Your hairline begins to recede, you can no longer keep count of the gray hair, your skin begins to sag, you can no longer fit into your clothes but you can swear that you weigh the same on the scale. Things may sometimes get worse; you just can’t remember where you place your keys and your “sweet after meals” is now a tray full of pills and you keep refilling these from your new-found recreational centre, which is your doctor’s office. You may also belong to the team that wakes up every day with body pain and getting out of bed can set off panic bells. What if you retired from your job barely a year ago and you are currently in hospital for the second time with a broken arm? Surely you will never agree with the phrase “age is just a number” because you seem to be “experiencing so many things that never happened to you in the past.” This morning I woke up more convinced than ever that we can prevent or reverse many of the changes associated with aging. Certainly the downward spiral will continue if you do not do something positive to arrest and then reverse it.
These days whenever I spend time together with friends, the conversation will often be interspersed with greying, potbellies and health challenges. Consistently making our health a priority will go a long way to make things much better.
I wish I had known these much earlier then I would not have to start a crush programme this week to make up for lost time. You may be eager to get started too but no matter the state you find yourself in today, do not allow yourself to be sucked in by the “terrible toos” – too much, too hard, too fast, too soon – why? The answer is simple you may either harm yourself or “burn-out” quickly. Both scenarios mean you will no longer continue with your new found positive life.
The world is generally living longer but our “health span”, which is the time when we are actually fit and can enjoy life and not just hang onto it, is probably getting shorter. Is it possible that much of the decline we experience is a result of our mindset and inactions? Maybe “we expect to fall apart so we allow ourselves to fall apart.” Many of us ignore the “signs of aging” such as easy fatigueability and shortness of breath and instead focus on outward signs such as graying of our hair and a receding hairline; surely these are also important but I bet it’s what is on the inside that really counts; your heart, your lungs, your brain, your kidneys and all the others that you can’t see. I wish I could equate this to “don’t mind the body, mind the engine” but that would not be exactly true.
What happens to your brain, heart, lungs, muscle and bones as you keep celebrating birthdays? If you do not know your birthday or you have adopted a “f---ball age” you will still not be able to hide, just get proactive.
From age 25, the human brain begins to slowly decrease in size and that cannot be good news. Small in this scenario is certainly not better. As the brain shrinks, it becomes less efficient and your ability to reason, comprehend and retain information starts a slow difficult to detect downward ride. Who has seen my car key today, I thought I left it on the table?
WHAT TO DO
Playing with balls (tennis balls I mean) may help your brain bounce back. Start with juggling three balls at a time. The good news is you don’t even need to get the juggling right; it is the effort at practicing a new skill that matters. Remember not to be caught by the terrible toos. I plan to buy three balls today. Solve puzzles, read books and increase your physical activity.
In your mid-40s, your heart tends to grow smaller (excluding effects of a heart failure or muscle thickening from high blood pressure). This reduction in size means your heart no longer pumps blood as efficiently as it used to. This will force your heart to work harder putting it at risk of injury or disease.
WHAT TO DO
The more time you spend moving the better. There is no dispute about it though, lace your boots and start moving. Depending on your level of fitness you may need to start slowly and build up momentum.
By your 30th birthday, your lungs will probably have hit high gear to the land of reduced function. This includes even those who never smoke or inhale secondhand smoke as well as those who have never come into contact with mosquito coils or car exhaust fumes. This reduced function means you find it difficult to breathe during activities that require exertion – exercise, dancing and climbing are just a few of them.
WHAT TO DO
Certainly avoiding toxins such as cigarette is important but so is learning to breathe properly. Vitamin D, which is abundant in areas with sunlight, is great for the lungs and so is vitamin A from carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes and many others. So next time you are out walking in the sun, tell your friends you are improving your lungs and bones.
We may lose about 11kg of muscle between age 24 and 50 and then about 1% of muscle mass each year after the half-century mark, unless we do something about it. The worst aspect is we replace this lost muscle with fat of equal weight. Fat of the same weight as muscle is bigger and more “deformed”. This explains why when we do not arrest this trend, we tend to weigh the same on the scale yet we are unable to fit into our clothes. Aha! That beer-belly that has been haunting us.
WHAT TO DO
So even for those who do not take pride in huge biceps, it may be a good idea to start lifting some weights, not only will it protect you from extreme muscle loss and fat gain, you may actually gain muscle, protect your bones, improve your metabolism and even your mood. “Lift” for long good-byes to gloomy days.
From your 24th birthday to about two whole years before your golden jubilee, the supportive material in bones of men shrinks by almost 30%. Scary if you consider that this may even be higher in females. Around age 65, the bones begin to shed more of the mineral building blocks that make them strong, causing even faster degeneration. So you understand why a harmless fall or lifting your grandchild could cause you to break a bone.
WHAT TO DO
Weight-bearing exercises such as walking and lifting weights help to strengthen bones. Some of us may need calcium supplements- ladies! And we can gain mileage from our food such as yoghurt, milk and other dairy products, dark leafy greens such as kontomire and certainly good old sunlight.
So age after all may just be a number but only if you do the necessary things to prevent you from falling apart.
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/ 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 –“A sedentary lifestyle – spending a lot of time seated at a desk, in a car, or in front of a television or computer monitor – increases your risk of death from heart disease even if you EXERCISE. Remember to take 2 minute heart health breaks from your desk or chair.”
1. Men’s Health Magazine. May 2012
2. Stephen L. Kopecky M.D. – Cardiovascular Disease Specialist at Mayo Clinic
3. Mayo Clinic-Essential Heart Guide. 2012.