Behavior, heredity, access to quality health care, and social circumstances do not account for all health conditions. There is also a general decline in the body’s overall functional capability and increased risk of disease with age. Aging weakens physical work capacity, the ability of the immune system to fight off infectious diseases, and the functional capacity of other bodily systems such as the kidneys and the respiratory system. Age is also the main risk factor for the geriatric syndromes, including frailty and immobility as well as decreased physical resilience, which is manifested by delayed or incomplete recovery from stressors, such as surgery, hip fracture, and pneumonia.
Features of the aging process include: chronic, low-grade inflammation; various forms of cell dysfunction; reduced capacity of stem cells to repair or replace tissues; and cellular deterioration with age. Ultimately if we don’t die from an accident or disease or some other external cause, we will die from the gradual accumulation over time of unrepaired molecular and cellular damage that causes multiple body systems to fail.
My colleague here at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Elizabeth Blackburn, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2009 for her discovery that telomeres, a component of chromosomes, gets shorter with cellular aging. Chronic stress and chronic inflammation are associated with the cellular aging that predicts early onset of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, some cancers and many other diseases associated with aging. Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet, increased exercise, and stress management slows cellular aging and telomere shortening and even reverses it.
Currently, many Americans average a decade of ill health and disabilities prior to their death, and in old age, multiple concurrent disease conditions are common. Someday it may be possible to develop new therapeutic interventions that target biological aging processes and prevent, or at least delay, the onset and progression of multiple chronic diseases and infirmities of old age. For now, the best we can do is optimize our lifestyle by putting in place the Building Blocks of Health.
When the risk of death from one disease linked to aging decreases, the risk of death from other diseases increases. For example, finding a cure for cancer may cause an unintended increase in the prevalence of Alzheimer disease. A concept advanced by Olshansky is that because death is inevitable, the goal of public health and medicine should not be to extend the lifespan but to extend the healthspan—the number of years of healthy living. He suggests that life extension should not be the primary goal of medicine for people older than 65 years of age. Rather it should be the extension of healthspan.”
A study that found a slowing and a plateauing of the trend toward longer human lifespans estimated that age 115 is the upper limit of longevity. Until drugs and other therapies that slow aging are available—and perhaps even after they are—a healthy lifestyle is the best insurance against aging. Your personal habits and behavior—your health lifestyle, including healthy nutrition and regular exercise, can slow, or even stop and sometimes reverse, many of the effects of aging and prevent or delay illness. Your lifestyle can help you flourish and live up to your potential for vitality, health, and long life.
This blog presents opinions and ideas and is intended to provide helpful general information. I am not engaged in rendering advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures and suggestions in that are presented are not in any way a substitute for the advice and care of the reader’s own physician or other medical professional based on the reader’s own individual conditions, symptoms or concerns. If the reader needs personal medical, health, dietary, exercise or other assistance or advice the reader should consult a physician and/or other qualified health professionals. The author specifically disclaims all responsibility for any injury, damage or loss that the reader may incur as a direct or indirect consequence of following any directions or suggestions given in the book or participating in any programs described in this blog or in the book, The Building Blocks of Health––How to Optimize Wellness with a Lifestyle Checklist. References for most of the health related information in this blog can be found in the book, The Building Blocks of Health now available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Building-Blocks-Health-Lifestyle-Checklist-ebook/dp/B08RC3XRCY/. Copyright 2020 by J. Joseph Speidel.