A natural approach to ageing
Today, the quest to look younger for longer is in sixth gear. Millions are being spent on "miracle" anti-ageing beauty products, anti-ageing medicines and botox injections as people desperately attempt to fight ageing from the outside.
But the truth is that everyone will get old, wrinkles are inevitable and no one will live forever. However, it is possible to live a longer and healthier life and there are some tried and tested ways to reduce the negative effects associated with ageing.
The key to healthier ageing is to get the mind-body-spirit balance right. Think of ageing as a process, rather than an event. You don't suddenly get old one day, it starts right from birth. Age is more of a feeling than a number.
Older people need to work especially hard to maintain their physical health, keep their minds active, set and reach their goals and to nurture their spirituality. These are also all things that everyone should do throughout their lives, regardless of age.
Physical effects of ageing
On a physiological level ageing is associated with increasingly slow cell division, mechanical damage from all the wear and tear of the years, genetic damage from environmental factors and the loss of brain cells.
Cell damage is caused by unstable oxygen molecules known as free radicals. Free radicals occur naturally but become dangerous when their numbers are increased by external factors such as smoking, an unhealthy diet, overexposure to X-rays, excessive alcohol intake, anxiety and too much sun.
When there is an excess of free radicals they can have a very negative effect on one's health, causing a lack of elasticity in in the skin, tendons and blood vessels. Too many free radicals also cause one's organs and joint function to progressively decline.
While you can't do much to banish wrinkles or stop your hair from going grey, there are many proven natural ways to avoid ailments associated with ageing such as getting a beer belly, going senile, stiff and aching joints and poor eyesight. You can also do a lot to combat age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's, arthritis, osteoporosis and arterial diseases.
What to do:
Exercise has been touted as the single most important thing you can do to age gracefully and doing some sort of exercise will help you maintain your functionality as you age. The many benefits of exercise include: weight control, improved circulation, increased muscle mass, flexibility, improved posture, greater endurance and better balance.
You should be getting a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. These 30 minutes can be split up into three 10-minute sessions throughout the day. If you have any chronic health problems, consult your doctor to find out what type of exercise will suit you. Older people should have a medical check-up first. The most popular forms of exercise for older people include swimming and low-impact aerobics.
Many people think that certain diseases are inevitable with age, but you can reduce your chance of dying prematurely by half if you do some sort of exercise every day. Regular physical activities cut your risk of heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, depression, osteoarthritis, falls and broken bones, hip fractures, diabetes and some types of cancer.
Walking, tennis and dancing are great weight-bearing exercises and will help prevent osteoporosis.
When it comes to alternative exercise, yoga and tai chi are gentle practices that improve flexibility and strengthen muscles. Regular yoga practice has been found to reduce aches and pains in the elderly. It also refreshes your body, gives you strength and calms your mind and soul.
Tips for exercise:
- Start slowly, make sure you stretch and gradually increase the intensity.
- Enjoy your exercise. Choose something that you enjoy, rope a friend in to join you and vary your exercise often.
- Be creative. If you have arthritis, try yoga or pool aerobics. Even household chores like washing the car, walking the dog and gardening count as exercise.
- Pace yourself. If you physically battle to chat to your exercise partner while exercising, you are working too hard.
- Know when to quit. Stop exercising immediately if you feel a pain or tightness in your chest, have shortness of breath, heart palpitations or dizziness.
Start eating a healthy diet rich in raw fruit and vegetables now if you want to age healthily and gracefully. Well-nourished people with healthy body weights have been found to age more slowly and have less ailments. A bad diet coupled with a lack of exercise leads to an accumulation of fat around the abdomen. This type of unhealthy weight-gain increases one's risk of diabetes and arterial disease. These diseases can reduce your quality of life and can lower your life expectancy.
With age, your digestive system becomes less efficient, so you need to change your diet to cut down on refined, fatty foods and include more foods that are rich in antioxidant nutrients (such as beta-carotene, selenium, zinc and vitamins C and E). You must also try and eat more natural foods with plant pigements (known as flavonoids).
To get the omega-3 fatty acids that are necessary to maintain the health of your blood vessels, try to eat at least three 90g servings of oily fish such as tuna, pilchards, sardines and mackerel every week.
A glass of wine a day will stimulate your appetite and may also reduce your risk of heart disease.
Aromatherapy has a lot to offer in the way of skincare for older people. In fact, essential oils are some of the most active ingredients in many beauty products. There are also certain carrier oils (non-volatile substances that essential oils are mixed with) that can go a long way in improving skin condition.
Remember that essential oils must only be used externally. To learn more about these powerful oils go to our section on aromatherapy.
- Camomile: Soothes and protects the skin against the free radicals that cause ageing. This essential oil can be used in the bath, as a massage oil or in hair and skincare products.
- Frankincense: This essential oil has skin balancing and rejuvenating properties and is therefore used for acne and ageing skin. It also tones lined, slack skin and is often used in skincare preparations. You can also use it in the bath, as a massage oil or as a vapouriser
- Apricot kernel: Suitable for all skin types. A light oil that is easily absorbed, it contains lots of vitamin A, which helps in collagen production.
- Grapeseed: Suitable for oily and combination skins. A light oil, packed with protein and antioxidants to help in the fight against ageing.
- Macadamia Nut: Suitable for dry skin. This oil is rich in skin vitamins A, E and F and helps regenerate ageing skin.
- Wheatgerm: Suitable for all skin types. With vitamin E and proteins to balance skin and revitalise prematurely aged skin.
Smooth an antioxidant oil or cream onto your skin every day. Vitamin E oil, cream or capsules are believed by some experts to help slow down the ageing process.
4. Have more sex
It has been found that couples who have regular sex way into their twilight years tend to live longer. Perhaps this is because sex offers emotional intimacy, it helps manage your moods and provides a stress relief. On a more physiological level, sex is a physical exercise that can help you burn off a few kilojoules and during an orgasm, hormones are released and your hormone level increases, which dilates the blood vessels.
5. Get some sunshine in your life
Expose your skin to sunlight (except between 10am and 3pm) to get your daily dose of vitamin D, the strong-bones vitamin that has now also been linked to the prevention of cancer and heart disease. Take all the necessary sun protection measures. And to prevent dryness and wrinkles, apply a moisturiser with an SPF of at least 15 every day.
Remember that the sun converts cholesterol into vitamin D. In South Africa, we don't have to take vitamin D supplements or eat ghastly cod liver oil, because getting into the sun every day will give us more than enough vitamin D.
The sun has many benefits for older people. In fact, almost all cases of atherosclerosis can be alleviated with moderate, regular exposure to the sun. The sun also facilitates the absorption of calcium by the body and by so doing, increases bone density.
Regular massages will improve your circulation and relax your muscles. Massage is also used in the treatment of indigestion, arthritis and the other aches and pains associated with ageing.
Try the following aromatherapy massage oils:
For relaxation: Blend two teaspoons of the following essential oils with an unfragranced lotion, sunflower oil or almond carrier oil: two drops of geranium, two drops of lavender, two of sandalwood and one of ylang ylang.
For revitalisation: Blend two teaspoons of the following essential oils with an unfragranced lotion, sunflower oil or almond carrier oil: two drops of clary sage, two drops of juniper and two of lemongrass. (Take note: don't use this massage oil during pregnancy.)
7. Mind over matter
An ancient Japanese proverb once said that "we begin ageing when we stop learning". Just as exercise keeps your body strong, mental activity will also keep your mind sharp and agile. No matter what age you are, you should always strive to keep learning and challenging yourself. Old age needn't be a downward slide into dementia.
By keeping an active mind, your outlook on life will be more positive and this in turn will have a positive effect on your health. Regardless of age, an active brain continues to produce new dendrites. Dendrites are the connections between nerve cells that allow communication between these cells. This in turn helps you to store and retrieve information more easily.
Studies suggest that highly educated or mentally active older people are less likely to fall prey to Alzheimer's. Vitamin E, ginkgo biloba, omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish, they keep your blood vessels healthy) and zinc may all help to prevent Alzheimer's.
Here are some ways to expand your mind:
Read, do crossword puzzles, play chess or bridge, learn a foreign language, change careers, do a computer course, teach others what your skills, join a book club, have stimulating discussions and debates with others, do a course through a correspondence university or college, go to the theatre or develop your own artistic talents.
What to take
1. Herbal remedies
Consult your doctor or a professional herbal practitioner before using any of the herbs mentioned in the following section, especially if you are pregnant, suffer from a chronic disease or are on other medication. Also read the section on herb safety.
- Garlic: A crushed raw clove of garlic in your food every day, or daily garlic capsules, will stimulate your immune system, reduce blood clotting and will help clear up any skin and chest infection.
- Ginkgo biloba: This herb can be taken in tablet, tincture or liquid form. It helps improve memory, treats senile dementia and improves circulation.
- Ginseng: Improves stamina, strengthens the immune system and relieves insomnia. This is a great herb to boost one's sex drive and eradicate general fatigue. Do not take it if you have high blood pressure and while on it, don't have any caffeine.
- Green tea: A cup a day of green tea will give you your daily antioxidant dose and it also helps thin the blood.
Antioxidants: If you are an older person, you could benefit by taking antioxidant supplements. This is because antioxidants protect the body by neutralising harmful free radicals. Free radicals are the byproducts of your cells' metabolism and are believed to exacerbate age-related changes and diseases.
Studies on antioxidants look promising, but one should use them with caution as it's not clear if taking antioxidant supplements is safe in the long term. You might be better off eating more antioxidant-rich foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
Antioxidant supplements include the following:
- Vitamin A and beta carotene: You can take these in supplement form, but the best is to start eating more red and yellow vegetables.
- Vitamin C: Studies have found that people whose diets are rich in sources of vitamin C have lower rates of cancer and heart disease. Get your vitamin C fix from citrus fruits, kiwifruit and guava.
- Vitamin E: This supplement may protect against cancer, cataracts and infertility. It may also slow the progression of Alzheimer's.
- Selenium: This mineral may help prevent cancer. Food sources include seafood and liver.
- Coenzyme Q-10: This antioxidant, found in meat and seafood, could possibly help slow ageing and stop the spread of cancer. But this hasn't been scientifically proved. However, it is hoped that it might help treat congestive heart failure.
- Certain B-complex vitamins: A combination of vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid has been found to reduce blood levels of homocysteine (a natural amino acid that, if it occurs in excess amounts, can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease).
(Health24, updated June 2009)