It's no secret that the everyday stresses and rigours of life after a while leave a mark on all of us.
For some, these signs are more noticeable than on others. While it is a given fact that there is nothing we can do to stop the ageing process, we can in fact determine how we age, said general practitioner Dr Varma Deyalsingh.
Other than the grey hair and wrinkles many come to expect, there are, however, other changes occurring in the body as we age. While some people may have fears about ageing, Dr Deyalsingh assured that the process does not have to be as traumatic as some people think.
He noted that these days in a youth-obsessed society, where beauty and the desire to stave off ageing has not only been a serious local issue, but a global one—the emphasis on outer beauty continues to be at the forefront, ensuring a thriving cosmetic industry all over the world even in a time of financial uncertainty.
He believes that this keen interest people have developed in their own appearance and overall attractiveness can also be channelled into adopting a healthy lifestyle.
Dr Deyalsingh said, "From age 30, our bodies begin to age. We begin to lose muscle and bone mass and lose flexibility."
"While many of us would prefer to see the doctor as little as possible—as we age, it is better to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to your health," he added.
Deyalsingh noted that, although the outside of the body is important, people need to be mindful of the inside, too, since lifestyle habits can also impact on the body internally and externally. be it positively or negatively.
Giving a few guidelines as to what to do as you age, Dr Deyalsingh said to keep the following mind:
1. Regular medical check-ups—these are needed to detect problems before they arise and to monitor risk factors for future illnesses. Blood test, mammography, prostate test and colonoscopy should be done as one ages. We have moved away from giving hormonal replacement therapy in women but testosterone replacement is available as twice-monthly injections and has been shown to have some benefits in men. Forty per cent of men older than 45 years have some testosterone deficiency.
2. Healthy weight—Maintaining a healthy weight is more difficult as you get older. As you get older, your muscle mass decreases and body fat takes its place. Since fat tissue burns fewer calories than does muscle, you need fewer calories to maintain your current weight.
3. Alcohol consumption—The decrease in muscle mass, fat stores and the ability of the liver to metabolise (break down) alcohol result in alcohol remaining longer in the blood compared to that of younger persons. It is easier to get intoxicated and remain so longer, the older one gets. Keep this in mind with driving and when breathalyser testing. The suggested recommended daily two drinks for women and three drinks for men should be decreased.
4. Stress—Anxiety is the enemy of longevity. A stressed-out individual produces hormones like steroid cortisol and adrenaline, these cause increase in blood pressure, heart disease and strokes. Depression can manifest itself as back and neck pains and even chronic fatigue syndrome. Ageing gracefully isn't just about looking younger; it is about feeling younger and being content in the person that you are. Keep social contacts and plan relaxation periods during the day.
5. Smoking cessation—We all know the risk of cancer, Alzheimer's, hypertension, heart diseases and stroke increases the longer one smokes. Smokers have double the risk of getting cataracts, smokers 65 years and older have double the risk of getting a stroke and a 60 per cent higher risk of dying from a heart attack. The squinting of smokers causes more wrinkling of the face and damage to the skin.
6. Sleep—Sleep patterns change with age, so the elderly sleep lighter and awake more frequently at nights. Hence the reasons why elderly people often nap during the day. If someone takes longer than half an hour to fall asleep, more than two nights a week they need to be assessed for an underlying stress problem. One should aim for seven to nine hours sleep a night. There is no magic number and so one has to see the number needed to make them feel well rested the next day. Avoidance of caffeine, not exercising too late in the evening, controlling medical problems like diabetes and prostate problems may lead to a better sleep.
7. Exercise—Exercise releases endorphins which give us a feeling of well-being. The average person loses half an inch of height every decade after 40 years. Women are at risk for bone fractures due to the thinning of their bones (osteoporosis). Senior fitness should become a way of life. We have seen our own Granny Luces running in marathons showing us a fit 70-plus-year-old could have more endurance than an out-of-shape 40- year-old. At least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week is needed. This should include cardiac workout and some resistance training to strengthen muscles and bones. Water aerobics is a good alternative for those who have certain restrictions.
Dr Deyalsingh noted that while scientists have proposed different theories on ageing, and why we age, and what causes it —the bottom line remains this—the genetic aspect of ageing is difficult to modify. However, we can control some of the other factors which contribute to ageing.
He said, "Keep in mind with all the anti-ageing cosmetics and spas widely available, the best path to healthy ageing is by adapting a healthy lifestyle.
"People should not be too alarmed about menopause and andropause (the time in a man's life when the hormones naturally start to decline), they should be considered life passages and not diseases," he added.