As we approach fall and the bounty of summer begins to wilt and wither it makes me think of the aging process normal and natural to all living things. It is not a phase of life many of us enjoy exploring but being prepared for the course of aging can benefit our quality and quantity of life. Understanding that there are too many specific health challenges to cover in this article, I hope I can touch on some basics, which I expect will apply to most.
Digestion…I will repeat what I’ve said before…this is the cornerstone of health. As we age so does this valuable system. The release of stomach acid decreases and with it the cues to pancreatic and gall bladder function begin to weaken as well. Individuals may have a lessening appetite, eat fewer and smaller meals, clearly this varies but is not uncommon. As digestion starts to deteriorate a VERY common symptom that arises is heartburn, for which acid-reducing medication is regularly prescribed. Sadly this quick fix is not a healthy long-term solution as the acid is required for essential vitamin and mineral absorption as well as overall digestive flow. Instead I would suggest a strong lemon or lime and water mix, or apple cider vinegar before or with your meals. This naturally acidic solution will instead strengthen the innate digestive function creating better health.
Inflammation…This is the root of disease, it’s really that simple. So logically if we can support the inflammatory pathways in a healthy and beneficial manner we can reduce the progression of diseases that deteriorate our health. The theory is simple it’s the practice that is a challenge, and again as individual lifestyles, genetics, etc vary there is no one simple way to assist this. One no brainer is to reduce your stress or at least learn techniques to manage it. Stress is pro-inflammatory, but when managed can lessen its impact on your overall health. I think as our world has become more stressful we see more activities like Yoga, Tai Chi and meditation gaining popularity because they offer natural stress reduction. Really any kind of exercise will count here, but if you are a go-go-go, anxious, or putting others before yourself type personality then a high impact workout would not necessarily be as nourishing as a slow-down, self-reflective one. Food choices are another must in this category. Quality fresh foods will be less inflammatory than highly processed foods…seems obvious. Another must for almost anyone is a good quality fish oil. A 500mg dose is ideal for healthy individuals…for those already suffering from inflammatory conditions a higher dose may be indicated, but check with a knowledgeable professional if you are uncertain what is safe for you.
Cognition…For many memory, thinking and speaking clearly are extremely important indicators of the aging process. Without touching on any one condition I think there are some terrific everyday tools, and nutrients that can support good cognition. Variety is not only important but also more fun. New foods, books, games, puzzles, routes to work, exercises, all increase the pathways in the brain. Doing some activity in your life where you are moving with your eyes closed is also great for the brain and your balance too. Learning in any way, like a language, artistic skill, craft or hobby can improve both the quality of your life and your brain function. One nutrient essential to brain function is B-12, remember to compliment any one B vitamin with a B complex to assure you are not creating deficiency elsewhere. I know you’ve likely all heard about Gingko, wonderful for helping to open and access those small blood vessels and capillaries throughout the body, especially prevalent in the brain. Ginger is another circulatory tonic that I would combine for brain function, along with Gotu Kola an herb full of antioxidants to assist in blood vessel damage and repair. A basic multivitamin would cover many of the nutrients discussed here, in addition a sublingual B-12; the herbs can be added if this is an area of special concern.
Appearance…the way we look creates much apprehension for many aging adults. This is not only our skin, and hair, but the way we move and carry ourselves. For both men and women it is extremely valuable to build muscle mass before our 50’s; this means performing weight bearing exercise in addition to cardiovascular or the more stress alleviating exercises discussed above. After menopause women have a more profound shift in their physiology which includes a muscle and bone loss. This occurs in men too, just not a dramatically. Keeping our musculoskeletal systems well nourished and flexible helps with ease of movement and long-lasting strength. Our skin is not so unlike this system as it is made of many of the same basic building blocks, namely collagen and muscles. Since the skin is such a rapidly growing organ, it shows the signs of aging more readily. The skin as a whole benefits greatly from the use of antioxidants…vitamins C,D,E, bioflavonoids like rutin, quercitin, resveratrol, and foods like blueberries, acai berries, pomegranate, dark leafy greens and green tea. These antioxidants are a valuable toolbox which enhance the health of our aging bodies.
I am not in the anti-aging camp, as with all things naturopathic I believe in supporting the natural processes of the body…of which aging is part. I certainly support any efforts to age in a healthy and vital way and hope these simple reminders can help you to achieve a bounty of health throughout your life.
DO something you love, BE with someone you love, EAT your vegetables, DRINK clean water, BREATHE deeply and MOVE your body EVERYDAY!