Sunday February 3, 2013
Ageing with grace
By FIONA HO
You’ve probably heard this some 5,000 times before, yet the undisputed truth remains that good eating habits and regular exercise are factors that can help determine whether you’ll be having a ball or looking like one in your golden years.
LIKE eating and sleeping, growing older is an inevitable fact of life. In bygone days, old age was regarded as a measure of wisdom and survival worthy of respect.
These days, far from being a celebrated journey, ageing is often treated as a dreaded phenomenon that spawns wrinkles and diseases in its wake.
Whatever your view on ageing, the undisputed truth remains that not even the richest, most powerful, or most beautiful of us are exempt from the ravages of time.
That said, it is a common misconception that ageing is a chronologically-driven event that happens automatically when people reach 50, says Rico Ricketts, a Canadian-based consultant and coach on wellness and ageing.
“People start to lose their dignity. They assume they will become diseased and automatically discarded by the rest of society with age,” Ricketts, 70, tells Fit4Life in an interview.
While the thought of growing older doesn’t always paint a rosy picture, the road towards your golden years doesn’t have to be a bumpy one.
Adequate nutrition and regular physical activity are important factors that can help ease the ageing process, says Ricketts.
But you already knew that, having heard about it some 5,000 times before. That doesn’t stop you from tucking into your regular fix of burgers and fries (and nasi lemak and char kway teow!).
Yet, it is these simple choices that we make on a daily basis, including what we eat and how much we eat, that can help determine whether we’ll be having a ball, or looking like one, later in life.
Many Malaysians take their health for granted. “I can see that Malaysians love to makan-makan (eat),” Ricketts points out with a laugh. Indeed, with food and incessant eating being part of our national culture, Malaysians are well known for stuffing our faces with obscene amounts of food at any given time of the day.
Given these habits, it is no wonder that Malaysia is now the fattest country in South-East Asia.
Current findings by the Health Ministry reveal that two in every five adults are either overweight or obese.
Citing statistics from the National Health and Morbidity Surveys, Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai says that 15.1% of Malaysians aged 18 and above were suffering from obesity as of 2011. “This is an increase from the 14% figure of the same demographic in 2006,” he points out.
Being overweight or obese increases one’s risk of developing heart diseases, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
The presence of such diseases can have a debilitating effect on one’s quality of life, says Ricketts.
A 2009 report by the Health Ministry estimated that about one in every four deaths in government hospitals were attributed to either heart diseases or strokes.
Despite the apparent health risks that can develop from making poor lifestyle choices, a staggering 75% of Malaysians do not exercise at all, the ministry reported.
“A healthy lifestyle can have a significant impact on your biology,” Ricketts notes. “By making the right lifestyle choices, you don’t have to lose your mind, lose your faculties, or lose your limbs and digits, and suffer in old age.”
The robust coach recently spoke on the subject of healthy ageing at a public forum held at a medical centre in Selangor.
The talk, which addressed the popular myths of ageing, was part of a community service project organised by the Canadian-based non-profit organisation, Friends to Mankind.
Ricketts was joined by Dr Rajbans Singh, a consultant geriatrician and president of the Malaysian Wellness Society.
Understanding the ageing process is more important than ever as people are now living longer.
The average lifespan of Malaysian men and women today are 74.2 years and 79.1 years respectively, compared to 72.6 years and 77.5 years respectively in 2010.
However, instead of taking the right measures to ensure a healthy ageing process, many people are busy shopping for solutions to fight ageing, Ricketts notes.
The number of cosmetic surgeries performed in the United States increased by 155% last year. Sales of anti-ageing products are also estimated to hit a total of US$274.5bil (RM823.5bil) in 2013.
Cosmetic products and procedures that claim to have the ability to curtail or reverse ageing are equally popular with Malaysians.
However, many of these products are minimally effective at best, and are often costly and impermanent. Worse, you could end up looking like Cher.
“Most of these anti-ageing products address ageing from the outside, using things like lotions and potions, and botox and plastic surgery.
“But actually, graceful ageing occurs from the inside out. That’s how biology operates,” says Ricketts.
“Ageing is a process that affects not just your physicality; it also affects your brain, as well as your attitude and belief systems. The only way to address that is by changing your lifestyle habits and belief systems.”
Unfortunately, health problems like obesity are not exclusive to the ageing population. “I have seen young boys with breasts,” Ricketts shares with a chuckle.
The good news is, even if you have been on a fast food and soda diet all your life, it is never too late to start making healthy changes to your lifestyle.
The best thing that you can do for your heart is getting rid of your love handles.
For those unacquainted with physical activity, Dr Rajbans advises: start small.
“Start by doing simple things like going to bed 10 minutes earlier and waking up 10 minutes earlier to do some simple exercises.
“You can start by doing exercises like push-ups and squats, and progress from there,” he shares.
Dr Rajbans adds: “The common misconception is that you have to join a gym to exercise. Actually, you can do all of this from home.”
Some important aspects to note when considering your new fitness routine are: cardiovascular activities such as aerobics to promote optimum heart health; weight-bearing exercises to help improve muscular and core strength; and exercises that help promote flexibility such as yoga and Pilates.
“Flexibility becomes an issue for most of us as we get older,” says Dr Rajbans.
He concludes: “The simplest thing that you can do is just to eat ‘simple’ foods that have not been processed, genetically modified or doused with chemicals. Eat something that your grandma can recognise.”