There are many theories to explain the process of aging. However, there is a difference between chronological age and biological age. Today life expectancy is increasing. A new stage in the course of life, early old age, is being established. Diet during this stage is very important. Maintaining the correct diet along with exercising both the body and the brain can help prevent disease and help to manage those diseases already established. Thus the onset of physical dependency may be postponed.
Altering Your Biological Age
Biological age is an estimation of how an individual is functioning in comparison to others who are the same chronological age. In other words, it is an age where the body is in terms of ‘wear and tear’. As aging occurs most of the organs and tissues of the body begin to decline in function.
Muscle strength declines and bones may weaken, often resulting in falls that may be disabling.
The skin undergoes visible changes and the ability to heal wounds may become impaired. The growth of prostate tissue in middle-aged men starts to accelerate which may cause prostate cancer. The female experiences reduced estrogen levels increasing the risk for chronic diseases.
The immune system does not function as well as it did when one was younger. The nervous system also declines in its function due to atrophy of brain tissue and physical changes in the interconnected neurons causing cognition and motor sensory problems along with other issues.
Chronological categories are used to describe the course of aging. Roughly, they are Young, Middle Age, and Old Age.
Chronological Age (Years)
25 to 35
|Physical performance and biological function typically peak.|
|Young middle age||
35 to 45
|Physical activity is perhaps slowing; some accumulation of body fat is beginning.|
45 to 65
|Women reach menopause. Men begin producing considerably less sex hormone.|
|The decline in physical condition continues and may intensify to a 10-30 % loss of function.|
Old age is now being divided into 3 phases:
|Early old age||
65 to 75
|May be further loss of function.|
|Middle toVery old age||
75 to 85
|Substantial impairment of function. Usually a progressive deterioration due to chronic ailments: rheumatoid arthritis or a minor stroke.|
|Very toOldest old age||
|Begin to lose the ability to undertake basic activities of daily living unaided. Care is typically needed.|
Exercising the brain will also help to maintain memory and thinking skills as aging occurs: “Use it or Lose it”. Research has shown that “short mental workouts improve performance, and that improvement is detectable as much as five (5) years later”.4 If people challenge themselves to learn new things, including things that they might perceive as difficult in their later years, many older adults will not only achieve benefits from those challenges but those benefits will be long lasting.” 4 As people enter old age, it is important to do so with as good a brain as possible. Scientists call this “cognitive reserve”. Challenging the brain should begin in the younger years. “Studies of elderly twins show that ones who had mentally demanding jobs are less likely to get Alzheimer’s”.5
Eating right and exercising are also good for the brain. Physical exercise has been linked to brain function. “One recent study found that older people who started aerobic workouts actually increased the volume of their brain matter.”5 Research continues to address the issue of dementia, but the risk factors of environment, old age and genetics so far cannot be changed.
It has been demonstrated thateven people in their 90’s can become stronger and even increase the size of their muscles after participating in an aggressive weight-training regimen. Increases of strength of up to 200 percent have been realized. For some, muscles grew in size as much as 15 percent larger. Mobility also improved.
The loss of muscle mass and function does not have to be an inevitable and irreversible consequence of aging. People who keep fit by maintaining an ideal weight and eating properly and make an effort at staying that way into their later years have a better chance of being biologically younger than their chronological age.
Research in the past twenty years has shown that exercise along with low fat diets work to prevent heart disease. It has also been established that weight problems and middle age diabetes are closely related. Research indicates that the issue is altered utilization of insulin by the muscle cells, not the faulty production of insulin by the pancreas. It appears that exercise helps with maintaining a normal function of insulin in muscle cells.
The need for exercise has been established. Now, what is ‘eating right’? A study lasting 10 years and included 2,339 people from 11 European countries has shown that a Mediterranean-style diet along with a moderate alcohol intake is beneficial to health. Older people consuming a Mediterranean diet had a 23 percent reduction in overall deaths during a ten (10) year period. Those following the Mediterranean diet and engaged in physical exercise and consumed moderate amounts of alcohol – mostly wine – and did not smoke, showed a 65 percent reduction in overall deaths. (These reductions were the result of lower rates of death from heart disease, cancer and other causes.)
The Mediterranean diet emphasized whole grains, fish, nuts, legumes, olive oil, fruits, vegetables and potatoes, no meat or dairy products. It is rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids. One purpose of the Mediterranean diet is to maintain a stable weight.
Another study followed 180 individuals with metabolic syndrome. People with this syndrome will manifest a group of metabolic risk factors which puts them at an increased risk for coronary heart disease, other diseases related to plaque build-up in the artery walls and Type 2 diabetes. Metabolic risk factors include:
- Abdominal obesity (excessive fat tissue in and around the abdomen)
- Dyslipidemia (high levels of triglycerides, low HDL and high LDL cholesterols)
- Elevated blood pressure
- Insulin resistance / Glucose intolerance
- Pro-thrombotic state (leads to increased risk of blood clots in blood vessels)
- Pro-Inflammatory state
- Physical inactivity, aging, hormonal imbalance, and genetic predisposition.
In this study ninety (90) patients were put on a Mediterranean diet and the other ninety (90) participants were put on a low fat diet. After two (2) years on the Mediterranean diet only 40 of the 90 still had metabolic syndrome, where 78 of the 90 on the low fat diet still had the (metabolic) syndrome. Both groups also participated in an exercise program.
What type of exercise is recommended for the aging population? A study in an issue of JAMA indicated that walking two (2) miles a day reduced the risk of dementia in older men. The Honolulu-Asia Study followed 2,257 men from ages seventy-one (71) to ninety-three (93) were studied for about six years. Those who walked less than a quarter of a mile a day were 1.8 times more likely to develop dementia than those who walked more than two (2) miles.
Two other studies showed a reduction in the rate of dementia in older men. Long term physical activity that included walking showed improved cognitive function in older women. Increases in cardiovascular health from the physical activity probably helped to improve brain health.
Maintaining aerobic fitness during middle age and beyond can delay biological aging by up to twelve (12) years. It can also prolong independence during old age. Aerobic power starts to fall steadily in middle age and decreases about 5 ml/kg/min every ten (10) years. In a typical sedentary man, the maximal aerobic power will have fallen to around 25 ml/kg/min by the age of sixty (60). This is almost half of what it was at the age of twenty (20).
Studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise can slow or reverse this decline, even in later life. By engaging in aerobic exercise an individual improves oxygen consumption and metabolism. Research shows that relatively high intensity aerobic exercise over a relatively long period can raise maximal aerobic power by 25%. This is about a gain of 6ml/kg/min or 10 to 12 biological years.
Not only is aerobic training important as aging takes place, but also strength training and flexibility/stretching are important. Research has shown that working to restore muscle strength and bone density is imperative in maintain a healthy old age. Elderly athletes can participate in sports that require strong arms, legs and shoulders by using resistance-weight machines to restore muscle lost through aging.
For the very old and frail the simple act of crossing the room can be a difficult task in terms of balance. But by strengthening leg muscles, the endeavor becomes easier and more routine; the risk of fall is lessened.
The American College of Sports Medicine has analyzed about 250 research projects from the past five (5) years. The studies showed that the aging process is quite complex, involving an interaction of genetics, life style and other factors.
Nine women and men from ages eighty-seven (87) to one hundred and one (101), strengthened their arms and legs by exercising with resistance weights. [They used a controllable system of pulleys and cables which is safer than free weights.] After eight (8) weeks of working out on this system they increased strength in the front thigh (quadriceps) muscles ~175 percent. “Dr. Abraham Datch. a 101 year old retired dentist, increased his strength by 200 percent over what it was at 95.” 8
In another study 40 postmenopausal women, none of whom were on hormone replacement therapy, were divided into 2 groups:
- one group lifted weights,
- the other group did NOT lift weights.
The group that did NOT lift weights lost bone and muscle mass. However, the weight lifting group increased its average strength to the equivalent of women 15 to 20 years younger! The elderly benefit from training with resistance weights. By building strength these older individuals can then move on to workout at aerobic exercises that will then improve their cardiovascular systems. Muscle mass will decrease by about 50% between the ages of twenty (20) and ninety (90) without benefit of exercise.
The loss of muscle mass due to lack of use, atrophy, occurs mostly in the fast twitch (Type 2) muscles that are used for balance and high intensity activity. Further, atrophy is accentuated in older people if dietary protein is not increased.
Typically people lose about 30 percent of their strength between 50 and 70 years of age, and another 30 percent per decade after that. At the same time, fat free body mass declines 15 percent, causing the body’s metabolism to slow down. As a result, people will lose energy tending to become more sedentary. This cycle continues to cause more loss of muscle (lean body mass). Physical activity can reverse this process!
To add to this complicated process, reaction time slows. Processing of information in the brain slows and nerves conduct impulses more slowly. The heart does not pump at the same maximal rate that it did before and arteries become atherosclerotic (progressive thickening and hardening of the walls of arteries from fat deposits on their inner lining). This results in less oxygen being transported by the blood stream. Recovery times have slowed down, too. A decline in one system causes feedback to slow down other systems.Genetics, environment, life style, and perceptions work together to determine how successfully one ages. What is necessary is a desire and means to avoid serious disease, maintain mental and physical function and actively pursue life. Lifestyle choices are a big determinant in how one ages. To ensure adherence to an exercise program it should be straightforward, fun, and individualized toward a person’s health needs, interests and goals.
“According to Henry Lodge, MD, 50 percent of illness and accidents, and 70 percent of aging problems can be prevented by following his seven rules of nature:
- Exercise 6 days a week.
- Do aerobic exercises four days a week.
- Spend less than you make.
- Stop eating bad food.
- CARE – care now for how well you want to be in the future.
- Connect and commit.” 7, 8
Avoiding stress and depression also helps with maintaining health. It has been shown that subjecting an animal to stress will cause it to age quickly. Along with mood enhancing exercise, one should work to eliminate as many stresses as possible. Meditation and other forms of stress management will help to turn back the clock of time. Meditation helps restore feelings of control, helps to release frustration and reduce the effects of biological aging. Largely, then, people can be ‘masters of their aging destiny’.
“Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made;
Our times are in His hands, who saith,
A whole I planned, Youth shows but half,
Trust God; see all, nor be afraid.” 10
- Holcomb B. Noble, A Secret of Health in Old Age: Muscles, http://www.shelterpub.com/_fitness/_weight_training/old_age_muscles.html
- Mayo Clinic Staff, Mediterranean diet: Choose this heart-healthy diet option, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mediterranean-diet/CL00011
- Science News, Protecting Your Brain: ‘Use It or Lose It’, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120425094358.htm
- Joseph Shapiro, For a Healthy Brain in Old Age, Start Early,
- Dr. Henry Lodge, on Living Healthier. http://www.first30days.com/experts/dr-henry-s-lodge
- Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, MD, Younger Next Year (Workman Publishing Company, 2007)