The beauty of growing old

On the verge of becoming an ageing society, calls are mounting for a change in society towards a focus on caring for mental and physical health rather than appearance

Thailand will officially become a fully-fledged ageing society this year as 13.1 million people, or 20% of the population, will have passed the retirement age of 60. Reaching this milestone has made it necessary for men and women to ponder ways to implement proactive measures to ensure their transition into this phase of life is smooth.

The pro-ageing movement, a modern take on life in which experiences and individuality are more important than perfection and homogeneity, is definitely an option worth looking into. The modern approach encourages women and men to show their real age rather than mask it with different personal care products or make-up. This implies that there is no coercion to be perfect, or at least not the "eternal youth" type of perfection that magazines today portray, especially for women. Instead, being perfect is manifesting one's age in the best and most appropriate manner possible and such an approach releases women from a series of pressures and expectations that they shouldn't have to experience.

This pro-ageing concept, while not new, has of late become a topic of discussion by experts and rightfully so as it encourages people to find the fountain of youth within by keeping a check on one's mental and physical health. From a young age, we are told how society perceives ageing and this can influence how people age. Ageing, like other aspects of life, is a self-fulfilling prophecy which most don't take too well. Positive and negative attitudes can impact one's health behaviourally, psychologically and even biologically. Simply put, pro-ageing, or becoming satisfied with one's own ageing cycle, can in fact make you adopt healthier behaviours, feel in control of how you age, and even heighten your immune system. Meanwhile, anti-ageing, or perceiving ageing negatively, can do the opposite.

Experts also claim that research-backed benefits of adopting a pro-ageing mindset includes longevity, reduced disability, prevention of diseases, memory boost and a strong heart.

"As long as one develops a healthy outlook towards looking after themselves both physically and emotionally, longevity and good health are attainable as one advances in years without the need of outside factors," said Dr Tharanus Krataithong, a specialist in the ageing process.

Tharanus remarked that the ageing process includes the chronological side where your age is taken into consideration, and the biological side which is where the pro-ageing concept is used because it has to do with addressing medical issues that arise due to ageing.

It further highlights the need to look after both the physical and emotional health of a person through forming good eating and exercise habits coupled with getting one's hormonal balance checked by a physician who is well versed in the study of hormones and ageing.

The specialist added that chronic diseases are part and parcel of the ageing process. Noncommunicable diseases that likely appear during this period include cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks and stroke, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructed pulmonary diseases, and asthma and diabetes.

"The concept of pro-ageing is to prepare us to age in a manner where we can enjoy good quality health. The best scenario would be to prepare ourselves for this prior to reaching an advanced age. However, it is never too late.

"Anti-ageing works in slowing down the ageing process but unfortunately it is better known in the area of aesthetics. What is more important than this is the need to slow the biological ageing process. Reverse ageing, which compliments pro-ageing, so that it addresses the biological ageing process through in-depth lab work to determine one's hormonal levels so the doctor can prescribe the correct hormonal therapy the patient needs.

"The ageing process should never be focused on the outer self, facial or skin conditioning to look young, but rather targeting your health internally to increase youth and vitality. This will help to slow your ageing process.''

Tharanus added that one misconception Thais have about slowing down the ageing process is their preoccupation with youthful facial and body appearance. He said it was essential to correct this misunderstanding because the concept of ageing today has changed.

"Harvard Medical School's Dr David Sinclair, best known for his research on ageing, has gone as far as to claim that ageing is a disease, making it all the more necessary to pay attention to your physical and emotional health to keep at bay age-related medical ailments. Ageing is impacted by hormonal changes and other hallmarks within our body that makes us physically regress.

"I would like to offer an example to explain this by comparing the cells in our bodies to a new CD that does not have a scratch on it. However, as time elapses, scratches begin to appear and the CD player is not able to decipher what is on the CD, which is very much the effects of wear and tear on our DNA that leads to abnormal protein production or even mutations. This is one process of ageing and degeneration. To stop this from occurring, ageing factors have to be addressed by a certified physician."

Tharanus also added that hormonal levels peak at the age of 35 after which ageing occurs and hormones begin to drop.

He said research has found that no matter what age a person is, they require a sufficient amount of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), a chemical compound that helps play a key role in helping your brain cells age well. He added that within brain cells, NAD helps control the production of a protein that helps protect cells against oxidative stress.

"NAD is an essential co-factor in all living cells involved in fundamental biological growth and emerging evidence shows that elevation of NAD levels may slow or even reserve ageing and also delay the progression of age-related diseases.

"At age 40, half of the NAD is lost in our body. In fact, research tells us that even teenagers require sufficient NAD for growth. NAD treatment in humans has shown that it can slow and even reverse the ageing process."

Tharanus said that while there are treatments available to help provide a long and healthy life, what is equally important in this process is the person's lifestyle and whether they have formed healthy eating, exercising and sleeping habits, and are able to deal with stress without it overwhelming them. Developing good physiological habits can also impact the ageing process, he added.

"Mind, body and soul come as a whole. When it comes to the body, we see that overeating can result in a shorter life span. This can lead to obesity and diabetes and other ailments. Intermittent fasting is an option I would like people to consider as research-based evidence has proved that it works in boosting genes that help with longevity.

"Quality sleep, which should involve seven to eight hours a night, with about one-and-a-half hours of a deep sleep, is also imperative. The time one retires for the day is important. It was found that sleep deprivation can cause breast cancer, stroke and heart problems because of an imbalance of hormones. Good sleeping habits should take priority above all. Lack of exercise is another downer as research has determined that it has the same impact as smoking on a person's body and there is also the risk of getting heart problems."

When it comes to vitamin consumption, Tharanus said that while he would encourage people to consult their physician to determine the vitamins they require, two of the safest to take over the counter include vitamins C and E, which have antioxidant properties. Put simply, he said they can override harmful molecules known as free radicals which are produced within our cells and which may cause tissue damage or disease.

Tharanus believes the best way to consume vitamins is by eating different vegetables and fruits. He said the deep purple colour of fruits and veggies is usually a sign they have a good amount of antioxidants and anthocyanins which help protect and heal cells from damage and guard humans from lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular and neurological diseases.

Meanwhile, red colour in fruits and vegetables carry antioxidants that lessen the risk of developing atherosclerosis, hypertension and high cholesterol. On top of this, he said it also lowers the risk of cancer, including prostate cancer, and acts as a shield against heart diseases while enhancing brain function.

One of Tharanus' all-time favourite foods is berries, which he describes as being the healthiest as they are not only low in calories but are high in fibre, vitamin C and antioxidants. Moreover, they also benefit the heart and help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.