How to Stay Young
Ah… youth. That which we appreciate and value only after we have lost it.
That which we would give almost anything to regain, in order to relive it.
“You can’t go home again”, according to Thomas Wolfe.
Or… can you?
I think we can. But like all things in Life worth attaining, it will take dedicated work.
Are you willing to invest your time and effort to stay young or be young again?
What is Ageing?
First, let’s understanding a little bit about the ageing process.
Ageing affects you physically and mentally. Obviously, your skin wrinkles and becomes less elastic. Your bones become more brittle. Your muscles decrease in size and strength. Your memory worsens, problem solving becomes difficult, and you likely have more health conditions.
Everything you are is made of cells, from the nails on your feet to the hair on your head. Your muscles are made of cells. So too are you kidneys, blood vessels and brain. Ageing can be thought of as a wearing out process, happening at the cellular level.
Some cells die and get replaced as part of a natural turnover process. Others, like the brain cells, are not replaced. Existing cells divide to make new cells, but this can only happen a finite number of times. When more cells are lost than can be replaced, signs of ageing become visible. That’s why your skin thins, and your muscles atrophy.
Speaking of cell multiplication, chromosomes contain genes and are involved in cell replication. Special structures called telomeres serve as protective caps at the end of chromosomes. Each time a cell divides the telomeres get shorter. With age, the telomeres get so short that division is no longer possible, and the cells die.
Our cells are also under a constant barrage of attack from harmful molecules. For example, free radicals, which are by-products of metabolism and high levels of blood sugar have been implicated in cellular damage and ageing. Stress has also been linked to ageing, and in Singapore we’re no strangers to stress.
Finally, mental deterioration can be more frightening than physical decline. Memory loss, becoming less alert and taking longer to solve problems are worries that have multiple causes, most notably damage to brain cells by various types of proteins. I think we fear our minds going more than our physical bodies breaking down.
We certainly cannot stop some of these processes, but we can reverse to a great degree the effects and limitations caused by ageing.
How? Simply, by reducing those behaviours that contribute to the ageing process, controlling those that have resulted from it, and adopting others that may prevented that decline in the first place.
Today I’ll touch on just three areas that could jumpstart your personal journey towards becoming more youthful again!
I: Stress Less
The Problem: Remember the telomeres above? Stress has been show to shorten telomeres and destabilize chromosomes. This leads to cellular ageing that eventually manifests in outward ageing. Stress hormones slow healing, prolong infections, and promote higher blood pressure and heart rate, which stress the heart.
There’s no doubt that high stress levels follow us at each stage of our lives from the PSLE to the Os to the As and beyond into worklife. Despite growing concerns and pushes to lower it, stress is here to stay for the near term, so we have to deal with it.
1. Take breaks – Sometimes, all it takes is just a break to give you that one iota of respite from a non-stop period of craziness. If you’re sitting down at the desk hours on end, your back, shoulder and neck muscles can get tight and the muscular tension you feel adds to your stress.
2. Meditate – This is where you set time aside for the sole purpose of relaxing. Schedule a session the same way you would schedule a business meeting: put it into a time slot and stick to it. There are various meditation techniques you can investigate, from using mantras to candles.
You can find some basic information to get you started here: http://www.project-meditation.org/how_to_meditate.html
II: Move More!
The Problem: The physical betrayal of the ageing body is depressing, as it seems to break down and lose the ability to cope with day-to-day activities. Joints hurt, bones become brittle so a fall may lead to a fracture, the circulatory and urinary systems get compromised.
Many physical problems (such as type 2 diabetes, heart problems and joint pain) relate to gaining fat and losing muscle (atrophy). Exercise combats this deadly duo, bringing myriad benefits including fat loss (and the associated problems), preserving muscle strength, increasing bone strength, improving balance and reducing the risk of falling.
I’ve written more extensively on exercise elsewhere in this blog, but for now, if you aren’t already exercising, I don’t want you to even think of exercise. You know, the cardio, the 150 minutes a week, etc.
Instead, I want you to find some activities that sound really cool, exciting, challenging and even fun that you’d like to do, and then try one.
Don’t think exercise, think movement.
Need ideas? Visit your community club and have a look at their activity list.
Or… watch a movie! Here are some ideas I got from movies: inline skating, indoor climbing, street/ salsa/ pole dancing, fencing or boxing. There’s more where that came from!
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Another cool example of something I recently thought of doing was the via ferrata wall at Orchard Central. Have a look here: http://borderx.com.sg/viaferrata.html
The idea is, if you’ve never ever exercised before, or haven’t done so for a long time, sticking yourself on a treadmill three times a week for 30 minutes a pop isn’t going to work out. You won’t have the drive to continue without getting bored, frustrated, and feeling restricted.
But if you change your focus from another minute on the treadmill to hitting that ball, reaching that next handhold on the wall, not falling as you roll, you’ll be having fun, feeling challenged, and getting exercise without even knowing it!
III: Mental Massage
The Problem: Memory loss and reduced mental acuity are fears of growing old. Damage to the brain cells can take the form of ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’. The first impairs brain function while the second causes structural changes. Both lead to brain cell death.
Exercise has been shown to improve mental ability by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and decreasing stress and depression. A diet higher in vitamins B, C, D and E and omega-3 fatty acids and lower in trans fat also reduces brain cell shrinkage and degeneration. But there are mental activities that can help you stay mentally sharp and active.
Here are three suggestions.
1. Try a puzzle!
Different puzzles work different aspects of brain power such as planning and cognition. For example, Sudoku involves strategy, memory and number skills. Crosswords improve your language and communication skills, and force you to use your memory to recall words. Puzzles like the Rubik’s cube gets you to utilize spatial intelligence, increases tactile awareness and also ability for abstract thinking and planning.
2. Learn a skill!
When was the last time you learnt something new, like play the piano or climb a wall? Learning involves thinking, planning, strategizing and memory too. Even learning a new language forces your mind to engage in different ways, including memorizing new words, utilizing new sentence structures, and often adopting a whole new paradigm to grammar… all of which engage your mind, forcing it to stay active!
3. Read! Reading broadens your horizons and expands your mind in ways that are hard to beat. It’s also the cheapest and safest way to stay engaged and find out what else is happening in the world. I don’t just mean the news either. It could be learning about another culture, Nature, or the greenhouse effect.
Even picking up a work of fiction will be a wonderful break if that’s what will interest you away from your work-related readings, which is about the only reading many people do. Try reading a book in a second language too. The idea is to break from routine, and realize there is more, a lot more, to Life that you may appreciate. A curious mind is a working mind.
So there you have it!
Stress less, move more, and massage your mind!
It should be clear that keeping young involves engagement of both the physical and the mental. It is essential to cultivate good habits for nourishing both. We were given the bodies and minds along with all their potential when we were born. Let’s do all we can to stimulate both mind and body to keep ourselves looking young, thinking young, and being young!