Aging is a biological fact. We don’t fully understand it, but we can manage it.
To age is to mature and is an obvious result of time and wear – like all living things, we “ripen” and eventually are consumed by degeneration or disease. The inevitable characteristics of aging are loss of strength, fitness, and endurance; inflexibility; inefficient waste disposal; poor repair and recovery from injury or fatigue; and eventually even senility and feebleness.
We will be exploring the causes, treatment, and prevention of the aging process here in this and future editions.
While we are not answering specific questions you may have regarding your own or others’ particular condition, we can be a source of further research of your own or, perhaps, topics you will discuss with your own medical practitioner.
Our bodies are made up of cells which associate to make tissues, organs, and forming a hierarchy of interrelated entities. The most important of these is the central nervous system-particularly the brain which allows us to make judgments and analyze problems. The process of aging in the brain can be studied by examining predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors.
The predisposing factors relating to aging of the brain are genetics (the hand you were dealt at conception) and although this is hardwired in DNA, we are beginning to understand something called “epigenetic” factors that can change these genetic expressions at different times of life. For example, the chemical process of “methylation” (adding a CH3 group; see Wikipedia for a more detailed description) can silence genes. The precipitating event may be a major catastrophe such as loss of a loved one, loss of your home, a divorce, job loss or anything perceived to be traumatic. Finally, the perpetuating factor can be something such as poor diet, lack of exercise, poor sleep, chronic stress and any of these can accelerate the aging process.
Now that we know some of the general area of the aging process, “What are their effects on our brain?” We know from many biological experiments that age brings in cellular changes: loss of the cell’s “power packs” called mitochondria; a build-up of free radicals; and an increase in genetic mutation. Also well-documented is that cells become poor at repairing themselves and poor at disposing of worn out proteins. These result in slowing of hormone production and metabolism, and immune system is slowly lost-allowing autoimmune diseases to raise their ugly heads. Our ability to fight off infection and inflammation is downgraded so we become more susceptible to colds and arthritis. Finally our ability to rid the body of worn out cells is reduced and these old, tired, mutated cells can begin dividing in an uncontrolled way that is manifested as cancer.
So now the question is “What do we do to slow down and prevent this process?” The simple answer is aerobic fitness. We are products of an evolutionary process that include running game down until the game tired. Clearly, our aerobic process is part of our heritage – we are meant to move and run. When we do something aerobic, we improve the process called apoptosis that rids our bodies of old, tired, and worn out cells. We improve free radical balance and allow our mitochondria to profligate and regenerate. Our cells can now dispose of worn out proteins as well. As a result of these processes our sleep is improved and our brains perk up with the natural infusion of endorphins that aerobic activity releases.
The bottom line is: Find an aerobic exercise that suits you. Walk up a hill, swim, bike, use the elliptical machine at the health center – whatever you can do and enjoy. Do this for 30 to 40 minutes seven days a week. Get your pulse rate to 70 to 80 percent of maximum. Begin slowly and move up over many weeks. We didn’t get in our present state of health overnight and we won’t recover overnight either.
See your doctor before you start anything and ask him or her to give you the numbers and goals you need to accomplish. I promise you that this will slow the aging process and you’ll feel great.