Sunday, January 14, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 14, 2001

Exercise bolsters vitality, even in senior years

By Dr. Laurie Steelsmith
Special to The Advertiser

Imagine this: You are 80 years old and have recently fallen in love with the man of your dreams. You have the energy to swim every day and to go dancing with your new boyfriend.

Do you want to live like this at 80? I do!

The 80-year-old woman I am referring to is my patient, Nan, from Honolulu. She is a vivacious woman who has lived an abundant life.

"Exercise is the most important thing you can do," she said when asked to share her secrets to health and longevity.

The senior patients I see who are in great health have one thing in common: They all exercise daily. Exercise enhances oxygen flow and blood circulation to every cell in your body, increases bone density, can help prevent heart disease, and provides a great outlet for coping with stress.

Fighting free radicals

In America at the turn of the century, there were only 100,000 people over 80 years old. Today there are more than 4 million! If you are going to live to see eight or nine decades of life or more, don’t you want to have the vitality of Nan, who is living life to its fullest? Healthy aging is about staying vital.

Scientists have calculated that human beings are programmed to live at least 120 years. What makes us age faster than that? One of the major contributors is increased free radical production.

What is a free radical? Not a political hippie from the ’60s! It’s actually a compound that your body produces that can also be ingested in your food. Free radicals are ravenous, Pacman-like molecules that will damage your own tissues in order to satisfy their hunger.

Antioxidants provide protection from free radical damage, which can lead to aging and disease (including cancer). Vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene and alpha-lipoic acid are potent antioxidants. While vitamin E works in fatty tissue and vitamin C works in non-fatty tissue, alpha-lipoic acid is particularly effective because it works in both. It also has the remarkable ability to recycle other antioxidants. Recommended dosage is 100 milligrams daily.

Recommended doses

Many of my healthy senior patients have taken antioxidants over the years to help prevent their bodies from "rusting" too soon. Dr. Jonathan Wright, a medical doctor and leading researcher in the field of nutritional medicine, recommends that seniors take a daily regimen of 400 international units of vitamin E (in the form of mixed tocopherols), 500 to 1,000 milligrams vitamin C, and 25,000 international units beta carotene along with a good multiple vitamin, preferably one derived from natural food sources.

He states that the multiple vitamin should contain vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid, which help lower levels of homocysteine, a compound known to increase with age and to increase the risk of heart disease.

Ginko biloba is an herbal antioxidant. Some studies have shown that it can increase circulation to the brain, thus enhancing memory function. The standard dose, containing 24 percent ginko heterosides, is 40 milligrams three times daily.

Some studies on aging have shown that a reduced caloric intake can prolong life. A life of hunger in order to live longer? No, thank you! The vital senior patients I treat are not vegetarian, nor do they live on the high protein diets currently in vogue. They have always followed a diet consisting of good, wholesome foods (whole grains, legumes, soy), moderate animal protein and an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Aging with grace

Yes, you can age with grace. Nan still has her zest because she has maintained a lifestyle that supports her health.

She exercises every day, eats well, takes vitamins (especially antioxidants), and continues to evolve both emotionally and spiritually. When she swims her laps she says to herself with each stroke, "Healthy, strong, loving, kind." She has taught me, and many of those around her, that healthy aging is not about stopping the aging process — it’s about growing older with health and vitality.

Dr. Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu.

Hawaii experts in traditional medicine, naturopathic medicine, diet and exercise take turns writing the Prescriptions column. Send your questions to: Prescriptions, Ohana Section, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; e-mail; fax 535-8170. This column is not intended to provide medical advice; you should consult your doctor.

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