To be 70 years young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful than to be 40 years old.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, the American writer and physician in a letter to a colleague poet on her 70th birthday.
Few people know how to be old.
- Maximes, La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680).
"Successful" aging is an increasingly important issue. In Germany, the number of centenarians was over 4,000 in 1993. Today, that number has increased to an estimated 23,000. In the U.S., the 85 and-over group is the fastest growing segment of the population.
It is becoming clear that aging is not necessarily equivalent to decay and decrepitude. Factors such as diet, nutrition, and exercise have been underestimated or ignored as potential moderators of the aging process. Mental activity is of paramount importance for maintaining the ability to cope adequately with stress, with health problems, limitations and handicaps, and particularly for the persisting capability to enjoy life.
There are risk factors that are known to increase morbidity in the elderly, which can be prevented. They include cigarette smoking, heavy alcohol consumption and inadequate water, mineral and B vitamin intake. There are studies indicating that much of the cognitive loss in late middle life that has been considered to be intrinsic to aging is caused in part by extrinsic factors and may therefore be preventable or reversible.
Practical Hints to Keep Your Brain Healthy
Maintaining the health of the brain and body is not only important for your patients, but also for their families and friends. Although the brain ages in parallel with other organs of the body, an increasing number of productive and creative elderly persons bear testimony to the brain's remarkable capacity to function at an exceptional level at an advanced age. Are there ways to keep the brain functional? Absolutely!
First, be on guard. A significant change in personality, mood, or behavior (sometimes noted by others) could be a sign for a disorder that should be treated. Here are some "brain tips":
- Keep your brain busy. Engage in mental exercise: read; solve puzzles; play an instrument; play games; learn new skills (e.g., study a foreign language or take courses offered by colleges or community centers); take part in discussion groups.
- A healthy brain lives in a healthy body. Regularly perform physical exercise to maintain muscle strength, endurance, and mobility. By exercising your body, you also exercise your brain, as the control and coordination of your limbs is controlled by the brain. Keep your body in good shape by an adequate diet. Stay well-hydrated with plenty of water. Endeavor to get the deepest sleep you can, as deep sleep is the great rejuvenator.
- Avoid risks to the health of your body. Do not smoke, and do not consume excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine. Be careful and sensitive to the possible side effects of medications.
- Prepare for the future. Those who retire need an alternative social structure ready to keep them stimulated and challenged. Margaret Mead, the well-known anthropologist, said:
If you associate enough with older people who do enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghettos, you will gain a sense of continuity and of the possibility for a full life.
Avoid becoming isolated and lonely!
5) Feed your head. As we get older it becomes even more important that we endeavor to keep our antioxidants and the hormones of youth optimal, while keeping the hormones of age, insulin and cortisol, under control. We also want to consider herbs, amino acids, vitamins and other nutrients that can help keep our mood and memory young.
Brain Power at an Advanced Age
There are undeniable effects of age on brain function. The vast majority of people become somewhat forgetful, particularly in forming memories of recent events and remembering everyday items such as names and phone numbers. Yet, it is not unusual that persons of advanced age produce exceptional work in art and science. Claude Monet was 80 when he painted his famous series of water lilies; Giuseppe Verdi was 80 when he composed the opera Falstaff; Sigmund Freud made seminal contributions to psychoanalysis in his 80s; George Bernard Shaw was 91 when he penned the play "Buoyant Billions." Shaw lamented: "... if only I could live longer to properly benefit from life's experience. Youth is wasted on the young!"
Mood Wellness and "Grumpy Old Men"
It is true that for many the aging brain does have a tendency to become less full of the "joy of life." As the brain and body age, less blood flow, less oxygen, less nutrients, less hormones and less neurotransmitters (brain messenger chemicals)-or at least less sensitivity to the last two-all can be the basis for a physiological cause of moodiness, lack of joy-even depression. Yet the above examples show it is not necessarily so!
Nonetheless, depression can sneak up on us. If we wait too long to act, we can find ourselves stuck in the hopelessness of despair. If you find that you might be suffering from mild depression, we suggest you try following the advice provided herein. More severe cases need prescription medication, but there is no drug that can replace a healthy lifestyle.
Brain Nutrients: Food for ThoughtEvery body is unique, with unique nutrient demands. But our organs all share a common need for specific nutrients. And we must not forget the brain is just another organ, even if it is a compact miracle of complexity beyond our comprehension.
Brain impulses and memory storage require calories, especially sugars in the form of complex carbohydrates. Skipping meals and overeating simple carbohydrates like sweets, sodas, pastries, desserts and candies, can cause low blood sugar, leading to confusion, tiredness, irritability and depression. Women are especially vulnerable to during the pre-menstrual time.
Amino acids support metabolism in brain cells and help rid the brain of waste products. Some, like phenylalanine and tyrosine, are the building blocks of the adrenergic neurotransmitters. These are "brain messengers" that make us feel alert, energetic and alive! Others, like glutathione, can help the brain combat environmental chemical stress, while others, such as taurine, help to stabilize cell membranes, which prevent mineral loss. This is one reason why whey fortified with glutamine and fish are good "brain foods." A good low fat, high protein breakfast is often a great way to "feed your head."
Besides amino acids, vitamins and minerals are critical for the smooth flow of nerve signals through the brain. Antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E help to eliminate free radicals in the brain, and B vitamins help keep brain metabolism normal. While we may have once been able to get all of our needed nutrients from food, chemical contamination and soil overuse have caused many crop foods to become nutritionally depleted.
Pollution exposure and pesticides may also decrease our body's levels of nutrients. And with age, our ability to digest and absorb nutrients declines. In situations where the availability of nutrients is diminished, many doctors and health professionals recommend high quality mega multi-vitamin/mineral supplements.
The brain is largely made of fat, and essential fatty acids are essential for brain function. However, these fatty acids cannot be made by the body, and must come from outside sources. Omega-3 fatty acids from cold-water fish, ground walnuts, pumpkin seed and flax seed, along with mono-unsaturates from olive, avocado and canola oils are particularly good sources.
Deep Sleep: The Great Rejuvenator
An article in the June 3 issue of New Scientist says if you ignore your body's natural clock by working and playing at any time of the day or night, you could set a time-bomb for illness, injury and even death, according to sleep experts. The price of ignoring your natural sleep patterns can range from aches and pains to heart disease and chronic fatigue syndrome. A regular bedtime can be as important to your health as stopping smoking or cutting back on saturated fat. Your biological clock, nestled in the hypothalamus region of your brain, controls what time you eat and rest, the rhythmic surge of hormones; changes in body temperature; immune system activity; and a host of other body functions.
Different people have different sleep patterns: some are morning people, while others are nocturnal creatures. Problems arise when you ignore your natural body rhythms to meet the demands of work or family, says the article.
People who restrict their sleep or are engaged in shift work where sleep becomes fragmented and disturbed are at risk for cardiovascular disease. This has been shown in nurses who have been engaged in shift work over a long period of time. They show an increased risk for heart attacks.
Sleep debt can also contribute to depression, and lost sleep creates dangers at work and on the roads. Sleep deprivation results in impairment in people's capabilities to operate in their usual, expected way, and they would not necessarily know that they are impaired.
Most people require roughly seven to eight hours of sleep a night to stay alert through the day. Some of the warning signs of sleep deprivation include fatigue; irritability; difficulty concentrating; confusion; and depression.
Even while getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep, starting with middle age, and worsening from there on, sleep tends to become less and less deep. Deep sleep, known as stage III and IV sleep, is where most of the healing, repair and regeneration takes place. It is also when the body secretes the most growth hormone. Therefore, promoting deep sleep is a key to feeling young in body, mind and spirit.
So remember, one of the secrets of staying young is to sleep like a baby! And by using the right combination of lifestyle and products, you can come closer, at least.
San Diego, California
Click here for previous articles by John Maher, DC, DCBCN, BCIM.