For A Younger-Looking Future, Here’s What You Can Do TodayAugust 17, 2017
Just last year, clinical trials for the world’s first anti-ageing drug have begun. This anti-ageing drug wasn’t designed to slow down or reverse the physical signs of ageing. Rather, it aims to delay the onset of age-related diseases and conditions.
This means if the trials are successful, a person in his 70s would be as biologically healthy as one in his 50s! While this might be stuff of a science fiction future, is there anything we can presently do to slow down the ageing process?
Turns out, there are a few things we can do. But before we explore these lifestyle choices, let’s take a look at the biology of ageing so as to better understand the causes and effects of ageing on a cellular level.
What happens when cells age
Each of us has approximately 37.2 trillion cells in our body. Similar cells are organised into tissues, which are further grouped together to make up our bodily organs.
Before you read further, remember this: Older cells function less well and, eventually, these old cells will die to make way for new ones. But as we age, the rate of cell production slows to a pace that isn’t able to keep up with the death of older cells. As a result, the older we get, the less our organs are able to function well. Fewer cells also means we become more susceptible to infections no thanks to waning immune responses.
How ageing cells alter our bodies
So, how does this decline in bodily function alter our bodies? The musculoskeletal system – made up of bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints and other connective tissue – is often the first to display signs of ageing, typically after the age of 30. Changes include loss of bone density; decrease in muscle mass; wear and tear of the protective cartilage of joints, etc.
The skin, our largest organ, also becomes thinner and less elastic as we age because of the waning production of collagen and elastin. The fat layer under the skin also thins, which explains the decreasing tolerance for cold as we age. Ever wonder why older people develop age spots? That’s because the number of melanocytes (pigment-producing cells) decreases with time, resulting in one’s increased susceptibility to the ill effects of UV radiation.
If you regularly do aerobic exercise, keep it up! An older heart has to work harder than a younger heart to pump more blood, which is why older folks tend to take harder to physical exertion, infections, injuries, emotional stress, and so on. However, regular aerobic exercise from early on can help improve your ageing heart health. More on this, below.
Compared to other parts of the body, the digestive system is less affected by ageing. One of the more common age-related digestive problems is constipation, which can be caused by several factors, such as the slower movement of contents through the large intestine, the lack of exercise or physical activity, and the increased use of certain medications that can cause constipation.
As for the brain, cognitive decline is normal through the gradual process of ageing – because of the decreasing number of nerve cells in the brain as we age, we may experience increased memory lapses as we get older. Other cognitive abilities, such as conceptual reasoning and spatial orientation, may also decline over time.
What we can do NOW
While we can’t stop time nor reverse it, the good news is that we can keep our bodies feeling and looking healthier for longer by adopting certain changes to our lifestyle.
This may sound clichéd, but it’s a fact that what we eat now plays a major part in how well – or poorly – our bodies age. If you haven’t already done so, start feeding your body right with healthy foods that promote optimal health. For example, consume foods high in dietary fibre, such as whole grains, vegetables and legumes, as these help regulate our digestive system to reduce the risk of constipation now and later in life.
Also, to slow down the effects of ageing on the skin as well as to improve eye health, incorporate foods rich in carotenoids in your diet. Examples include carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and spinach.
Studies have shown that regular exercise has heaps of positive effects on not just our physical health but also our cognitive health. Resistance training – any form of exercises that forces your skeletal muscles to contract against resistance – greatly helps strengthen muscles to delay loss of muscle mass and strength in old age. Examples of resistance training exercises include using free weights such as dumbbells, and using your own body weight to do squats, push-ups, sit-ups, etc.
Meanwhile, endurance training – also known as aerobic exercise, which refers to exercises that increase one’s endurance – is great for improving the cardiovascular function and protecting the body’s metabolism from the effects of age. Examples of endurance training include walking, jogging and swimming.
Where cognitive health is concerned, researchers found that regular exercise can help stabilise mood and cognitive function in older age. Apart from regular exercise, maintaining strong social connections and regularly engaging in social and productive activities well into your old age have also been proven to help you remain cognitively sharp for longer, according to initial findings from the ongoing Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER).
As neurologist Dr Scott McGinnis, author of The Harvard Guide to Coping with Alzheimer’s Disease, best sums up: “Healthy lifestyle behaviours can benefit people of all ages. But to have the great impact on late-life mental function, get started early.”