Impacts of heredity and and adaptation
Like most jokes, it contains a background of truth. The heredity account. However, it does not explain everything, far from it. According to scientists, DNA accounts for about 30% in longevity; the remaining 70% are related to other factors, including lifestyle and psychological strategies .
Large amounts of data are now available from longitudinal studies of twins and canonic age individuals living in the “blue zones” of the planet (regions with many centenarians healthy). If it were necessary to summarize in one word all the teachings they contain, it would undoubtedly be “adaptation”.
The human being always needs to meet challenges. One could say that to live old is to find ways to flourish, even in the twilight of life, to face the inexorable forces of nature . The principle applies to all aspects of life, even those that cannot be measured by a cardiac test or an MRI of the brain.
Wisdom, temperament, spirit – whatever the nature of these qualities – are reinforced when faced with a challenge, such as the cardiovascular system of a marathon runner or the frontal cortex of a grand chess master.
According to Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century mystic Benedictine nun, those who apply the principles of growth and discovery to everything they do are still young, whatever their birth certificate says.
Move to keep good health
At 87, Betty Jean “BJ” McHugh looks like a goblin. The fastest marathoner in the world in her age group, she has an astonishing head start: in 2012, during the Honolulu Marathon, she crossed the finish line of the course in 5 h 14 min, beating the previous record of almost half an hour. Since her first road race, at the age of 51, this mother of four from Vancouver has set more than 30 world records.
Running veterans are not uncommon in marathons in big cities, but past a certain milestone – around 80 years – their numbers drop sharply. It is no coincidence that human athletic performance collapses at about this age.
For reasons that scientists do not know, the body begins to decline twice as fast. The muscle mass collapses suddenly. The lungs lose their elasticity. Mitochondria – the power plants of our cells – are degrading. The bones lose their density. The balance is unstable. Those who manage to resist such a contrary wind – the Betty Johns of this world – are surrounded by mystery.
So what’s the secret? To begin, the exercise that is difficult to accomplish after a certain age. The marathons BJ participates in today are much more difficult than the one she ran 32 years ago, although it has slowed the pace considerably. Around the 24th km, “a little war breaks out in my head,” she says with a laugh. It takes an iron will not to stop and walk.
The good news is that, for the most part, walking is enough. Public health agencies, both in Canada and the United States, recommend 150 minutes of brisk walking – or its equivalent – per week. Although studies maintain that an exercise that is known to be sweaty provides considerable benefits, the key is to find an exercise that will be enjoyed regularly and that is sufficiently stimulating . Sports medicine specialists recommend adding strength training to strengthen bones, prevent falls and frailty from aging.
After his morning jog, BJ McHugh abandons his fellow practitioners to go to a yoga session. Productive agitation animates it constantly, and it is quite possible that this incessant need for movement is as essential as the exercise itself. If it needed an adjective to qualify BJ, it certainly would not be sedentary. She never turns on the TV before the 6 pm newscast. She prefers to walk rather than drive, even to play bridge, sometimes five kilometers from home.
There is a growing belief that movement is as important as exercise. According to Joan Vernikos, former director of life sciences at NASA and godmother of studies on sedentarity, the most profitable exercise is to stand often. It is about subjecting the body, this time, to gravity. Standing up several times maintains good blood circulation while preserving the functioning of the blood pressure sensors. With movement comes energy, and with it comes – in the case of BJ – the facility to set an example.
Counteract aging of the brain
Dr. Engleman rarely agrees to take new patients. He now feels obliged to suggest to the regulars of his cabinet to find him a replacement. In vain. They prefer to stay with him. Experience and wisdom, this is not on Google.
He is arguably the oldest practicing physician in the United States. Sparkling eyes under bushy eyebrows, he likes to distribute his witty words. He recently renewed his driving license: “Here I am in rule until 105 years. But he willingly accedes to the wishes of his family sometimes allowing himself to drive to work, 30 km from home. Co-founder, with Rosalind Russell, of the Center for Research in Rheumatology at the University of California, San Francisco, he is still in charge. Once in the office, he does his correspondence, consults with colleagues, receives patients and, in general, escapes the laws of aging and withering cognitive abilities.
Beyond age 65, the risk of developing dementia doubles approximately every five years. Among the lucky ones who celebrate their centenary, only 15% to 25% have their heads. The brain of an average nonagenarian is usually no larger than that of a three-year-old: most often, losses occur in the frontal cortex and the hippocampus, the respective seats of planning and memory. Old men whose gray matter has lost nothing of its function owe it largely to what neurologists call the “cognitive reserve”, an auxiliary system that ensures the purring of the machine even when senescence sets in.
Never stop stimulating your brain by reading, writing, blogging, doing puzzles, playing bridge, traveling, learning a foreign language, telling stories . The more you do, the better your reserve will be since the benefits combine. “The principle of synergy – you know, one plus one equals three – has repeatedly shown its ability to prevent dementia,” says Richard S. Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention Clinic at New Medical Center. York-Presbyterian / Weill Cornell.
“The practice of several brain activities is beneficial for the auxiliary system. Faced with novelty, the brain is forced to adapt. Neurogenesis, the production of new neurons, has no known age limit. Not only is there no age to learn, but learning is essential to keep the mind awake. (Dr. Engleman, among other hobbies, hosts parties at his social club, and writes all his texts himself.)
Go to school: The level of education is closely related to cognitive performance. Continue taking classes even after your studies. Intensive intellectual enrichment seems to delay the onset of cognitive impairment by three to eight years, says Prashanthi Vemuri, who led a new study for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, published in the journal JAMA Neurology .