Monty Python’s brilliant ‘Life of Brian’ memorably ended with a row crucified Galileans singing “Always look on the bright side of life”. Being upbeat about getting old seems only marginally less absurd. Literary giants have given it pretty uniformly bad press, whether it’s Ovid observation about “pitiless old age creeping up silently step by step” or Shakespeare’s gruesome snapshot of the end: “sans eyes, sans teeth, sans everything”.
And we still fear it. It’s hard to read a paper without coming across a story about the increasingly desperate search for a cure for Alzheimer’s or the appalling treatment meted out to the inmates of old people’s homes. Like the rivals to the Duracell bunnies, it seems we are doomed to gradually run down – developing cancer, heart disease, arthritis and osteoporosis along the way as we become more and more stiff, bent, wrinkled and forgetful. What’s to like?
So when two guys who are already nudging the Third Age announce that it doesn’t have to be as bad as that but that it’s possible to keep those symptoms of ageing at bay just by just making some life style changes, it’s reasonable to wonder if they are they manically looking on the bright side, or whether there something to it?
Nutrients rejuvenate cells
Of course we can’t guarantee that everyone can live to 100 in perfect health. Your body does become less finely tuned. But in the book we describe lots of things that should keep you functioning at a younger level.
Genes aren’t destiny
But there is another discovery about ageing that may turn out to be even more important. Genes aren’t destiny. We read a lot about genes for cancer or heart disease or arthritis and the assumption is that if you’ve been dealt a bad genetic hand at birth, you’re stuck with it. The latest ageing research suggests that isn’t necessarily true.
Scientists have found that daily life – how much you exercise, what you eat, how stressed you are – can all have an effect on how some of the genes connected to ageing behave. It turns out that our genes have a sort of biological equivalent of dimmer switches. The actual genes don’t change but their level of activity can be turned up or down by what is going on in each of your billions of cells.
What his means is that we have the possibility of doing a domestic version of genetic engineering.
Develop a new life skill
Already studies have found that exercise can change the setting of genes linked with putting on weight, for instance, while some of the compounds found in broccoli can alter the activity in genes linked with cancer. It’s early days yet but this is an area that is going to become a lot more precise.
Essentially ageing well is about staying in good shape, physically and mentally and the problem is that doctors aren’t trained to help you do that. Their record in helping people lose weight or cut diabetes risk with diet and exercise is abysmal. What they do well is diagnose and treat disease and guidelines mean handing out several drugs for each one as it develops.
Five-a-day drug regime
The result is that about half the population is on five drugs by the age of sixty five and by 75 ten or fifteen isn’t uncommon. No one’s going to feel well on that kind of regime.
Already the book has attracted the interest of doctors such as GP and Chair of the NHS Alliance Dr Michael Dixon. “It’s something new and very useful. Staying healthy as you age needs to become a life skill that everyone knows about. This book is a really good place to start.”
Oscar Wilde famously commented: “To get back my youth I would do anything in the world except take exercise, get up early or be respectable.” He might have been better able to appreciate the bright side of ageing if 10 Secrets had been in his library.