Even though time relentlessly moves on, there are many things we can do to slow down the aging process. For example, to protect your car or bike, you can prevent oxidation of the paint and metal simply by not exposing it to ultraviolet light and moisture. So it is with our bodies. We can make changes in our lives to protect our bodies from the aging process.
The average lifespan of men and women in this country is about 78 for men and 81 for women. In that period of time, we utilize all of the vital elements that help us rejuvenate and regenerate cells, joint surfaces, retinal chemicals, and brain cells. Each gene in your body has the ability to use telomeres, the small fractional portions of DNA protein which help give new life to cells. But when you use them up, the body’s perpetuation of vitality ceases to be present.
Your body’s ability to regenerate cells is dependent on many things—genetic structure, your body’s hormonal level, the nutrients that come into your system, the damage which occurs with exposure to UV light, chemicals, the hormones of stress, and simple wear and tear. Normal aging changes occur in all parts of our body and at different rates for different people.
Everything makes a difference in the way that we age, and we are capable of changing some of these factors to alter our aging pathways. You were given the greatest gift possible on the earth: a human body with the potential to live a lifetime with extra healthy years added if you agree to take care of it. By making yourself aware of the factors that cause aging, you can change the direction of your life as far as health and longevity are concerned at any point along the way, be it at 21, 51, or 81. Let us consider some of the things that you can do to enhance this aging process.
Your appearance is an important part of your whole presentation as a person, and it is the first appraisal that people make of you. If your health is bad, your appearance may reflect this. Smokers have relaxed skin of their face and deep wrinkles around the mouth area. Cushing’s syndrome patients have a flushed or bronze appearance, while anemic persons may look very pale. Looking good is usually related to good health. If you have managed to look good most of your life, there is more personal interaction with others, and this tends to keep you sharper, on your toes, and motivated to stay in good shape, to keep your body weight good, and to engage in social and group activities such as dancing, bowling, or exercise.
The next step is to understand your health pattern. If you have a strong family history of coronary disease, there is testing available to determine the actual status of your cardiac vessels. If they are diseased, surgery can be done to improve them. If your cardiac vessels are good and you have controlled your lipid levels, you have a good chance of not being susceptible to heart attack. The same is true about testing and treatment for cancer and diabetes. Once you determine your risks, you can make improvements that really matter in your lifestyle.
Your skin, particularly of your face, is a real indicator to others of how youthful and alert you are. There are many things you can do to improve the status of your skin including nutrition, restriction of UV light, reduction of alcohol intake, and avoiding active or passive smoking. Additionally, moisturizers and sunscreen also help. There are products available that actually reverse skin aging, and these include nutritional supplements and topical vitamin C. Also topical laser or skin care systems such as Obagi, which is coupled with Retin-A, can give dramatic and youthful changes to facial skin.
The question also arises, does cosmetic surgery help turn back the clock? Certainly, if you have cosmetic procedures of your eyes, brow, face, or neck, you can look five-to-ten years younger. People do respond to you better if you look good, and certainly you feel better about yourself, particularly if you are in competition in your workplace with younger people. Plastic surgery is usually not difficult to go through. Of course, it is expensive. However, there are things that can be done in your ‘40s and ‘50s at less cost which would change the course of aging in your face. You can go as far as you wish with improving your appearance, which is the basis of a question that I often ask my patients: “How good do you want to look?” If someone wants to know why he or she can’t look as good as this or that movie star, I tell them that they may be able to, but it takes a certain level of investment. Most people don’t need a lot of procedures done, just the important ones.
It is possible to “turn back the clock,” to look and feel better, and to live longer and healthier lives. Anything that makes you healthy makes you look better, and it also makes your lifespan longer. Keep this in mind each day. Write down some of the things mentioned in this article and see how you can improve on them every day. Some lifestyle changes take longer, and sometimes they can be very dramatic. I like to use both of these for my patients to improve their enjoyment of life’s journey each and every day and to help make it last a long time!
Dr. Carraway is the director of the Plastic & Cosmetic Surgery Center of EVMS. Call 757-557-0300 for more information.