Book urges prevention – not magical alchemy – as the way to age well and with dignity

September 23, 2021

Andrew Weil’s Healthy Aging is a well-written, fact-laden look at our society’s fascination with the quest for living longer – even forever – and sets out some steps we can take now to live long and healthier lives.

Dr. Weil points out that humans are the longest-lived mammals, and that research has found that our cells can divide up to 50 times in order to replace themselves. He contrasts that with mice, whose cells can divide 15 times and live only three years, and the Galapagos tortoise, which can live to a whopping age 175 and has cells that can divide 110 times.

Historically, he writes, we are now at our longest-lived as a species. “There is no scientific evidence for greater longevity in any past age,” he notes. However, people have searched for a fountain of youth for many centuries, including Ponce de Leon, who searched for the island of Bimini and its magical spring of youth and Shangri-La, where legends suggest that monks who “plunged forthwith into rigorous self-discipline somewhat curiously combined with narcotic indulgence” claimed to be able to live for several centuries.

The biology of aging has led to research into anti-aging medicine and treatments, which Dr. Weil explores. He concludes that we “will never be able to reverse the aging process… so please forget about anti-aging and avoid obsession with life extension. Instead, let’s focus on preventing or minimizing the impact of age-related disease, on separating longevity and senescence, on learning how to live long and well, on how to age gracefully.”

The second part of the book goes into great detail on steps you can take to do just that. “In our society, and in developed countries generally, blood pressure increases with age, perhaps because of our dietary habits, the stress of modern life, and other unknown factors,” he writes.

Those with high blood pressure should “first try lifestyle measures to normalize it: losing weight, increasing exercise, practicing relaxation techniques… eating fewer foods high in sodium and more vegetables.” If the problem persists, get a doctor’s input and start on “anti-hypertensive medication.”

As we age, we should watch our cholesterol levels as well, he writes. Other advice: keep a medical diary of “past illnesses, injuries, treatments, hospitalizations, current medications, and family history.” Keep current with your immunizations. Get a physical every couple of years. Get screened for cancer and keep your blood pressure as close as possible to normal.

As well – don’t smoke, watch your weight, and watch for unhealthy fats in your diet.

On the eating side, be aware of the glycemic index; “reduce consumption of high-GL (glycemic load) foods… that means less bread, white potatoes, crackers, chips and other snack foods, pastries, and sweetened drinks and more whole grains, beans, sweet potatoes, winter squashes and other vegetables,” he writes. Eat less refined and processed food, fast food, products “made with flour of any kind” and products made with “high fructose corn syrup.”

Generally, he adds, you should eat less meat and poultry and “other foods of animal original,” and more vegetable protein.

Other tips – “white, green and oolong tea” is a good antioxidant, and you can have up to four cups a day. He likes the idea of people taking a daily multivitamin.

Exercise is good but as you age, should be body-friendly, he notes – walking, swimming, cycling, exercise machines and strength training are easy on the joints.

To relax, he suggests “breathwork” as “the simplest, most efficient way of taking advantage of the mind-body connection to affect both physical and mental health.” He concludes with a chapter on the importance of sleep.

He also considers what will happen if the trend towards more longevity in society continues – will we see a demographic change to an older population, with the need for more care for the aged? And, he asks, “what happens to retirement when Americans are no longer saving and are both retiring earlier (the average age is now 63) and living longer?”

It’s hard to do justice to this detailed and well-thought-out overview of the issue of aging well; it’s definitely worth getting a copy of this fine volume and adding it to your retirement library.

Longevity is an interesting topic. On the retirement planning front, longevity is sometimes referred to as a “risk.” It’s thought of that way because there can be a problem when people outlive their retirement savings. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan has an antidote for longevity risk. When you decide to collect your SPP retirement benefits, you can choose among several annuity options. An annuity provides you with a lifetime, monthly income that continues for as long as you live – even if you watch your weight, eat well, exercise and relax your way to 100 and beyond! Celebrating 35 years of delivering retirement security, check out SPP today!

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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