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Dr. Lodge and Crowley: Turn Back the Clock

Your body never retires, and you hold the keys to a healthy life well into your 70s and 80s. Authors Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry Lodge discuss how to slow down and even reverse the effects of aging.
 

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When Chris retired, he moved to Colorado to be a ski bum for a couple of years. This was exciting since he’d missed this phase of life, having married at age 19 and having three children early in life. He met Dr. Harry Lodge on his return to New York, and after dealing with the signs of “normal” aging (i.e., aching joints, etc.), he was intrigued to learn that Dr. Harry took a special interest in slowing down/reversing the aging process. Dr. Harry specializes in internal medicine and gerontology, the science of aging. He believes there is a fundamental revolution at hand in the way people age. Instead of moving on a slow, steady curve until death, with a few specific changes, most people can be a functionally younger age next year than they are today. They can improve or level out health-wise and stay steady physically until death. At 71, Chris is a perfect example of that. Once he signed on to this new lifestyle change and dove into a rigorous exercise program, he says he feels great almost all the time. He and Dr. Harry have seven action steps that will without fail reverse the typical path of aging. The first three deal with exercise; the fourth says to quit eating junk, and the final two -- “care” and “connect & commit” -- explain the biological imperatives of social connections. The rules cover the three fundamental areas of exercise, nutrition and emotional connection. The first three rules tell you to exercise six days a week, and mix aerobic exercise with strength training. The fourth rule is to eat right, and the final three rules make it clear that you should work just as hard at building the life you want, with interests, and especially with strong connections to other people. The science of the last 10 years has unlocked the mystery of how we age, and more importantly, how we can age. Most of the biological decay we call aging is a response to the way we live in the 21st century. THE NEW SCIENCE Biologically, Dr. Lodge says there is no such thing as retirement or even aging. There is only growth and decay, and your body looks to you to choose between them. Part of the new biology is knowing that the body is not a “thing,” like a car, but is made of meat, fat, sinew and many other parts that break down over time and have to be constantly renewed. The muscle cells in the thigh are completely replaced, one at a time, day and night, about every four months. The solid leg you stand on since childhood is mostly new since last summer. Blood cells are replaced every three months, etc. This is not a passive process. Biologists now believe that most cells in your body are designed to fall apart after relatively short life spans, partly to let you adapt to new circumstances and partly because older cells decay. The net result is that you are actively destroying large parts of your body all the time, throwing out lots of perfectly good body to make room for new growth. You have armies of special cells whose only job is to dissolve your bones so other cells can build them up again, like pruning in autumn to make room for growth in the spring. The trick is to grow more than you throw out, and this is where exercise comes in. The muscles control the chemistry of growth throughout your whole body. The nerve impulse to contract a muscle also sends a tiny signal to build it up, creating a moment-to-moment chemical balance between growth and decay within the muscle. So exercise is the master signaler, the agent that sets hundreds of chemical cascades in motion each time you get on that treadmill and start to sweat. It sets off the cycles of strengthening and repair within the muscles and joints. It’s the foundation of positive brain chemistry. “And it leads directly to the younger life we are promising,” Dr. Harry says, “with its heightened immune system; its better sleep, its weight loss, insulin regulation and fat burning; its improved sexuality; its dramatic resistance to heart attack, stroke, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, etc. All that comes from exercise. But let your muscles sit idle and decay takes over again.” MEN AND WOMEN Two amazing numbers: 70 percent of aging, for women as well as for men, is voluntary. You do not have to do it. You can also skip 50 percent of all the sickness and serious accidents you’d expect to have from the time you turn 50 until the day you die. Chris says 70 percent of what you feel as aging is optional. Dr. Lodge says there are three key areas that determine good health throughout the next third of life. They are 1) exercise – keeping the body fit, 2) emotional connection – having important relationships like marriage, family, friends, etc., and 3) social engagement – staying involved and connected to your community, etc. Overall women age better than men. Unlike men, who often get a little shaky as they approach their 60s or retirement age, many women feel more independent, more optimistic, more powerful. Freed from caregiving, they are liberated to look at other, possibly larger issues, such as themselves. They won’t shove their husbands aside, but they will not lose track of themselves anymore. Men may be at the height of their careers and powers, but they are uneasy, too, wondering what’s next. What will happen when they no longer have the position, job, or robe which defines them? For the most part, women seem to see the situation differently. One thing, few women have the luxury of wearing one lifelong robe. They slip into one role after another, juggling and doing the best they can. So after whatever detours life throws their way, women are not as likely as men to stew about what happens next. They live longer and they live better because of the social connections. Men’s challenge is that they tend to leave the details of living to the women, so when they retire they don’t have the same grasp of life as their women counterparts do. In the exercise arena women and men need to be ferociously fit. Men need to be “fit” – women need to be “strong.” Being strong physically makes you feel better and changes your perspective on who you are. Dr. Harry says men and women have basically the same biology. The startling realization that hits you at 50 is that you can live 30 or more years fit and healthy. The fastest growing population in the country is those over 100 years. At important life markers, such as turning 60, people are looking at starting a new life with 30 years or more of life to live. This phase can bring different challenges but can also be a significant life phase. Culturally we think aging is an end, but we have many more productive years to live. Insurance companies make money based on their calculation that you will live a long life. “A healthy 75-year-old can buy life insurance. You may pay a little higher premium, but you can get it,” he says. Most Americans are fundamentally healthy. “If you are willing to put in the work, it can produce some amazing results.” TIME LAPSE Dr. Harry started noticing the patterns of aging as he observed his patients over the years, most as they moved into their late 50s and 60s and 70s. Things were happening. The annual checkups were like time-lapse photography, “and in those jerky pictures I saw women and men I cared about getting old at an alarming clip,” he says. Many were sedentary, many overweight, out of shape and pathetic. Some were getting seriously sick with strokes, heart attacks, bad falls and bad injuries. A number died, and the timing made little sense. Dr. Harry knew he had not misdiagnosed them. “My patients had good medical care but not, I began to think, great health care,” he says. For most, their decline and illnesses were 30-year problems of lifestyle, not disease. But as his patients made the lifestyle changes necessary, he saw in his practice a big difference between those who worked and those who gave up. “The more I looked at the science, the more it became clear that such ailments and deterioration are not a normal part of growing old,” he says. “They are an outrage -- an outrage that we have simply gotten used to because we set the bar so shamefully low.”

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