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How to stop Ageing ( getting older )


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What is ageing?

 

Ageing is a natural process that affects most, but not all, living things. We used to believe that ageing was programmed into us by some kind of biological clock, but that view is no longer widely held. It is now thought that ageing is the result of accumulated damage to the cells and tissues of our bodies; over time, microscopic faults impairs normal functioning and may lead to disease. If we can understand cell ageing and find ways of reducing the accumulation of cell damage, or increase the effectiveness of our repair mechanisms, we might be able to delay the onset of disease and improve the quality of old age.

The kinds of damage most likely to cause age-associated or degenerative disease are in the genetic material (DNA) of cells and the accumulation of altered components within cells. Altered cell proteins are implicated in the development of diseases as diverse as Alzheimer's disease and cataract, while DNA mutations play a part in cancers and in muscle weakness.

Much of this cellular damage arises as a by-product of normal living. For example, some of the oxygen we breathe gives rise to highly reactive molecules called free radicals which can damage DNA and proteins. Our bodies have excellent natural defence mechanisms against these free radicals, which is why we live as long as we do, but some faults slip through.

Although much research has been and is being done on ageing, there is still much we do not know. Ageing is an exciting and fascinating field of study for scientists in disciplines as diverse as molecular biology, nutrition, medicine, neuroscience, psychiatry and genetics.

Why have our lifespans increased?
In the twentieth century average lifespans increased by over 20 years in the UK and many other developed countries, and our lifespans are continuing to increase. Many factors have contributed to this phenomenal success story.

Higher living standards have played a key role. Today we have better diets than our relatives of a century ago, with the result that our immune systems are in better shape to withstand infections like bronchitis and influenza that previously caused many early deaths. We no longer live in over-crowded, damp or unsanitary housing where disease was common and easily spread.

We now have safe, clean drinking water, proper sanitation and much higher standards of hygiene in public places and the home. These measures have helped eliminate preventable illnesses like typhoid, cholera and dysentery. Although air pollution is still a major health issue, our air is much cleaner than it was a century ago when factory chimneys and domestic fires belched smoke and gave rise to chronic chest problems in a high proportion of the population.

Medical science has also made a major contribution. The twentieth century saw the big breakthroughs in vaccination and immunisation, with the result that killer diseases like diphtheria, tuberculosis and polio were held in check. Smallpox became the first disease to be eliminated altogether by an international programme of vaccination. The development of antibiotics gave the first effective treatment against other serious infections, enabling people to survive illnesses like pneumonia. Better medical care has also meant that few women now die in childbirth and it has dramatically improved the life chances of small or premature babies.

The significance of all these advances is that they have enabled more people than ever before to survive the rigours of childhood and young adulthood. Of a million babies born in England and Wales in the1880s, more than a quarter (263,000) died before their fifth birthday, and just over half were still alive at 35. It was these early deaths that kept average life expectancy so low. Of a million babies born in the 1990s, more than four-fifths (831,000) will still be alive at 65, so average life expectancy is much higher.


Why do women live longer than men?
Women do indeed live longer than men in most countries of the world. In the UK, life expectancy, at birth, is 74 for men, whereas it is 81 for women, a difference of seven years. The figures for other developed countries are broadly similar. In a few countries, like Bangladesh for instance, men live slightly longer than women (with a life expectancy of 57 and 56 respectively), but such places are now the exception. The reason women have shorter lives in countries like Bangladesh is due to the lack of investment in women's health and particularly in maternal health.

There are two answers to the puzzle as to why women last the distance better than men do. Lifestyle plays a very important role in our life expectancy, and men often make unhealthy choices. Men are more likely than women to smoke, with the result that more die before their time of lung cancer, other smoking-related cancers, and heart disease. Excessive intake of alcohol is a factor in men's premature deaths in some societies, while in many industrialised countries deaths from occupational causes inflict a greater toll on men than on women. It may also be true that women are physically more active throughout life; women do more of the 'physiotherapy of daily living', such as getting the shopping in and doing the housework, and exercise protects against many age-related conditions.

But there are also biological answers. There is growing evidence that women are biologically tougher than men. For example, we now know that female hormones protect women from heart disease, at least until the menopause. The reasons for women's biological resilience have to do with the way we have all evolved to play our reproductive roles. Put simply, we have evolved to reproduce and pass our genes on to future generations. Our genes stand a better chance of survival if the nurturing parent - the mother - survives to care for her offspring until they are able to fend for themselves. In biological terms, men are expendable at younger ages because their genetic investment does not depend on their personal survival.


 


What is the best way to stay healthy in later life?
Thanks to decades of biomedical research, there are some clear pointers as to how to stay fit and well throughout later life. Our lifestyle accounts for the most significant 'slice' of our chances of ageing successfully (our genes make up only a 25 - 33 per cent slice), and lifestyle is something about which we can all make choices.

Smoking is the biggest single health risk any of us take. Smokers have shorter lives due to lung cancer, cancer of the bladder, mouth and other organs, heart disease, bronchitis, asthma and other conditions. It is by no means easy to give up smoking, but doing so gives immediate benefits, no matter how old you are or how long you have been a smoker.

A good diet is vital to good health. Our food does not just provide the energy we need for daily living, it also provides the raw materials for healthy cell turnover and fuels our natural repair system. A healthy diet includes:

  • at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. These provide the anti-oxidant vitamins that protect us against the ravages of free radicals as well as other nutrients and fibre. Fruit and vegetables can protect us from developing most of the chronic diseases we associate with later life.
  • starches and fibre such as potatoes, rice, wholemeal bread and pasta. These are energy-giving foods, but also provide essential B vitamins and dietary fibre;
  • lean meat, fish, nuts, pulses, eggs and cheese provide the proteins we need for growth and repair. In later life we do not need the large amounts of protein that children and young people need, but we still need daily helpings;
  • the right fats. Unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils are healthier than saturated fats such as butter, but all fats should be used sparingly;
  • the right fluids in the right quantities. Copious quantities of water and fruit juices will keep our fluid balance right. Alcohol in moderation, and especially red wine, is also beneficial;
  • salt and sugars should be taken in moderation.

Being overweight will seriously reduce the chances of a healthy older age as there is a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, arthritis and diabetes. If you have a weight problem, talk to your doctor about ways to tackle it.

Regular exercise helps to prevent high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, poor circulation, depression, obesity, joint and bone problems… in fact a very long list of the ailments of later life! An enjoyable form of activity, be it walking, cycling, swimming, dancing or whatever, undertaken for three or four 20 minute sessions a week, can make the difference between good health and sickness and immobility. The right exercise not only keeps us healthy, it enhances general enjoyment of life because it puts the vitality into our years. Older people are advised to take medical advice before starting unaccustomed exercise however, and it is always a good idea to build up exercise tolerance gradually.

The brain needs exercise too, as research shows that our cognitive functions can be kept agile by doing regular mental gymnastics. Crosswords and puzzles are excellent mental gyms, as are discussion groups and many kinds of voluntary work. Learning something new is a good way to exercise the brain and we are never too old to learn a new skill, whether it is how to use a computer and go surfing the Internet, or a new language, or a craft skill. Developing new interests in later life is also a good strategy for avoiding depression.

The best time to adopt a healthy lifestyle is when we are young - it is, after all, an investment in our own future. But it's never too late to start. Our exercise research has shown that people in their 80s and 90s can regain muscle strength and mobility by regular gentle exercises.

( Courtesy: http://www.ageing.org/ )

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