Within the United States, there are endless misconceptions regarding development of disease, reversal of health, and loss of function, as we age. Through my experience with clients, I have noticed that the average American expects a major yearly decline, starting before they are 40 years old.
If we look at indigenous tribes, free of many modern diseases and living a more natural lifestyle, or take an evolutionary perspective to examine how humans aged over the last 2 million years, we do not see such a marked decline in quality of life.
Humans may move slower and sleep less as they age, but it isn’t until their last week of life that they experience such a massive difference. One week they are extremely fatigued, maybe stop getting out of bed or eating, and then peacefully pass away in their sleep between the ages of 70 and 80.
Clearly our hormonal profiles change a great deal between the ages of 30 and 50. But this change occurs simply because we have already met our (theoretical) biological imperative of reproduction and proliferation of the species.
In Paleolithic times, early humans were active, healthy, and disease free into their late 60’s and early 70’s. Infant deaths and deaths from injury, infection, etc skew the data and leave us with the false belief that the average “caveman” only lived to 25.
Between our unhealthy lifestyles, full of empty calories from processed foods and devoid of activity, and pharmaceutical companies telling us what ailments are “normal”, our expectation of a major health decline becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let’s look at some examples of how the “affects of aging” are dependent upon lifestyle factors.
Type 2 diabetics are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Some individuals may have genetics that predispose them to blood sugar regulation issues but, ultimately, diabetes is caused by choices we make regarding diet and exercise.
Low blood cholesterol levels greatly increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. Unfortunately, a few researchers found a weak correlation between cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Because of this, the average American will do anything (including taking Statins that can cause diabetes) to lower their cholesterol.
Bone density and osteoporosis result because our diets don’t include enough magnesium and protein and our lifestyles don’t provide necessary vitamin D and load-bearing activity. We developed this notion that bones are rigid structures no different than concrete. Maybe if we swallow enough calcium, without concern for absorption factors, we can keep bones hard. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Bones are living tissues that must be used during exercise, and fed with proteins, to maintain density.
Lean body mass also decreases as we age. At first we linked this loss to a change in hormones and wrote it off as an inevitable outcome of aging. However, with adequate strength training, protein consumption, and a nutrient dense diet, it is possible to maintain lean body mass and prevent an increase in body fat as we age.
A properly structured strength training programming will not only benefit bones and body composition, but also will ensure better cognitive performance and balance.
Another major health issue that plagues our country is cancer. The majority of oncologists agree that 30 to 35% of cancers can be linked to diet.
Arthritis is another condition widely misunderstood in our country. The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis can be caused by abnormal joint development, but more often than not, it is caused by injury, improper movement, or excess body fat.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that can be avoided, or reversed, through diet. Vegetable oils (corn, canola, etc) are extremely inflammatory and prone to chemical degradation in the blood. Grains, particularly refined wheat flours that are high in gluten and gliadin, will puncture the gut lining, resulting in proteins traveling through the blood, wreaking havoc elsewhere in the body.
Finally, deficiencies in the B vitamins, iron, and essential fatty acids, are extremely common in the U.S., and are responsible for deteriorating neurological function.
Vitamin B12 and iron are best obtained from red meat and shellfish. Fish and animals fed a natural diet (grass-fed cows, pasture-raised pork) provide the proper form of Omega 3 (known as DHA) that our brains require. Unfortunately, most of us consume too much of the wrong fatty acid (Omega 6) or, when we do consume Omega 3, we consume it as AHA (from plants), which humans cannot use.
At the end of the day, age is just a number. I have clients that are 90 years old and performing better than other clients that are 30.
Rather than using age as an excuse, use it as an extra reason to be proud!
Instead of saying “I’m 70 so I can’t use that big barbell”, say “I’m 70 and I just squatted with the equivalent of my own bodyweight on my back”!
Instead of saying “I’m over 50 so my knees can’t tolerate running anymore”, say “I’m over 50 but I still got a better time than a 30 year old in my last half marathon”!
We can’t stop ourselves from aging, but we can change how it affects our bodies!