Growing up, most of us never gave a thought to the process of aging. But somewhere along the way, as we spot that first gray hair in the mirror or that first smile wrinkle that wasn’t there before, things change.
Suddenly aging becomes a growing concern in our lives. We see older friends and relatives slowing down, some confined to beds and wheelchairs, others dying from horrible diseases. Time passes faster and faster, and we wonder: is this what my future looks like?
Not necessarily, says one of the nation’s leading aging experts. Advances in science and medicine, as well as a better understanding of the forces that affect aging, are providing answers to that age-old question: “Can aging be delayed?”
Dr. Dominique Fradin-Read is a Los Angeles physician board-certified in preventive and anti-aging medicine, and the founder of VitalifeMD.
We sat down with her recently in a question/answer session to gain her insights on aging and healthy lifestyles.
Welcome, Dr. Read. What’s happening in the field of aging that has you most excited these days?
Dr. Read: We are seeing some very interesting research in the field of anti-aging showing that certain lifestyle interventions combined with specific treatments (either natural supplements/hormones and /or medications) can actually slow down the aging process at the cellular level and prolong health span.
This should be welcome news to anyone worried that age-associated illnesses for seniors are inevitable. It needn’t be that way.
Is there a difference between aging and longevity?
Dr. Read: The difference we need to pay attention to is really between lifespan and health span. Everyone is getting older every year. With age come age-related conditions (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes) that impact our quality of life. Longevity refers not only to a long life but to a healthy one where we aim at reducing the burden of these chronic conditions. This should start at a young age but can begin at any age with prevention and anti-aging interventions.
What does your clinic’s aging/longevity program look like?
Dr. Read: Our program is based on the latest discoveries from clinical studies showing which lifestyle interventions or treatments have proven to help slow down the aging process. The goal is to keep our patients as healthy as possible over time by reducing the risks of chronic conditions that threaten anyone who gets older. At the same time, we work to keep them at the highest level of functioning with great energy and vitality so they can maintain their activities at a young level as they age.
What longevity myths or misunderstandings do you see with patients that need to be reversed or dispelled?
Dr. Read: One myth or belief we often encounter stems from the old idea that genes regulate everything. In the past, we were told that our genetics were responsible for how our health evolved over time. We do know now that environmental factors play a very important role in the aging process and that “our genes are not our destiny.”
Depending upon what we eat, we can manage our stress, and our sleep, and with the addition of various new anti-aging treatments proven to prevent or even reverse the damages caused by aging, we can turn on the good genes, turn off the bad ones, and protect our body from many of the risks linked to cellular aging.
Is there “one cure for all” when it comes to aging, or is everyone different?
Dr. Read: There is no one-fits-all solution. On the contrary, we’ve found the best results happen when our programs are personalized to the needs of each patient.
That’s why we evaluate each patient with an in-depth past medical history and lifestyle report. We also order a full blood test panel including a new test that can determine your biological age as opposed to your chronological age- called TruAge ™. We might order other diagnostic tests such as a calcium score or imaging studies as needed. Then we adapt our recommendations and treatments to the needs of this specific patient.
What foods or lifestyle choices help extend longevity?
Dr. Read: I believe in the Mediterranean diet as one of the best diets for prolonging life.
Harvard researchers concluded that a greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with longer telomeres, and that even small changes in diet made a difference. The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish, minimizes red meats and processed meats, and includes a moderate amount of cheese and wine.
Personally, I also recommend eating blueberries daily, salmon, spinach and broccoli often as they are my favorite.
How are genes related to longevity?
Dr. Read: Genes definitely play a role in the process of aging. But as I said earlier, our lifestyles and certain new treatments can help prevent the risks that we inherit from turning into diseases.
Our goal is to evaluate such individual risks at a relatively young age and do everything possible to prevent associated diseases from occurring. This is when preventive medicine plays a big role and is fully integrated with anti-aging.
What can people do to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and similar mental (and life-shortening) conditions?
Dr. Read: As with many other diseases, preventing Alzheimer’s Disease begins early with a healthy lifestyle.
We focus first on diet. You need to limit sugar and saturated fats and have a lot of antioxidants from fruits and veggies, as well as foods rich in omega 3 such as salmon, nuts, and seeds, and certain vegetable oils, especially olive oil.
We pay close attention to vitamins. For example, B12 is an important neuroprotector and is found only in animal-derived products. That’s why people who eat a vegan diet need to substitute with a supplement or they might lack this essential nutrient. Another example: Vitamin D is essential to the efficient functioning of the brain.
As to other diet and lifestyle practices, I encourage my elderly patients not to skip meals. Research shows that this can put a strain on the neurons if the availability of nutrients to the brain goes down too low without regular food intake.
And of course, we always include vital sleep and stress management exercises as part of any plan to prevent or reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Finally, we recommend keeping your brain as active as you can. Learn a new language, read books, play the piano, and take up gardening. These are all enjoyable but healthy activities that help your neurons function optimally.
How are advances in the aging process impacting lifestyles around the world?
Dr. Read: I see two categories of people when it comes to aging awareness:
First is a growing group of individuals, mostly baby boomers and the generation that follows right after, who are extremely interested in slowing down the process of aging. They are generally educated people who are aware of the burden of chronic diseases. They’re starting to see a slowdown in their own health or have seen disastrous conditions affecting their parents and they want to avoid anything similar. They are ready for a change and in great need of support in their search for optimal health.
Next are those people without access to the kind of preventive medicine that we offer. They may be ignorant of the risks they face or they’re in denial. Often they have other priorities like jobs, money and housing, etc., that consume their focus. These populations will unfortunately will not be able to change their lifestyle and will fall in the traps of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other diseases.
What can we do every day to increase our personal longevity
Dr. Read: First, I recommend you focus on what I call the 5 Pillars of Health:
- A good balanced nutrient-rich diet
- Regular exercise adapted to individual needs (a good 30-minute daily walk might suffice)
- Restorative sleep that makes up for those times you don’t sleep as long as you should
- Stress management techniques and positive life attitudes
- Exposure to light and respect of biological rhythms (early to bed, early to rise, and lots of sunshine)
Personally, I always have a couple of other lifestyle elements that have always seemed to serve me well:
I eat blueberries daily. I go for a quick walk at lunch time or some more convenient time. Before going to bed, I think of a positive event that happened in my day.
Bottom Line: You actually can control how you age.
It’s not inevitable that you wind up confined to a rocking chair on your back porch. Your lifestyle, your diet, your exercise program, and other factors can keep you healthy, mentally vigorous, and mobile for many years to come.
But you do have to work at it. The sooner you begin, say aging experts like Dr. Read, the better off you’ll be.