Why Anti-Aging is Bullsh*t (or, Aging with Integrity)
I propose that anti-aging is bullshit. We cannot stop age, (unless you skip over to a parallel universe where time is more malleable). There are however, ways of slowing and modifying the process of aging, altering the effects of aging.
What if we can age with ease and grace? What if we celebrated the aging woman? What if we are not only wise, but more self-actualized, more awe-some with age?... Of course, these “what-ifs” are not ground-breaking, and are already true. Let's look at the hows and whys of aging well.
How do we age?
Aging occurs naturally. From the moment we are born, we are aging. Telomeres (the ends of chromosomes) shorten continuously as cells divide, eventually leading to dysfunctional, or poorly differentiated cells that either die or they contribute to disease. In addition to the decline in quality of genetic material for cell division, oxidation, (a natural metabolic result of chemical interactions in our bodies), interrupts biological functions and cell signalling (like elementary school children playing the telephone game, communication between cells breaks down), toxins accumulate, hormones decline, tissue integrity decreases, brain plasticity declines.
We cannot avoid this in its entirety, but we can alter how our bodies detoxify, the balance of our hormones (even as they decline), how our brain functions, our flexibility, our oxidation status, our nutritional status, our skin and hair quality, and how environmental factors affect genetic material and telomeres.
What is aging well?
Aging well is not all that complicated. Aging well involves living well. Living well doesn’t need to involve luxurious material things, rather it involves living with gratitude and joy, and adapting a lifestyle that supports healthy DNA and cell function. Enjoying spiritual, emotional, and physical health. Supporting ourselves with a community that cares. Doing and being. Offering light. Offering love. If all of this sounds a bit too esoteric, let’s discuss the practical aspects of healthy living.
Lifestyle changes that support healthy aging:
Enjoyment of daily activity and movement. Exercise is important, but re-framing the idea of must-do exercise into an activity that lights you up…now that is sustainable exercise. Movement of the body, incorporating strength, flexibility, and endurance, breathing fresh air, embracing the outdoors – all part of activity that is sustainable and part of aging well. (A non-exhaustive list includes dance, mountain or road biking, yoga, walking, swimming, weight training, martial arts, boxing, gymnastics, stand-up paddle-boarding, and canoeing or kayaking). Research on aging and exercise is constantly evolving, but what is consistent is that resistance forms of exercise are essential to maintaining bone health, so choose an exercise that helps maintain and build muscle.
Nutrition. What are you fueling your body with? Whatever you’re eating on a regular basis (say 70% of the time), is what your body will be using to make more of you, to assist in regenerating cells, fighting disease, and regulating hormones. Chemicals and toxic metals disrupt so many things including nerve function, hormone signalling, and cellular replication. Some foods directly contribute to wrinkles and loss of collagen and elastin (do you love the crispy barbecued parts of meat and veg?). Whether you are choosing a paleolithic diet, a ketogenic diet, a blood-type diet, a genetic diet, an anti-inflammatory diet, avoiding food sensitivities, or any other way of eating, the principles are the same: Whole, unprocessed, non-genetically modified, pesticide and herbicide-free, humanely treated animals. Mostly plants. Drink enough water. Don’t fill up on sugar. Truly, this is medicine.
Supplements: Of course, it's always nice to bolster our efforts with supplements. Curcumin - a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory supplement, capable of decreasing inflammatory pathways like NF-kappa-beta (known to contribute to effects of aging), decreases brain inflammation, and may improve overall longevity.
Probiotics - Yes, the microflora show themselves as a controlling factor in our overall health again. The right probiotics can decrease the oxidative effects of aging on skin, support hair health, and improve cognitive function.
Shatavari and Ashwaghanda - Ayurvedic herbs that traditionally support healthy aging, longevity, libido, and are general tonics. In modern herbal medicine these plants supporting adrenal function, libido, and immune function.
Emotional wellness: Expressing emotions, acknowledging feelings, sharing joys, hurts, and sorrows are essential to a healthy emotional state. If you have family trauma find support. Emotional family wounds can be passed down through generations, affecting your overall health.Talk to a counsellor, or a psychologist, or look into family constellation therapy. Emotional wellness is correlated with decreased effects of aging as it can lower cortisol and decrease inflammation.
Spiritual practice: Prayer, meditation, supporting community, listening to your inner voice, parenting. Spiritual practice is created with discipline, joy, and mindfulness. We know that mindfulness decreases anxiety and perceived stress in our body, which supports a variety of physical aspects including immune function, tissue healing, and digestion, and has been shown to decrease the negative effects of aging.
Instead of furiously attempting to freeze or reverse the aesthetics of aging, I invite you to age well. Your health is your best asset. If you truly want to enjoy your 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, (...you get the idea), embrace health. Support your hormones, your genes, and your brain. Bolster your skin with nutrition, hydration, prp for hair and skin health, and self-acceptance. Own your age. Talk to your naturopathic doctor about prevention and healthy aging support that is specific to you.
6. Water, Hydration and Health. 2011
11. Anti-Aging Effects of Probiotics. 2016