x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Having a positive outlook on ageing can extend your life

You should not fear getting old, but you can something to slow it down.

If there is one thing on which everybody can agree, it is that we all fear the idea of getting old. We all want to feel energetic, vital and healthy and old age provides none of that.

For many, the use of the term itself has negative implications. When most of us think of ageing, we think of aches, ailments, constantly relying on others for help and of how little time we have left on Earth. It's not a very pleasant thing to think about and our ego hates it.

So we fight it. According to the American Academy for Anti-Ageing Medicine, the estimated global anti-ageing industry is expected to exceed $290 billion (Dh1,065 billion) by the year 2015.

The media hasn't been very kind either. Magazines targeted at woman overwhelm them with airbrushed images of abnormally young-looking celebrities. They also never seem to run-out of ideas in how to look young: "5 easy steps to achieve eternal youth", "12 food items that will make you look 10 years younger", "6 must-have clothing items to make you look 8 years younger". It's almost as if showing signs of ageing is considered to be a sin in this day and age.

But in the midst of all the madness, I began wondering: what exactly is ageing?

It turns out it is not as complex as I thought. One of the leading figures in the field of ageing is Dr Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist (study of old age) from Cambridge, UK, who provides an excellent explanation on this matter. He says that the body can be thought of like a machine or a car. It can tolerate a certain degree of damage that can be repaired every once in a while. But over the years, as the damage accumulates, it ceases to function as it once was. In other words: we are all programmed to have an expiry date.

But that date could be flexible. The most recent findings suggest that the "fountain of youth" may lie in the understanding of a chemical in the brain. Last month, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York made a breakthrough when they published its latest findings in the journal Nature. They believe that the answer lies in a chemical in the body called NF-kB which is produced in the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain where hormones, emotions and food intake are regulated.

Through experimentation on mice, the researchers found that as NF-kB started to become more active, the mice started to show signs of ageing. When the chemical was suppressed, the mice started to act more youthful.

Until we can extend the youth phase to its maximum, I personally believe that we should focus more on how to extend the "quality" of our life as we age, so we can make use of all the time we have on this Earth.

Of course there are some people who are genetically predisposed to live vibrantly throughout their years even if they eat nothing but junk every day. But for those who aren't gifted with these "magical genes", we can try to do something about it by changing our life-style.

The first step is to have a positive outlook on ageing. Not only because it will make life easier but research shows that it can extend life by up to 7.5 years.

Second, learn from people who have been hanging around for a while now.

A well-written book called The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner may show us how.

Buttner has been observing behaviours and habits from centenarian people who lived past 100 years - yet still remaining to be vibrant and living an active life.

So what is the common denominator for all the centenarians? Though they may differ in some areas due to geographical and cultural reasons, they mostly share some similarities with each other: they keep ties with families and the community, they all maintain a strong sense of purpose in life, they all consume a densely vegetarian diet and maintain a positive outlook on life.

As technology and health care are advancing, promises are becoming bigger and the future for those who are turning into older adults is becoming brighter. Dr de Grey believes that it might be even possible for women to have children up to the age of 100 years old. But I have a feeling that changing nappies and watching Mickey Mouse all day is the last thing you'd want when you hit 100.


Fatma Al Ardhi is an art gallery owner based in Muscat