Aging is Reversible–If You Start Now

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I stood facing the aerobic room mirror dressed in my competition bikini and my high heels with 15 fellow fitness competitors flexing, fake smiling, and sweating all at the same time.  We were practicing our posing routines for the millionth time.  The goal was to commit these poses to muscle memory so we hit the perfect poses when these mirrors were replaced by competition judges.  Suddenly one of my teammates complained that the “tiny boppers” had it so much easier. She felt college students had a leg up just because of their age.  As a young medical student myself, I had no place to say she was wrong but I did wonder was this 40-year old female complaining or was there science to back-up her thoughts?  What can be done to reduce the effects of the natural aging process?

 

The Natural Aging Process

Time is one thing no one can change. Although the body is resilient, with time cells age and the ability to replace those cells with perfectly good ones becomes more difficult.  Muscle cells are greatly affected. Every decade after the age 30 you can lose 3-5% of your muscle mass.  Bone cells become more fragile and with age there is an increase chance for broken bones from falls.  Most of these changes can be attributed to various hormone changes.  In men and women there is a natural decrease in testosterone and estrogen which can cause a decrease in muscle mass, decrease in metabolism, and decrease in energy.*  One other mechanism of cell damage is an increase in free radicals. Free radicals are nasty atoms rampant in the body usually increased after a toxic trigger.  Triggers for free radical release are smoking, alcohol, drugs, medications, processed foods, air pollution, and ultraviolet (UV) sun rays.

Behaviors That Can Accelerate Aging

There are behaviors that can accelerate the aging process.   A lack of sleep has been directly correlated to poor memory and slow processing of information by the brain.  In addition, not getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night can increase medical problems such as cardiovascular disease and obesity.  Another behavior that will speed up aging is not working out.  A lack of exercise will promote muscle mass loss, body fat increase, and decrease energy levels.   Poor eating habits can also send negative messages to our bodies.  Eating very few, but large meals per day can create a slow metabolism which will push your body into “starvation mode” and cause weight gain.  A slow metabolism then makes it harder to drop those excess pounds.  And the final behavior to address is exposure to ultraviolet sunrays.  The amount of sun exposure needed to cause cell damage is variable dependent upon genetics.

How to Feel and Look Younger

What can you do to reverse the aging process?   How can you regain your ideal physique, increase your energy, and decrease your chance for medical problems?  You have to change your daily habits.  Fad diets, gimmick beauty products, and complex surgical procedures absorb lots of money with high probability for only short term results.  The earlier you start, the greater the affect you can have on the aging process.  Your daily habits should include 8 hours of sleep per night, exercise, and frequent, fresh and small meals.  If you suffer from sleeping difficulties consider talking to your primary care provider about proper sleep hygiene and consider a sleep study to assess for apnea prior to trying medications.  To protect your skin use sunscreen even on overcast days.  Try using products such as retinol and glycolic acid to trigger collagen production on your face.  Your daily vitamin should help you get sufficient vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene which are antioxidants to slow the free radical damage.  Although, the best way to decrease the free radicals in your body is to avoid the primary causes by limiting alcohol intake, avoiding tobacco products, using sunscreen to limit the effect of UV sunrays, and avoiding over processed foods.

After 13 years of competing with some of the most amazing athletes in the nation, I can say that I have seen a lot of older athletes win over younger athletes.  I think the reason for their wins is definitely not short of hard work and discipline, but their lifestyle undoubtedly plays a large role.  Whether your goal is to look hot in a swimsuit on the beach, to have younger looking skin, or to have more energy, you have to commit to some healthy habits.  Start with one behavior change and challenge yourself to do that one very well, and then take on another.  Over time these habits will become natural and your body will thank you for a lifetime.

Lady GaGa’s Natural Rheumatoid Remedies: Will They Work for You?

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When I first saw Lady GaGa’s story title ‘Hip Pain Can’t Stop Me,’ on the cover of Arthritis Magazine, the doctor and long-time athlete in me assumed it was just a common over use injury.  As I skimmed through the article I quickly connected with GaGa – I had once suffered from debilitating  joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) too!  I’m one of the lucky 33% of patients who went into (what I hope to be is) remission without recurrent relapse.  But, being pain free did not come without a price.

While I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy, when my symptoms began, I would wake up an hour earlier  than everyone else because it took so long for my joints to become “unstuck” and simple activities were so hard.  Turning on the sink, holding a brush, opening my room door, tying shoes – all challenging tasks.  I found work-arounds but one thing was guaranteed with my RA – each day was unpredictable and I would complete as many tasks as possible before the sun set because that’s when my body would start to shutdown on me.  I was always tired.  I was depressed.  Undoubtedly these were the hardest two years of my life.  I refused to give up on myself.  I read everything about RA. What could I do for myself?  It’s no secret that autoimmune diseases have a very nebulous course.  I chose to make some healthy changes to limit my symptoms.

GaGa describes the benefits of heat and cold therapy to manage her symptoms.  While the research does not show a clear benefit in RA, every patient with pain finds different treatments beneficial and so did I.  I encourage anyone in pain to try different things to find what works best for YOU.  It’s simplest to start with natural ways.  I would say there are two goals when choosing natural remedies: 1) To optimize your daily function, and 2) To avoid prescription medications due to the serious side effects.  The classic RA patient experiences pain and swelling in multiple joints that worsens as the day progresses.  It can be very hard for busy, high-energy people to adjust to how much you have to slow down. Lady GaGa describes cancelling many concerts due to her pain.  I empathize for her.  While I’m not a Grammy-award winning singer/songwriter, I had my own lofty dreams.

I think a natural way to manage symptoms is to just listen to your body day-to-day. You have to know there will be days when bare minimum activity is okay. Then, there will be the good days! Oh, the good days!  These days you do EVERYTHING!  I also found that working out everyday was very beneficial.  If it was only 30 minutes of walking and stretching, I still did it.  Of course on less painful days I did more.  My ligaments became very prone to over stretching and injury so I avoided lifting heavy weights but used light weights and focused on increasing my heart rate – this was enough to keep me fit and keep me happy.  I found a lot of pain relief with massage, as well. I couldn’t handle deep tissue but gentle massage was very helpful.  In addition to heat, exercise, and massage I focused on changing my diet.  This meant avoiding foods that were known classically to illicit an inflammatory response: processed foods, refined sugars, salt, and dairy.  I already didn’t drink alcohol or eat fried foods but those are other things to avoid.  My final tip would be to get enough sleep.  It’s tempting to avoid it because you honestly feel tired all the time, but I found my symptoms definitely eased up after a nap or a begrudgingly chosen long nights rest.

Like Lady GaGa, you can surely pop in your infrared sauna and still be functional enough to kill it at the Super Bowl, but it’s important to understand keeping symptoms at bay requires commitment to a healthy lifestyle 365 days a year.  I’m lucky to be pain free for several years but I stick to these natural remedies in hopes of not triggering my disease.  Everyone’s disease severity and symptoms are different so you have to choose what is right for you.  Even if you currently take DMARDs and steroids, these natural remedies can ease your symptoms.  Speak with your doctor first as what I shared is my own person experience and not medical advice.