Guest Blog by Steven Carney
Almost daily, we hear media outlets repeat myths about aging, health and disease. And often, these aging myths are based on old studies, assumptions and unproven beliefs. Sadly, many adults have adopted these myths as well.
These media stories simply assume that age itself automatically brings a decline in health and vitality (as opposed to daily lifestyle and health practices). It’s believed that aging is a cause health problems and disease. As you will soon see, these are largely false beliefs. Here are 3 common myths about aging, health and chronic disease:
- It’s normal to gain weight with age
This is an important myth to address first because it’s so pervasive. Many people assume that adding a few pounds a year after age 35 or 40 is inevitable. It’s not! Consistent weight gain reflects an unhealthy, unbalanced lifestyle, including key areas like nutrition, a lack of activity, chronic stress, poor sleep, etc. Gaining pounds reflects a lifestyle that is not aligned with an individual’s physical and emotional needs.
What’s more, excess weight can increase the risk for a whole range of health conditions and chronic diseases. That extra weight, especially at the waistline and abdominal area (visceral fat), is metabolically active. Those fat cells want more food, and they also pump out inflammatory chemicals (cytokines). They also increase insulin resistance (insulin is less effective at moving glucose to cells, keeping blood sugar high), and alter a range of critical hormonal balances, from insulin to estrogen.
For women, these problems increase the risk for a host of diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (especially breast cancer). The risks are similar for men, with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and hormonal changes that are less masculine.
Although age can bring a gradual decrease in various hormones starting in the 30s, it’s mostly because people don’t keep their hormones at a more youthful level. Without adjusting an individual’s lifestyle with age, those hormonal imbalances can increase over many years. Unfortunately, too many adults don’t make the right adjustments to their diets, activity and other lifestyle habits until they are overweight and develop bad screening tests or symptoms.
Put simply, unhealthy lifestyle choices are the primary driver for weight gain and other chronic health problems. And the biggest offenders are processed junk/fast foods that are so pervasive now. Many have added sugar, refined-carbs and cheap, highly processed veggie oils (omega-6 veggie oils, which increase inflammation), and a list of additives and preservatives.
Sugar and refined carbs (bread, rolls, pasta, donuts, cookies, cake, candy, etc.) will digest quickly because they lack fiber and micro-nutrients like vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Sugar and refined carbs will often reach the bloodstream in under an hour, causing blood sugar spikes and triggering the release of insulin to lower those toxic levels of glucose.
High glucose also raises triglycerides, triggers inflammation, and small, dense LDL particles (think atherosclerosis). They also cause significant swings in energy and mood. For many adults, this becomes a daily pattern of ups and downs: Sugar and refined carbs cause more cravings because they increase neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine which drop with the release of insulin.
When glucose levels drop, people feel tired and crave another quick fix: more carbs. It’s a vicious cycle of cravings and withdrawal as your energy jumps and crashes! Sugar is toxic in the amounts many people consume daily. Sugar is destructive to stable energy, hormones, brain function, inflammation and long-term health!
To manage better glucose levels, reach for more whole, healthy foods and snacks, such nuts/seeds, veggies, greens, whole, unprocessed fruits, lean proteins (chicken and fish), healthy fats (olive or coconut oil), and switch to tea, water or coffee instead of sodas of juice. Add a quality, bioavailable, multi-vitamin/mineral and you’ll be doing yourself a big favor (did you know that you need vitamins and minerals to properly digest and metabolize food and boost energy levels?). Add additional supplements as needed. By making better choices, you will start to drop excess weight and boost energy!
- It’s normal to be less active with age
Another myth! As I mentioned above, an unhealthy diet will often add extra pounds, cause serious hormonal imbalances, inflammation and bring down energy levels. Unhealthy nutrition will have you feeling more listless and tired. You’ll be less active, adding another cycle to declining health. Excess weight also brings additional stress on knees, hips and other joints, increasing inflammation and pain.
And when you are less active, your muscles lose tone and your body gets progressively weaker. Key organs like the heart and lungs become less efficient (can you walk a mile briskly? Can you jog a mile?). Your tissues have gradually less oxygen and nutrients, affecting your entire metabolism and health down to a cellular level! As your muscles lose tone and size, they become more permeated with fat cells. Without enough activity, muscles and joints will lose flexibility. You’ll become weaker and more prone to losing your balance, falling or getting injured. And don’t forget, inactivity also weakens your bones (yes, they know when they are not being challenged)!
Experts have claimed that with age, you will lose about 1% of your muscle mass each year. But that loss is largely due to people not maintaining their strength and stamina. Aging doesn’t cause muscle loss by itself. That 1% may not sound like much but in 5 years, it’s a 5% loss. Because muscles are a big part of your metabolic engine, a 5% loss will also contribute to weight gain if you continue eating all those refined carbs, junk foods and sugar.
Research has shown that a healthy diet, plus good activity 4-5 days a week can activate hundreds of genes that keep you healthy. Conversely, an unhealthy diet and inactivity activates numerous disease genes (for heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, etc.)! So improving your lifestyle with a combination of healthier nutrition (more simple, unprocessed foods), and fun activity will have a profound influence on keeping you healthy and disease free!
I usually recommend starting with diet, making a few changes or substitutions to help stabilize blood sugar by choosing healthy alternatives (an open-faced sandwich will cut half the bread, use lettuce wraps instead of tortillas). These changes tend to drop some excess pounds and boost energy in a week or two. That way, energy returns and it will be easier to start a walking or activity program! I recommend that you build on activities you already like (walking, gardening, yard work, etc.), so it’s pretty easy!
- It’s normal to have chronic health problems with age
Another myth! I mentioned inflammation in the previous sections (excess abdominal fat drives it, as do junk foods high in sugar, refined carbs and cheap, omega-6 veggie oils). It turns out that inflammation is now a contributor to, and a driver of nearly every common health problem and disease people develop over time, including:
- Heart disease/atherosclerosis
- MS/autoimmune disorders
All of those chronic problems are related and they’re all tied to unhealthy eating, inactivity, smoking and other unhealthy lifestyle habits. Those bad habits drive weight gain and low-grade, systemic inflammation, along with hormonal imbalances. These are not changes you can always feel, but they are destructive to health. And if you are female, guess what? These unhealthy lifestyle habits will increase the hormonal changes you may be noticing, whereas healthy habits and better nutrition can help minimize the changes that occur around menopause.
The truth is that most health problems we assume are cause by age are largely driven by unhealthy lifestyle choices. Many health experts agree that about 80% of all chronic disease is caused by lifestyle! That’s why taking drugs for conditions like hypertension, cholesterol, blood sugar and pain never cures the problem (but will cost you money, bring unwanted side-effects and erode your quality of life).
There is a whole field called epigenetics, which is the study of how genes are activated or silenced by the environment and lifestyle (an average meal can trigger thousands of genes for digestion, absorption, metabolism, organ and cellular repair, etc.). Epigenetics is relatively new and many people don’t know much about it, including many doctors and dietitians. But when you make unhealthy lifestyle choices, you turn off health-promoting genes and you activate disease genes. So understanding epigenetics is important for maximizing healthy aging and preventing disease.
Remember, you have the power to change your health and take a few steps to initiate those changes! You can start to make better choices today, and begin the journey to improved health. You can choose to live a long, healthy life, largely free of the common aches, pains, and chronic conditions many adults and medical practitioners think are age related when they are not!
About Steven Carney: Due to a serious childhood illness, I’ve had a passion for health and wellness for decades. I’ve researched and written numerous articles about nutrition, fitness, alternative health, prevention and aging for Articlebase, Self Growth and other sites since 2011. My own blog (www.endsicknessnow.com) now has over 130 articles with thousands of source links. I love helping clients improve their lives and health through a mix of coaching, support and encouragement (I’m certified through 4 coaching programs).
Disclaimer: This article was created for informational purposes only, is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Oobroo™ Inc or its staff.