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by Pamela Weintraub
We have always tried to beat back death, or at least outsmart it.
Whether the strategy is a Ponce de León-like search for the fountain of
youth or a stockade of "anti-aging nostrums" from health-food store
shelves, our quest for longer, healthier lives is as old as the human
species itself. Though the effort has seemed futile in the past,
findings from the cutting edge of medicine indicate we can, at the dawn
of the 21st century, do much to optimize how we age. Indeed, in the
past couple of years, a group of experts specializing in a new field
called age management are offering a new, anticipatory form of
medicine, in which the aging process is literally optimized from the
moment it begins - sometime after puberty, in the early 20s -
throughout life. The arsenal of anti-aging strategies maintain the body
and mind, say practitioners, in the process literally slowing the
measurable rate at which patients age.
Evan W. Kligman, M.D.,
geriatrician and family physician in Tucson, Ariz., and head of the
Optimal Aging Program at Canyon Ranch Health Resort says, "In a sense,
the new field of longevity medicine is really utilizing the best, most
advanced form of preventive medicine possible. Most of medical science
deals reactively with disease after it happens, and uses technology
that is terrific at keeping you alive once you get sick. Our approach
is to work with people early, to assess their lifestyle and behavioral
risk factors and recommend tests designed to identify problems before
that patient is aware they exist. Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1
killer in the United States, for instance, and risk factors start as
early as age 10. If you look at centenarians, you realize the reason
they made it to age 100 was because they did not succumb to the
age-related diseases. If we could predict and delay those diseases one
by one, we'd have a better chance of living to 100 in a healthy, active
state. Our goal is prevention or delay of the degenerative diseases of
aging by working with people from young adulthood onward."
"Through my work in geriatrics," Kligman states, "I have followed the
health trajectories of hundreds of people in their 80s and 90s. I began
to appreciate that there are distinct differences between how people
act, behave and feel when they get to extreme old age, primarily based
upon what kind of lifestyle decisions they made when they were much
younger. I realized I had to use what I learned from my 90-year-old
patients with my 40-year-old patients, and that's when I started to
work at Canyon Ranch." In fact, optimizing the aging process may do
more than enhance health, fitness and other qualities of youth, it may
actually mean the difference between living to 85 or making it to age
Most traditional physical exams include a series of
blood- and urine-based lab tests that measure 10 to 20 factors,
explains Kligman, "but the new research has found that deficits in many
areas not covered by the traditional tests actually hasten the process
of age." One critical factor, for instance, is elevated levels of the
amino acid homocysteine, associated with coronary artery disease as
well as premature aging. Another is oxidative stress, the damage caused
when the ordinary process of metabolism generates highly reactive and
destructive oxygen molecules called free radicals. Also an issue:
environmental toxins and pollutants from the air, office vents or acid
At first, patients undergo analysis to find "markers"
indicating deficits and associated acceleration in the aging rate.
After identifying longevity risk factors - and most everyone has at
least one or two - the goal in age management is shoring up weak links.
In the end, says Kligman, the culprits of aging are things we
always knew were bad. "Smokers produce large amounts of free radicals,
and age rapidly," he says. "Stress increases the free radical load, and
so does the ultraviolet radiation of the Sun."
have to be rocket science," he adds. Meditation, challenging work to
exercise the brain and eight glasses of water a day help, as well.
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