When I was 35 years old, I contemplated the fact that my life was probably half over. The strange thing is, now that I have turned 50, I still think life is only about half over. Am I deluding myself?
I am a fairly typical baby boomer — one of the many Singaporeans born between 1946 and 1964. Although I am an individual in my outlook, I share many of the experiences and views of my fellow boomers. We grew up in one of the best of times, which ironically is the post-World War II boom. For the most part, we have benefited from good education, jobs, health and medical care. And, as we have watched our parents age with increasing physical and mental fragility, we have told ourselves that we will not follow in their footsteps. We boomers have every intention of living to a ripe and functional old age with minimum aches, pains and disabilities.
Based on recent data and statistics, boomers can live well into their 90s — some even nearly 100s — in reasonably good physical health and with most of their marbles intact, if they take charge of their health by middle age or earlier. While no one can predict what is going to happen tomorrow, I personally do see auspicious signs: My health today is far better than it was 15 years ago. The key to your long-term health boils down to how you live, what you eat, the supplements you take, your physical activity and how you deal with stress. Contrary to popular belief, genetics is merely part of the entire health equation.
Why We Age
Free radicals are the most likely the cause. These out-of-control molecules damage genes, mutate cells and accelerate ageing. Although free radicals are found in air pollution and generated by excess exposure to sunlight (and tanning booths), most are byproducts of the body’s energy production, immune system and liver detoxification of chemicals.
To prevent free radicals from running rampant, you need antioxidants to neutralise them. Boosting your intake of antioxidants can have a powerful and positive effect on your health. Indeed, a recent study of centenarians found that they consumed several more antioxidants (in fruits and vegetables) that people half their age.
Over decades, free radical damage to cells also reduces their metabolic efficiency, evidenced by poorer absorption and sluggish biochemical reactions. Take a tip from an athlete who often “load up” on specific nutrients to enhance performance. With age, you need to boost your doses of supplements to offset less efficient metabolism. For instance, studies on folic acid have found that loading dosages can compensate for defects in the gene regulating the vitamin’s use.
One thing is for certain — you will need more than supplements for your healthy road ahead. A diet moderately high in protein (fish and chicken) and a diverse selection of vegetables provides a wealth of nutrients that you will never find in a capsule. To stabilise your blood sugar and insulin levels — both are linked to accelerated ageing, not just diabetes — do your best to avoid sugar, sweets and refined carbohydrates in bread, pasta and pastries. Moderate physical activity, such as going for a daily walk, and stress reduction can also reward you with major health benefits.
Most Visible Signs of Ageing
If you are in your 40s or 50s, all it takes is a mirror to reflect the most visible signs of ageing — flabbier, and sometimes thinner, skin, as well as weaker eyes that are normally reinforced with eyeglasses. While these are signs of ageing, they are not inevitable. Nor are they irreversible.
Your skin and eyes function as key interfaces between your body and your environment. As such, they form your front-line defences against free radical damage from air pollutants and sunlight. Pollutants and excessive sun exposure deplete antioxidants normally found in skin, oxidise essential fats that form a moisture barrier around the skin cell and break down the protein structures that help keep skin soft, supple and youthful-looking. Similarly, your eyes are exposed to ultraviolet radiation, which generates free radicals after striking cells in the eye’s lens and retina.
A combination of antioxidants supplements and topical antioxidant-containing lotions enrich the skin, boosting its resistance to free radicals and reducing damage when you cannot avoid extended exposure to sunlight. Consider taking a multi-antioxidant formula that contains vitamins C and E, as well as beta carotene. European researchers have shown that beta carotene supplements enhance the protective effects of suntan lotions.
And since your skin is made up of protein, eating adequate amounts may slow the age-related thinning of the skin. Be sure to obtain sufficient omega-3 fatty acids, ranging from fish or fish oil capsules. Additionally, supplemental silica, which is a form of silicon, and sulphur my enhance skin health. Both minerals play vital roles in maintaining collagen and elastin, the two principal proteins forming the skin.
As for the eyes, two related carotenoids appear to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, which happen to be the leading causes of blindness in the elderly. Lutein (6 to 20 mg) and the lens and, more so, in the macular region of the retina, where they filter out free radical-generating wavelengths of blue light. Researchers have also reported that vitamin C (400 mg or more) and E (400 IU) may reduce the risk of cataracts. Supplements aside, do remember to put on UV-blocking sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat when you are out in the sun.
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