By Henrylito D. Tacio
THESE days, no one wants to be called old anymore. If you happen to attend alumni homecomings or family anniversaries, you will encounter some people who are “past their prime,” as they want to be called.
In 1978, the Associated Press first used the description “near-elderly,” according to William Safire of the famed New York Times. This “is the fatalistic term, embraced by middle-aged demographers – those from 40 to 60 or so.”
If you meet some bald men, please don’t call them old. Instead, use the word “mature” to express your observation. Another euphemism you may make use of is “reached maturity.” And, please, abhor yourself from saying “almost old,” as what ‘Washington Post’ once labeled.
Former American president Bill Clinton was politically correct when he calls those using bifocals and with gray hair as “junior-seniors.” In the Philippines, we use the words “senior citizens” to separate them from “younger generations.”
“Aging,” said Dr. Denham Harmon, one of America’s leading experts in the field of anti-aging, “is the progressive accumulation of changes with time associated with or responsible for the ever-increasing likelihood of disease and death which accompanies advancing age.”
Recent studies have shown that people who received the Nobel Prize or Oscar Award are most likely to live longer. That’s a good news. But the bad news is that not all of us will clinch those prestigious awards.
But don’t lose hope yet! Dr. Steven G. Aldana, of Brigham Young University, recently revealed that you may be able to add 20 years or more to your life “by making several health changes.”
“People don’t have to completely turn their lives around to get significant benefits,” Dr. Aldana said. Example: Someone who exercises for 30 minutes six times a week can gain 2.4 years of life, even if that person doesn’t adequately control his blood pressure.
But not smoking is probably the most important change. “Men who smoke a pack a day lose an average of 13 years of life, while women lose 14 years,” he commented.
Dr. Aldana reiterated, “The earlier in your life that you start to make changes, the better — but it is never too late.” Here are some important steps:
* Eat nuts. Studies show that eating one-quarter cup of nuts five times a week can add 2.5 years to your life. Tree nuts and peanuts (though technically a legume) are high in beneficial fats, antioxidants and other protective phytochemicals. One study found that women who ate peanut butter five or more times a week had a 21% reduction in diabetes risk.
* Don’t forget fruits and vegetables for they lengthen your life by 2-4 years. People who increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables from two to five servings a day can reduce by half their risk of many cancers — including pancreatic, colorectal and endometrial cancers. Dr. Aldana explains, “Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of antioxidants and other phytochemicals that inhibit oxidation and inflammation — triggers that cause normal cells to become cancerous.
* Remember the fiber. For every 10 grams of fiber you consume per day, your risk of heart attack goes down by 14% and risk of death from heart disease drops by 27%. People who eat as little as two servings of fiber-rich whole grains daily can reduce their risk of stroke by 36%. Fiber-rich foods also reduce colon cancer risk.
“Fiber speeds digested food through the intestine and reduces the time that the colon is exposed to carcinogens,” Dr. Aldana says. “It also binds to excess estrogen and promotes its excretion in stool — this is important for preventing estrogen-dependent breast cancers.” Fiber, by the way, lengthens life by 2-4 years.
There are two types of fibers – soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibers can be found in whole grains, in some vegetables, seeds, peas, beans, and brown rice. Soluble fibers are found in fruits and vegetables, rice bran, and also in peas and beans.
* Devour only so-called “good” fats. People who increase their intake of mono- and polyunsaturated fats and cut back on saturated fat can achieve drops in cholesterol that are comparable to those achieved by taking statin drugs. Improvements in cholesterol translate into a 12% to 44% reduction in the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Get 20% of total daily calories from healthful fats (in olive oil, nuts, and fish, among others). Limit saturated fat (from butter, red meat, whole milk, and the like) to 10% or less. Important: Eliminate trans fats (often called “partially hydrogenated” and found in many margarines and commercially baked goods). “Good” fats lengthen life by 3-5 years.
* Lose weight. Excess weight greatly increases the risk of cancer, diabetes and hypertension. A person who is 20 pounds over his/her ideal weight is 50% more likely to develop heart disease — and the risk increases as weight increases.
How will you lose those extra pounds? Dr. Aldana suggests regular exercise. In addition, you must do the following. Eat most meals at home (restaurant food tends to be higher in calories). Drink water instead of soda (the sugar in soft drinks is a main contributor to weight gain — and artificial sweeteners have not been proven safe). Don’t eat in front of the television (studies show that people who engage in “mindless” eating take in far more calories).
Doing all these will lengthen your life by 11 years. “This is the difference in life span between obese and normal-weight adults,” Dr. Aldana claims.
* Engage in exercise. People who engage in moderate exercise at least three to five times a week can reduce their blood pressure by an average of 10 points and dramatically lower their risk of diabetes. A study at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, Texas showed that men who ran, walked briskly, swam, jogged, or played tennis lowered their risks of dying early by 64 percent.
Walking, not running, may be the better exercise for lowering blood pressure, according to some studies. But jogging, bicycling, swimming, stair climbing, and aerobic dancing are helpful to people whose blood pressure is slightly above normal. Exercise lengthens life by 2-5 years.
It was Aristotle who said, “Education is the best provision for old age.” — ###