Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Everybody is afraid of ageing as the word itself brings forth images of misery and suffering. But are all old people destined to suffer? Can we prevent the morbidity of old age and lead healthy lives into our eighties or nineties?

If we go into the basics, ageing is a developmental process starting right from the time of our birth. It is genetically determined and we cannot stop it. Environmental factors however can accelerate ageing and bring in disease.

The classical stereotype of the elderly is an old infirm person who has a number of diseases, is handicapped in his mobility and dependant on others for his / her basic needs.

This is the very reason why people are afraid of ageing. So what is a healthy person? This is a person who is healthy physically, mentally and emotionally.

In order to achieve this state of health we have to understand the factors that modify health and how to control them.

The first health modifier is ancestral longevity. It means that if your relatives like your parents and grandparents have lived long healthy lives, you are likely to repeat that feat. However, we have no control over this factor.

The second factor is social contracts. Married men live on an average 8 years longer than single men and 10 years longer than widowed men. Similarly married women live 3 years longer than single women and 4 years longer than widowed women.

The next and very important factor is Exercise. As we age, we loose muscle mass due to inactivity and diet. So keeping the body physically fit by regular exercise is very important to remain healthy and prevent sickness. Exercises started at the age of 35 results in 5 years of life gain. Exercise started as late as at the age of 75 results in ½ year of life gain. Recent studies suggest that to maintain cardio vascular health at maximum level, we need to spend a total of at least one hour each day in moderately intense physical activity. Regular exercise has many benefits like improvement in health status, quality of life, life expectancy, cardiac function, bone health, postural stability, cognitive function and total body mineral content.

The next in the list is nutrition. Many of the ill effects of ageing are due to a poor diet. The risks of osteoporosis and fractures are reduced with vitamin D, calcium and ostrogen replacement. Then comes intellectual stimulation. Keeping the mind occupied by constant education and application appears to be associated with longevity.

Obesity increases the morbidity of old age and it should be prevented. Obesity is associated with arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.

The next point is income. High income males have six years longer than lowest income male.

Tobacco has a very negative effect on health and must be avoided to ensure healthy ageing.

Illness prevention is also important. Early diagnosis and prompt effective treatment of chronic illness goes a long way in achieving health.

The last factor is to minimize challenges by a regular review of medication and removal of potential hazards in the living environment.

So, in conclusion it is necessary to imbibe a holistic approach. Along with nurturing the body with exercises and good nutrition we should treat the mind with education and occupation and the soul with spirituality and friendship. Our rich culture has given us yoga which can help us achieve the perfect health.

We no longer need to be afraid of ageing for now we know the secret of preventing illness and living life to the fullest.