– Words by Kaisha Scofield Photography by Lia Crowe
We all know that one of the only certainties in life is that we will get older. Yet, in our society, aging is rarely discussed or prepared for. In fact, a common statement on aging is that it takes most by surprise. Many people feel young but look in the mirror only to see an old person reflected back at them. How did this happen? We are a society obsessed with youth and productivity, and slowing down seems like a luxury we cannot afford. So it is not surprising that the topic of aging is avoided, often until it is too late.
The truth is, aging is an inevitable part of living. By accepting the aging process, we are better able to be proactive in how to prepare our body and mind for this very natural transition. By identifying the areas that are most commonly frustrating for more senior populations, we can engage in targeted selfcare to make aging less overwhelming.
The most common complaints about aging are health issues associated with degeneration. Loss of muscle and bone health, poor joint health, digestive issues, nutritional deficiencies, hormone imbalance, loss of energy and impaired cognitive abilities are all common health problems the more senior populations deal with. The good news is, with a few simple lifestyle and wellness practices, many of these health issues can be minimized or avoided all together.
Use it or lose it. Inactivity is the fastest way to age the body. Too many of us exist in a sedentary state; sitting at a desk for eight hours of the day, driving to and from work and then spending our evenings on the couch. Making solid lifestyle choices that include physical activity is the most effective way to keep the body and mind healthy, long-term. While this isn’t necessarily news to anyone, daily movement is becoming increasingly urgent as kids, teens and adults are spending more time on devices and games and in front of screens and, as a result, physical literacy is failing.
Once movement habits are improved, it is important to keep the body happy and well maintained. We all know the feeling of sore and creaking joints. That crackling sound is called crepitus, which seems like a very unsettling yet appropriate name. These creaks, while harmless, are generally a result of degeneration in the bones and connective tissue. This tissue is made up of collagen, the same collagen that your aesthetician tells you to take for glowing skin. Collagen is found in skin, ligaments, cartilage, tendons and bone. The bad news is that it deteriorates as we age. The great news is that it can be replenished. Collagen can be taken orally via supplements, pill or powder or by drinking bone broth. This is is a widely recommended support for joint health and for healthy skin, nails and hair.
Aging well depends largely on fuelling the body with a nutrient-dense diet. Vitamin and mineral depletion is a common issue for the aging body because as we get older, the body’s ability to absorb and distribute nutrients can lessen. We typically absorb vitamins and minerals from the food we eat, via the digestive process, but digestive health can decline as we age, through deterioration, poor dietary habits, tissue damage, etc. Natural hormone transitions also occur, which can cause the body to go through fluctuations in appetite and energy levels, making meal preparation frustrating and unenjoyable. It’s a difficult combination of issues that are often ignored.
The malabsorption of nutrients can occur for several reasons but the two main causes are a lack of dietary healthy fats and consistent dehydration. Our unfortunate vilification of fat has led to a largely depleted population. Many vitamins and minerals, essential to our body, are fat soluble, meaning that without a proper intake of healthy dietary fats, we are unable to absorb nutrients in our food. Not to mention the essential fatty acids themselves playing a crucial role in cellular, tissue and nerve health, to name a few.
Alongside healthy fat intake, hydration plays a vital role in absorbing the other vitamins and minerals that are water soluble. One of the easiest ways to increase your energy levels, mood, sleep and digestion is to improve your hydration. More than 50 per cent of the population is consistently dehydrated. Mild dehydration can cause fatigue, nausea, headaches, moodiness, cramping and constipation. Electrolytes in the form of sugar-free powders, tablets or even a small pinch of salt can vastly improve hydration levels in the body.
Fluctuating hormones are confusing at the best of times, but in an aging body, they can be especially disruptive. The hormone testosterone, for example, depletes as we age, an issue that can affect both men and women. Occasionally men can experience an age-related, steep decline in testosterone that can lead to many health issues. Often referred to as “male menopause,” symptoms are similar to those experienced in female menopause, such as hot flashes, breast tenderness, mood fluctuations and erectile disfunction. It is just as important for men to monitor hormone health as it is for women.
For women, the most obvious hormonal transition is the big M, menopause. There is no way to avoid menopause, but there are steps we can take to prepare for it. Maintaining an active lifestyle is essential. Equally important is fuelling the body with a diet that is focused on nutrient-dense whole foods, including healthy fats and proper hydration. Menopause is never fully predictable but well-balanced and supported hormones will ensure that the process runs as smoothly as possible, perhaps avoiding having to put ice down your shirt to cool a hot flash.
Reducing sugar intake is the most important dietary change needed to support hormonal balance and the whole body, at any age. Sugar depletes nutrients and disrupts hormone regulation. Insulin, testosterone and estrogen are affected when sugar intake is elevated. These imbalances can lead to insulin resistance which, among other things, can cause heart disease, some cancers and diabetes. Insulin resistance wreaks havoc on hormonal functions, disrupting digestion, weight, sleep, mood and stress tolerance.
There are many unknowns in the aging process and while feelings of uncertainty and apprehension are understandable, avoidance will create a missed opportunity. It is never too early or too late to start preparing your body for the next phase of life, and by incorporating a few preventative measures, you are more likely to create a solid foundation of health and wellness to launch from.
The more we learn about aging, the less it is about the end of life and more about the culmination of living. There may be a sense of dread as we creep toward each milestone, but what often follows is a growing sense of relief and freedom. Removing the fear and ignorance surrounding the aging process helps us understand how to support our body as we go through these changes. By paying attention to movement, nutrient density and hormone balance, we can not only ensure that we age on our own terms, but that we do so gracefully.