the fact that the normal American Way of life, especially the American way of retirement can be dangerous, and even lethal. In the past scientists have done much to study disease. It is really more recently that we are starting to focus study on health and how your body was actually made to work. While we haven’t figured out a way to last forever, we are learning that aging can be a slow, minimal and graceful process. You don’t have to act or feel old.
We all know these bodies age. I don’t need to remind any of us, that body parts wear out. We move slower. Our eyes don’t work as well as they once did. But this book challenges the concepts that we think of as “normal aging.” As a matter of fact, DR. Lodge maintains that over 50 percent of the illnesses and changing your lifestyle can eliminate injuries in the last third of your life! If we consider that, it is monumental.
Science is confirming over and over what we have suspected and many of you have known for years…that our choices make all the difference. Dr. Lodge’s belief is that you can turn back time, so to speak, and truly be functionally younger and stronger next year. As you probably guessed…it takes work. Unfortunately, I don’t have a pill or a magic potion, although you can find promises of both on the Internet today. This concept requires serious work, but the results of having a younger, stronger body can lead to lots more fun as well.
According to this book, there are three factors that are necessary for this “unaging” process. You may have guessed them already…Nutrition, Exercise and Commitment.
We are all concerned with our genes.. Our dooming family history. But science is showing that genetics is maybe 20 percent of it. Think of it, 80 percent is left up to us and our choices!
I won’t get into nutrition details much. Contrary to many things you read now days, this book doesn’t make it real complicated. Make healthy choices. Choose high protein foods, lots of fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water. Stay away from fast foods. The most helpful factor in this area is your weight. Dr. Lodge suggests getting as close to your true weight, what you may have weighed many years ago. Life has a way of building up the pounds and these extra pounds bring added health risks.
The commitment part that Dr. Lodge talks about is commitment to others, being involved with other people. Examples of this would be church, charities, family, a hobby or job that give you purpose. This would be something that you care about and a reason to keep you alive. On some level we all know this, but the truth is not having a meaningful purpose can be deadly.
This is cause for consideration. Many of you already have interests, family or friends that you do life with. Pay attention to these relationships. Cultivate them. Invest in them. By doing this you are investing in your own health as well. Develop activities you enjoy doing with your spouse. Get involved in your grandkids’ lives. If you are lacking in this area there are opportunities everywhere and it’s never too late to get started. Volunteer at the hospital, a nursing home, church…Our AWANA program at church is always in need of adults to just listen to children say verses. The bottom line is we were made for relationships and we are not only happier, but also healthier if we have them.
Of these three factors, Chris and Henry quickly identify exercise as the most impactful factor on overall health. It is the key to great aging…but he is talking about exercising hard…almost every day of your life.
Our bodies were not created for modern life: fast food, TV and retirement. They were designed for life in nature as hunters and gatherers. They were designed for movement, for work.
Every part of our body is made up of living cells…complex little machines creating and using energy. Amazingly these cells are being completely replaced one at a time, day and night. You have armies of special cells whose sole purpose is to clean out the old dead cells, making a way for new ones. Your muscle cells actually control the chemistry of growth throughout you whole body. Dr. Lodge identifies exercise as the master switch that sets hundreds of chemical cascades in motion each time you get on the treadmill.
When we spend most of our time sitting, our muscle cells don’t get the message sent for new cell growth…even for our brain cells! Studies are showing us that exercise is even more impactful on our cognitive health than mind exercises such as reading or word puzzles.
More and more we are beginning to think of exercise as medicine. When you are on a medication for blood pressure, you know you have to take it every day. You don’t really question or think about it. Exercise should be the same way. Something you do every day knowing that you are doing it to send health signals throughout your body.
Never has the saying been more true…Use it or lose it. No matter what your level of fitness, exercise is imperative. Even if you find yourself confined to a chair at the moment, there are movements you can do, resistance bands or weights to be used. The people at the Y or any fitness center would be glad to help you get started.
Some exercise is better than no activity.
I am sadly aware, as I know you all are, that this life comes with no guarantees.…even with daily exercise. But I can tell you that your chances of being able to live well increase immeasurably. When you don’t feel like getting up early, or going to the Y or lifting weights…remember exercise is the switch that is sending your brain and body the signals that you need new cells and growth. Your body was made to move. So wherever you find yourself in this spectrum, the simple rule of thumb to follow is move more!