In infancy and childhood, we can be fairly accurate in predicting physical growth and development at different ages and stages. But as we age, there is no uniform timetable. Chronological age is not necessarily a good indicator of how someone will look, feel or function in the world. Studies of Werner Syndrome, premature aging disease, may provide information about the genetic process of normal aging. Werner Syndrome creates many diseases and symptoms that usually occur when people age, including: graying of the hair, skin changes, cataracts, diabetes, vascular disease, osteoporosis, and even cancer.
o Progammed aging theories are based on the assumption that senescence, or old age, sets in when a predetermined finite number of cell divisions or heart beats have occurred.
o Somatic mutation theory suggests that chromosomal changes occur from genetic and DNA miscoding, translation errors, hydrolysis, irradiation, and spontaneous replication of errors.
o Error catastrophe theory blames defective enzymes for disrupting cellular function and actually causing errors in translating the genetic codes for protein synthesis.
o Free radical theory suggests that oxidation of lipids, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates as well as environmental toxinscause oxygen compounds to form with an extra electron charge, known as a “free radical.”
o Cross linking theory claims that cross linking (which occurs in proteins, DNA, and lipids from exposure to environmental and dietary compounds) actually changes the characteristics of the tissues of body organs, such as collagen and elastin, which then become less pliable and less elastic, resulting in gross changes in the skin, artery walls, the musculoskeletal system, and the lens of the eye.
o Cybernetic theory suggests that the central nervous system accelerates aging due to changes in the endocrine system and the hypothalamus, affecting the rate of production of thyroid hormone, adrenal cortical steroid, and the hormone associated with Parkinson’s disease, dopamine.
o Long term and cross sectional studies do not support any theories that suggest a “normal” or “general” rate of aging of humans. Studies of identical twins have shown large discrepancies in life span. Interestingly though, there seem to be large differences in aging rates between men and women.
Although aging is inevitable, how we look, feel and cope as we get older, is not. Aging affects each of us at different rates and in different ways. Even within the same individual, each organ and organ system ages differently, influenced by genetics, environment, lifestyle, attitudes, social networks, spiritual connections, and overall health and well being. With the right combination of lifestyle ingredients, we can be truly vigorous, healthy, alive and vibrant at any age.
The 12 Warning Signs of Health
In the Spring of 2003, a local newsletter for School Health Personnel printed an article by Karen Armitage, District II Health Office, in which she created the following list (paraphrased) of 12 warning signs of health.
1. Persistence of a supportive network.
2. Chronic positive expectations, tendency to frame events constructively.
3. Episodic peak experiences.
4. Evidence of increasing spiritual growth.
5. Increased awareness of the present moment.
6. Tendency to adapt to changing conditions.
7. Rapid response and recovery when challenged.
8. Increased appetite for physical activity.
9. Tendency to identify and communicate feelings.
10. Repeated episodes of gratitude and joy.
11. Compulsion to contribute to society.
12. Persistent sense of humor.
One Final Warning
If five or more of these indicators are present, you may be at risk for full-blown health.