Not an episode on TV nowadays passes without some ad streaming through with promises of everlasting youth. Almost everyone is fixated on the quick-fix creams, lotions and potions that seem to do magic on the skin. The fear of ageing seems to be getting everyone’s goat. After all, nobody wants to grow old! People lap the anti-ageing products like eager-beavers. Most products turn out to be only fads though a good number are genuine. Diets and supplements do help but a clear positive lifestyle and mindset first need to be life’s order.
Wrong Notions of Ageing
Our minds seem fed by one kind, the wrong kind, of information about ageing:
- Ageing means becoming slow and clumsy, and grouchy too.
- Ageing means achy back and creaky joints
- Ageing means being weak, infirm and demented
- Ageing means impaired memory
This is the popular notion people have about when you get on in age and your mental abilities diminish.
But is that true?
Not really, according to researchers at McGill University in Canada led by Dr. Sonia J Lupien on the effects on human stress. They found that N.U.T.S. situations are behind the so-called memory loss and a general decline in health in older people. Any or the entire N.U.T.S. situation causes the release of stress hormones as a reaction. Situations may be those of Novelty, Unpredictability, Threat to ego or something that leaves a person with a Sense of being in poor control.
Take for example the situation of Mr. X. He has been doing a routine job every day for four decades and one day he retires. All of a sudden he encounters a novel situation where he has nothing to do but sit the whole day for days together. That becomes a source of stress for him. Whatever was routine has now become unpredictable. The esteem he enjoyed while he was active at work has now vaporized. He perceives a threat to his self-worth and that’s stressful. Stress has been a part of his life before but this stress left Mr. X in a situation where he seems to have lost control. Mr. X is going NUTS! That’s what stress does to everybody, though the impact is different for seniors. Why? Because people are conditioned to believe that the older they get the more worn out their faculties become.
While stress happens to all age groups, younger persons are able to cope with stress better. They recover faster from stressful situations that their senior counterparts. Stress is, therefore, the main factor that accelerates ageing. Research by scientists from the University of California in San Francisco found the first conclusive proof that stress hastens to age. The scientists found that stress cause damage to telomeres, parts of the DNA that controls cell ageing. Telomeres are protective caps at the end of chromosomes. The shorter or thinner the telomeres the more the DNA get damaged and the faster the ageing and decline in health. This means if Mr X could de-stress himself his DNAs would stay healthy and he wouldn’t face a N.U.T.S. situation. Although he couldn’t have stopped time on its tracks he can surely stop the rapid decline of his faculties.
But Other Signs Tell Me I’ve Aged, You Say
Don’t believe even yourself when people have negative notions about ageing. Many things about ageing can be changed, except death itself. So laugh them off! Remember what George Bernard Shaw said: “You don't stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” Now, what did you imagine tells you you’ve aged?
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1. Achy bones and creaky joints
That’s because of not exercising enough. Disuse leads to decay. This is true with body parts as with motor cars. Even moderate physical exercise reduces the risk of disability and disease.
2. Brittle bones
Not necessarily. Exercise and a good, balanced diet, rich in calcium and vitamin D and moderation in alcohol will do the trick and help prevent bones from getting brittle.
3. Loss of memory and creativity
On the contrary, older people can be as creative as their younger counterparts. Ageing is not a time of loss but a time of gain and growth says American psychiatrist Gene D. Cohen. He proved that the aged are also capable of creativity and intellectual growth. He based his findings on his research that the brain constantly replicates its cells provided it is challenged enough. Science has now proven that older people who engage in the arts actually see improvements in their cognitive and brain health.
4. The brain stops growing
That was what was thought before but now scientists have found out that the brain never stops growing. So if there is a deficiency in brain functioning it does not mean the lack of neurons or brain cells but the lack of communication between them. There is the great hope for sufferers of diseases related to ageing like dementia here.
5. The brain shrinks
Yes, it does. But studies on the after-effects are still inconclusive. Also, the shrinkage may due to stress as suggested by Dr. Lupien. This suggests that controlling stress may be the key to slow down brain shrinkage.
6. Impossible and cantankerous
Not necessarily. Ageing does not mean getting on to other people’s hairs or being grouchy. As one age one can also learn to enjoy life as it comes. Oldsters who laugh often are happy people and spread the laughter around.
If Stress Is the Main Reason, What Then Is the Solution?Coping, says Dr. Lupien. Through positive attitude regarding N.U.T.S. which can spring from:
- Loss of a spouse or companion, a broken heart
- Retirement, loss of steady income, status, ego
- Loss of Independence, change of residence, having to live in a home for aged
- Physiological changes, the wrinkles, the creaky joints, the fragile bones
- Less efficient stress response, when stress hormone levels stay elevated even after the stressful situation is over
How to cope?
Engage in healthy physical and mental activity and financial discipline. One important finding of the researchers is that people with good physical health, good education and good financial management or income tend to cope with N.U.T.S. more positively. These graceful people may be less agile physically but mentally they are as agile as any person half their age.
Socialize, have fun and laugh a lot. These are the three pillars of happy ageing. These activities are positive approaches to graceful ageing. They are antidotes to illnesses and ways to happiness.
Eat well and drink well. A healthy diet plays a great role in stress-busting. Water, fibre, fruits and nuts are the essentials that will provide hydration and micro-nutrients so necessary for a healthy life. Cut down on unhealthy carbs and simply say no to junk food.
Consume superfoods. There are superfoods you can try that are proven stress-busters. Turmeric is one of them. Especially Zizira’s high-curcumin Lakadong turmeric. Its beneficial effect on overall health has very few parallels. As a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, it is mighty stress-buster. It is also a potent brain-health enhancer.
Lastly, remember age is only a number. You are as young as you feel you are. Attitude is what makes for graceful ageing.