This year many of my friends hit that “magical age” and it’s extremely exciting. I have clients who have lived in excess of four scores and are still doing extremely well. We are all aware of the risks that many people also face as they age; family, friends and neighbours may treat them badly and some are even branded as witches and wizards. How unfortunate!! A ripe old age should be celebrated daily.
For many of us years of cigarette smoking, excessive use of alcohol, too little exercise and too much food especially fats and sugars do physical damage that is often wrongly attributed to age. I think we are always in a hurry to give age a bad name and hang it. There are many misconceptions about aging that tend to let many people “give up” as they celebrate several birthdays.
The arguments continue; humans can live for three-scores and ten as stated in the Bible, others say 120 years is the magic ceiling. Many people will resist spending a day on earth past their seventieth birthday till they are sixty-nine years old and realize that there is really no need to hurry. With all apologies to Methuselah, Abraham and their age-mates but currently the longest well –documented life on record belongs to Jeanne Calment who died in France in August 1997 at the ripe age of 122 years(*I stand to be corrected). Are we all destined or programmed to live that long? I doubt that but we can do much more than we have been made to believe at ages even in excess of seventy years. I know many people will start challenging the 122 years I have put out but please hold your horses; my grand-aunt is alleged to have died after spending over 130 years on earth. Do I believe that? Well, that is another story.
1. “To be old is to be sick”
a. If you are like 99.9% of us, you will have major issues with your health if you do not take the right steps to protect yourself but if you adopt the right lifestyle, you will rake in several years yet feel well.
b. You can age gracefully and remain independent for several years. Many elderly people especially women can easily perform activities of daily living and beyond with ease well past their eightieth birthdays.
2. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”
a. You must have heard this several times over. It has forced footballers who could salvage the country’s ego to retire prematurely, politicians have bade goodbye at the peak of their career and many adults even in churches have taken a backseat all because of the erroneous impression that they will not be able to learn the new trends in their trade. Surely, if you spend all day watching television and avoid even reading and basic walking then you are setting the stage for major deterioration otherwise you have all it takes to continue serving the world in various categories. I am not encouraging elderly people to stay indefinitely in positions at the detriment of young minds, far from that; I believe we often allow people to fall into the shadows too soon.
b. The belief among the young and the old that the elderly can’t sharpen or broaden their minds creates a disturbing cycle of mental inactivity and decay. The less people are challenged the less they can perform. The limits of learning and especially the pace of learning are more restricted in the aged than in the youth but research shows that older people can and do learn new things and they learn them well.
3. “Your horse is out of the barn”
a. We need to dispel the false and discouraging claim that old age is too late for efforts to reduce risk and promote health. Many adults feel that what they have lost is gone forever, but that is not exactly true. It is better to start healthy habits early and sustain them for a lifetime but for those of us who have strayed there is good news; we happen to be in the majority and nature is remarkably forgiving.
b. All too often when I ask patients with lifestyle diseases to start exercising I hear “I am too old to exercise.” Few things can be further from the truth than that, no matter how late you start exercising or modifying your life, you will be better off. The important point to note is to start slowly and avoid competing with people much younger than yourself. Regular and appropriate exercise for your age, gender and level of fitness is the way to go.
4. “Your secret to successful aging is to choose your parents wisely”
a. Some countries would probably be empty if this were possible. How easy it would be for people to say “everyone in my family dies of a heart attack by age 30 so I will not bother to work hard. Fortunately for us life does not work that way.
b. The role of genetics in aging is important but it has been exaggerated. We should be able to distinguish familial habits and experiences from genes. So if all members of a family enjoy eating large loaves of bread, several balls of kenkey, greasy fast foods and spend long hours in couches watching television, it has to be habits we have picked up as a family and has nothing to do with our genes.
c. We know that diet, exercise and even medications may delay or completely eliminate the emergence of disease. Genes play a key role in promoting disease, but they are certainly less than half the story.
I believe I have made it crystal clear that you have more control over what you can do or not do as you age than you ever thought. Beyond the exercises, healthy eating and avoiding excesses it is important that you ensure active mental stimulation (solving puzzles, reading), keeping up relationships with friends and relatives (relationships where there is mutual respect can be priceless) , putting your finances in order and do not downplay spirituality.
AS ALWAYS LAUGH OFTEN, ENSURE HYGIENE, WALK AND PRAY EVERYDAY AND REMEMBER IT’S A PRICELESS GIFT TO KNOW YOUR NUMBERS (blood sugar, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, BMI)
Dr. Kojo Cobba Essel
Health Essentials Ltd/Mobissel/St. Andrews Clinic
*Dr. Essel is a Medical Doctor, holds an MBA and is ISSA certified in exercise therapy, fitness nutrition and corrective exercise.
Thought for the week – “Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength." --B Friedan
1. “Successful Aging” by John W. Rowe, MD and Robert L. Kahn, Ph.D.