Sunday, March 11, 2007

Living to 100

Scientific and medical advances have made real the possibility of living up to 100.


AN insurance company has just launched a scheme that will pay your medical expenses until you reach 100 years of age. When I heard this, I was amazed but delighted at the positive outlook of the future.

People are now encouraged to plan until they reach 100, something that was not done before. Our life expectancy is about 75 years (actually, slightly less for men). For the Japanese, it is 80 years. As such, most insurance companies only plan to help you until you are 65, or at the most, 70 years old.

But living into a ripe old age is meaningless, if it is not accompanied by good health. Unfortunately, for the most part, the increase in life expectancy in the developed world is achieved through better survival of diseased people. That is, people with cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease and many other chronic diseases are surviving courtesy of modern medical treatments, and not because they are healthy and live longer.

All the documented cases of the oldest human beings in recent times (as recorded in The Guinness Book of World Records) showed that they lived to around 120 years. And they all died of 'old age' or heart failure. None were overweight, and all led healthy, active lives in their younger days. They also had healthy diets. – AFP
It is estimated that over 60% of those above 40 have at least one chronic medical problem that requires treatment. By the age of 60, at least 60% are already on some regular drug medication.

With over 30% of the population 40 years and above being overweight or obese; over 30% having abnormal lipid (cholesterol and triglycerides) levels; over 30% with hypertension; and over 10% being diabetic, it is no wonder that the number of people on medications/drug treatments is very high.

The aim should be to increase the duration of healthy life. Even if you do not live long, if you live life to the fullest, made possible with good health as a key requirement, then it is better than living day-to-day as a burden to yourself, your spouse and family, and to society, which would be the case if you have a chronic disease.

Becoming old, lazy and fat

The main problem with people growing old is the inability to control their diet to prevent becoming overweight (or even obese), and the lack of exercise. For smokers, that habit is their biggest mistake, as far as health is concerned.

The hormonal changes that occur after the age of 20 make the body more prone to lose muscle and gain fat. So eating the same amount of food still makes you less healthy than before.

Unfortunately, lifestyle changes with less physical work and less exercise worsen the trend. If you do not actively fight this trend, you will be on your way to poor health and disease.

Our body is programmed to slow down and eventually die. But we are actually programmed to live up to 120 years, and should therefore be expected to be healthy for the most part of it.

All the documented cases of the oldest human beings in recent times (as recorded in The Guinness Book of World Records) showed that they lived to around 120 years. And they all died of “old age” or heart failure. None were overweight, and all led healthy, active lives in their younger days. They also had healthy diets.

The Okinawans, who have a high number of centenarians, are a good example of what a healthy, active lifestyle with a healthy diet could do to a community. Unfortunately, the younger generation of Okinawans have fallen prey to the fast-foods and sedentary lifestyles of modern living, and are not expected to have healthy, long lives like their parents.

You’re not lazy – it’s your hormones!

So where do we start in trying to correct our insatiable appetites, and our overweight, fat-laden and lazy bodies? Some of you do want to reduce your weight and exercise, but find it impossible to curb your appetite, and do not have the energy to start exercising. Even if you did, you find it increasingly difficult to lose the stubborn fat.

The answer lies in understanding your hormones. Hormones are the chemicals or peptides that act like thermostats that instruct your cells to accelerate certain metabolic activities.

Andropause, menopause and somatopause

For example, HGH (human growth hormone) oversees all the activities important for growth, and maintaining the state of youthfulness. So the levels are high in children, but after the growth peaks, it starts to decline rapidly.

After age 20, it declines about 15% every decade, leaving only about 50% at age 50. Because of the wide range of metabolic activities affected, this state of deficit associated with rapid ageing is called somatopause.

The rapid decline in HGH precedes the decline in testosterone (male sex hormone) and oestrogen (female sex hormones), which cause andropause and menopause, respectively.

If you delay the onset of somatopause, you can delay the onset of andropause and menopause. If you are obese, diabetic, or do not exercise regularly, you are also likely to have low HGH levels.

In men, testosterone levels decline more slowly after the age of 20. Combined with the lower HGH level, by age 40, already over 40% of men have some degree of sexual dysfunction as result. This includes loss of libido, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. They also have varying degrees of decline in memory and mental acuity, muscle weakness and thinning of bones.

In women, the level of oestrogens ( there are three of them – estrone, estrodial, and estriol) and progesterone (the “balancing” female sex hormone) may start becoming erratic after age 35, more so after age 45, and decline rapidly after 50 (the average age for menopause).

All the health problems associated with menopause appear thereafter. However, all these happen with somatopause already in place, thus the rate of ageing and degeneration of tissues and organs become doubly rapid.

So if you want to slow down ageing and stay younger and healthier longer, you must make sure that your HGH level is good. If it is low, you can improve by building muscles, by supplementation or by medical therapy. If your sex hormones are also low, you should consider bio-identical hormone replacement therapy under medical supervision.

The thyroid hormones are directly responsible for controlling your rate of metabolism. Although many other hormones are also involved, it is the thyroid hormones that have the greatest influence on your BMR (basal metabolic rate, which is the amount of calories you burn just staying alive doing normal activities). The higher it is, the less likely you are to gain weight.

Insulin is also crucial in the body’s metabolism and energy production. Insulin is necessary to allow glucose (and in certain circumstances, certain lipids) to enter the cells, to be used as fuel for energy. It also instructs fat cells to take in the excess fats for storage.

Type 1 diabetics who have in-born deficiency of insulin are usually not fat, because of poor fat storage. On the other hand, type 2 diabetics, who become diabetic because they develop resistance to insulin (ie. the insulin becomes less effective on the cells), are often fat, though not always so.

Steroid hormones are another group that influences the metabolism significantly. Cortisol, for example, has been shown to be the underlying reason for weight problems in many people who are stressed.

Many people suffer from weight problems and lack of energy because the body has problems trying to burn the stored glycogen and fat. Since we eat at intervals, each meal carries excess calories to support the needs of the next few hours. These are stored as glycogen and fat. But once converted, if your hormones are haywire, the body has problems reversing it for energy production. It has no choice but to give out hunger signals and you eat again, while the glycogen storage (which has limited capacity) and fat storage (unlimited capacity) continue.

This is why extremely obese people still feel hungry again two to four hours after a huge meal, even though they have enough calories stored to last several months. Their system is a one-way street due to hormonal problems. If the hormonal levels are optimised, they can start losing weight more easily.

If your hormones are optimal, you will feel hungry only when it craves for the nutrients, not the calories, because it knows it can burn the stored calories for energy. And if you also eat nutrient-dense low-calorie meals, you can maintain or lose weight easily.

When your body is able to burn the stored energy, not only will you lose weight, you will also feel more “alive” and not feel drained and tired all the time. And you can actually start exercising!

When you start exercising, you are on your way to recovering the healthier, fitter body that you once had! And if you exercise regularly, eat nutrient-dense low-calorie foods, manage your stress well and have a healthy lifestyle, you can hope to live long, and to live life to the fullest. See you at 100!

# Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong.

The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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