What Exactly Is This Thing We Call Aging?

22 08 2010

Poet Max Ehrmann described the process of aging in his poem Desiderata as “gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”  Unfortunately for many people, aging is anything but a graceful process; rather it is characterized by a slow, but sure downhill slide.  Like a frog put into a pot of cool water then placed over an open flame, most 65 year olds are rarely fully aware of this deterioration- and then are taken completely by surprise when challenged by activities that once seemed effortless.  If given a glimpse into the future say 10, even 5 years, these people would be horrified to see what lays in store for their bodies and take immediate action in the form of diets, exercise, and even possibly a few cosmetic changes (Botox, anyone???).  They would be like a frog tossed into an already boiling pot of water that jumps to safety escaping the immediate danger of the status quo. 

However, this downward spiral does not occur at the same rate for everyone.  We all know older adults who live active and energetic lives and perform impressive athletic and physical feats.  This wide range of capabilities among people in the same age cohort has made it difficult for those in the field of gerontology to agree on a single definition of aging.  One thing is certain, the concept of aging is not regarded as being graceful, except maybe by Max Ehrmann.  Look what good it did him…he’s dead.

As such, history has regarded aging as a phenomenon that should be avoided at all costs.  In the 16th century, Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon spent the better half of his life searching for the mythical Fountain of Youth in the swamps of present-day Florida.  It was said that one sip from this legendary spring would render one immune to aging and disease.  Unfortunately for De Leon, his search ended abruptly when he died from a poison arrow wound on one of his many failed expeditions. 

While we all know there is no literal Fountain of Youth, many ambitious entrepreneurs have staked a claim in the fast-growing market of age-defying products that tout the latest medical, nutritional, or hormonal breakthrough that will slow or even reverse the aging process.  Yet these products and procedures are not successful over the long term because they do not (and cannot) address the multitude of factors that contribute to aging.  And the clock just keeps on ticking away.

In reality, aging results from a complex interaction of lifestyle, environment, and genetics.  Therefore, a commitment to physical activity, good nutrition, and other healthy choices may modulate the expression of one’s genetic code so that beneficial genes are expressed while deleterious genes are inhibited.  A very simple way of understanding this relationship is the following statement:  A person’s  genes determine what  might be, but lifestyle choices determine what actually happens.  Good choices = Good outcomes.  Bad choices = Bad outcomes. 

Get it???  Got it????  Good!!

In health,

Dr. Chris




3 responses

26 08 2010
Lary Schiller

Just look at our group. Of course, these are the folks who are concerned about diet, exercise and health in general. A few other things that slow aging, I think: Having work that gives one a sense of pride and accomplishment (even if you’ve retired from it), a great spouse (or 2 or 3), a sense of humor, equanimity (taking life calmly and in moderation), good friends, a hobby that you love (like golf occasionally), doing some volunteer work that helps others, and not being a Republican. As Freud said, work and love. And if you have all those, even if you don’t live to a very ripe old age, you’ve lived a good life. Did I mention not being a Republican?

28 08 2010

Hi Lary,

If longevity is linked to sense of humor, you’ll live till you’re 500!

Many Thanks,
Dr. Chris

6 05 2013

Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular
article! It’s the little changes that produce the biggest changes. Many thanks for sharing!

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