Reversing the Downward Spiral:
Aging Myths & Age-Defying Secrets

By Dr. Leslie Van Romer and Dr. Narinder Duggal

We live in a youth-oriented culture where not only looking younger, but acting and feeling younger is of the utmost importance. Even in the workplace, youthfulness is seen as a positive and desirable trait. Age might equal valuable experience, but youth is appreciated for its energy, motivation and creativity.

So what can you do to slow down the aging process and get back the youthful energy that you used to have? How can you reverse the downward spiral and defy your age? Here are five myths about aging, and twelve age-defying secrets that will help you boost your energy, youthfulness and vitality.

#1 Myth: We are living much longer than we used to: Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t remind us of how much longer we are living than we used to. Shockingly, according to Dan Georgakas, author of “The Methuselah Factor,” the life span of a human being hasn’t changed much since recorded time.

With the event of good sanitation practices, septic systems, and, later, antibiotics, the collective average life span of a given population has increased. In the 1700s, the average person lived for 20 to 40 years in Europe. Today, we live, on the average, to our mid-seventies, and even longer for women. For the most part, this increase did not occur because individuals are living longer, but because there are significantly fewer deaths caused by childbirth, infant deaths, and infectious diseases spread by the lack of sanitation.  

Georgakas says that once someone reaches the age of 60, someone in today’s world lives no longer than the people did at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We no longer die of infectious diseases as a rule. We die prematurely of often preventable, chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and strokes.

#2 Myth: Americans age normally: In this country, we “oooh” and “ahhh” when someone reaches 80 years old, even if that person can barely get himself up out of a chair or get around a nursing home. The gerentologists, or old age specialists, tell us our national bar for aging is way too low.

Our bodies are supposed to last about one hundred years. More importantly, we are designed to feel, look and move well at that century mark. If you look around at the people in our modern world, seeing a fit and energetic hundred-year-old rarely happens.

Because we typically decline early in the U.S., the logical perception is that Americans age normally. The fact is most Americans age at an accelerated rate and the shame of it is we don’t even know it. Therefore, we do nothing for ourselves to consciously slow down the ticking clock. The result is premature wrinkles, sagging and bagging, along with premature diseases, disabilities, and death.                     

#3 Myth: Longevity is beyond your control: Most of us believe that genetics or “Lady Luck” determines how long we will live. Simple formula: good genes, lucky you, long life; bad genes, your fate is sealed, short life.

Not true. With the exception of rare genetic conditions and being female, genetics may play a 5% to 10% role in longevity, but no more and perhaps far less. The number of your years is mostly determined by the choices you make every day, especially when it comes to food, exercise and lifestyle choices.

#4 Myth: Longevity equals pain, disability and disease: How often do we hear the phrase: I don’t want to live a long time? Why would anyone want to grow old when, in this country, old age brings pain, suffering and the loss of bodily functions, mobility, independence and even dignity?

It doesn’t have to be like that. Look at the over ninety-year-old Jack LaLanne who has spent his entire life exercising, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and not eating junk.

The Abkasians, who lived in the Georgia Republic in the former USSR, boosted their large percentage of long-lived people reaching their over 100-year mark with well-working bodies and minds. Are their bodies made better than ours or do they own the secret to the “Fountain of Youth?”   Following their 12 youthful secrets would serve us all well:

  • Lean body mass and the cultural disapproval of overeating and excess body fat

  • Diet of mostly fresh fruits, vegetables and plant foods with no coffee, sugar, and very little meat, butter or salt

  • No processed, refined foods or fried foods

  • Caloric intake of between 1,500 and 2,000 calories (Americans commonly intake 2,500 to 4,000 calories)

  • Lifelong exercise, especially walking

  • Lifelong work, steady but not stressful or to exhaustion

  • Lifelong play: purely fun, pleasurable activities

  • Plenty of rest and sleep

  • No smoking

  • Elders held in high esteem with purposeful positions in the family and community

  • “Health is normal; sickness is abnormal” attitude – even in the elderly

  • Lifelong connective relationships/friendships: sharing and caring for others and being cared for by others

By observing other cultures and a few unique individuals in our own country and applying these principles in our own lives, we could dramatically increase our chances of adding years to our lives and life to our years.

#5 Myth: You can’t teach old dogs new tricks: Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Of course you can. Let’s think about this for a moment. We are not talking about learning complicated mathematical equations or even the latest computer technology. We are talking about putting on a pair of sneakers and walking—every day. How hard is that? How hard is it to wash an apple, open mouth, and chew? Or cut up vegetables and throw them in a large salad for lunch and dinner?

Learning new tricks, aging-friendly eating, exercise and lifestyle habits, is simple. The tricky part is practicing the new tricks. Shifting daily choices and creating new habits may be a challenge, but it is certainly easier than facing early debilitation of mind and body. Just take a stroll around a nursing home if you want to know what challenging is.

Do you picture yourself old and decrepit, or aging with comfort, mobility, grace, and purpose? As John Leonard says, “Aging is not simply decay; it is an accumulation of choices and consequences.”

What are your choices now and what will be your consequences later? If you are willing to make a few changes to your diet, nutrition, exercise and lifestyle, you may find yourself with the energy and enthusiasm of those who are years younger.

Read other articles and learn more about Dr. Leslie Van Romer and Narinder Duggal, M.D.

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