EP2: The 4 Myths of Aging

In This Episode, We Discuss:

  • Four myths of aging
  • We get weak and feeble as we age and thats just the way it is.(2:02)
  • We will all be taking multiple medications by the time we’re 60.(7:14)
  • We will all lose our minds.(11:12)
  • We will end up living in a nursing home.(15:11)
  • Takeaways from these myths.(17:36)

Hi, it’s Dr. Jenny Sechler. Welcome to The Art and Science of Defying Aging. 

Today’s episode is going to be about the four myths of aging. So if you’re starting to age like you’re noticing wrinkles, some flabby skin, your skin tone isn’t quite as good, then you want to sit down and take a few minutes and listen to this. What I want to do is go through the four myths of aging. 

Remember that show MythBusters? I used to love that show. That’s basically what I’m going to do here. I’m going to take four myths that we all tend to believe about aging and we’re going to bust right through them, and realizing that we have choices of how we all can age. 

Have you ever noticed that some people just age better than other people? I asked myself why so many times over the course of the last 30 years I’ve been in healthcare. But honestly, I never really had much of an interest at first because I always thought I was doing well and I was still young. I didn’t really have any problems. But now that I’m in my 50s, I am noticing some wrinkles to my eyes. And honestly, I just had a birthday in September and every year I kind of do a check over now. Well, what did I get for my birthday this year? One you’re I got wrinkles under my eyes. But the most disturbing thing I’ve got of recent times is my butt’s starting to fall off. Not a pleasant visual. So I’m having to step up my workout routines to address this particular part of aging. 

But overall, I’m just taking more notice. I’m looking at the information out there around aging, and I’m honestly angry and decided to challenge, identify the truths behind, well, what I’m calling the myths of aging. So I want to share the myths with you, share some studies, that actually can reveal that we can age well beyond falling into these common myths. Let’s get started. 

2:02 So the first myth of aging is that we get feeble and weak as we age and that’s just the way it is. So as I look at my aging parents, grandparents, and patients that I visit with, some are weak, some are kind of shaky and they’re walking and they use assisted devices to get around. So think about your grandparents, friends you know, neighbors, how do you think they’re aging? 

Because I’m asking myself now, hold on a second. Is all this really necessary? Obviously with past health issues, some people do need devices to get around. Well, let’s not give too much power to the concept. I’m asking myself the question. Do they need assistance because of a past stroke, et cetera, or was it because they just have weak and imbalanced muscle patterns? There are two very different things. 

Let’s talk about our muscle skeletal system for a minute. What is true is that we do start losing muscle mass at the age of 40. By the time we get to be 50 years of age, you’ve lost about 8% of our muscle mass. Over the next 10 years, by the time we get to be age 60, we’ll have lost 16% of our muscle mass. By the time you reach 70, it’s up to 40%. And by the age of 80, you’ve lost almost 50% of our muscle mass.

That’s somewhat alarming to me. So do we just say, “Okay, go along with it. That’s just aging.” And unfortunately, a lot of people do and that’s the people you see leaning over. They’re very poorly balanced. They have increased their risk for falls.

So what if we can change this? Because the truth is that we can, so there’s studys out and I’m going to summarize this for you.

So the loss of muscle mass and strength as we age, it’s called sarcopenia, but it can result or be exacerbated by chronic issues that we just mentioned before and just actually increase the burden of chronic disease. So research has demonstrated that strength training exercises … Now this is not earth shattering information, by the way, but by strength training, you have the ability to combat weakness and frailty and their debilitating consequences. 

So done regularly, like two to three days a week. These exercises can actually build muscle strength and muscle mass reserve, bone density, independence, and vitality with age. 

So, it takes about six to eight weeks to build muscle. So if you can dedicate that much time, you will see results. So, I share a little story with you. 

When I was in a car accident in my 20s, I had some head and neck issues. I went to some physical therapy and the physical therapist gave me some neck exercises to do. I rolled my eyes, kind of like yeah whatever, but you know, I did them. And you know what? By around the week six or seven, I just felt stronger. I feel like I was just standing up taller. It made a huge difference. So what seemingly isn’t all that important, it can make a huge change in our lives. 

So, in addition, strength training also can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and actually signs and symptoms of other chronic illnesses like heart disease, arthritis, and even type two diabetes, which also improves your sleep and can reduce depression. 

So my question is why isn’t everybody doing more of this? 

You know, I used to consult in an assisted living center and I have to say, I wasn’t really aware of these myths at the time, I never saw anybody exercise. At the time, I thought, it was just normal. Now I’m thinking I should have set up some organized classes, but all I remember is seeing people just sitting around. Occasionally playing a game, but there was really no physical activity that could be so beneficial for these people.

 So to me, this should just be part of everyday life like eating, right? It’s that important. So ask yourself, what can you do to put this into your everyday life? Do you want to get weak and feeble as we age? It happens so slowly sometimes, I think we don’t even notice. Some people just do it on the weekends. It’s like we get the weekend warriors and they go back to their daily sedentary life during the week.

So if you can instill some kind of movement and strength training during the week, it becomes more of a lifestyle. Then I guarantee you, you’ll see the long-term benefits. 

7:14 So the second myth is that we’ll all be taking multiple medications by the time we’re 60. I’m going to give you some research. And sadly, the research shows some alarming stats, at least to me. So the AARP did a survey in 2016 among older adults. And they wanted to know what percentage of adults, 65 years and older took at least one prescription medication. And they found that 75% of people take at least one prescription medication and of those over 80% take at least two. And over 50% take at least four or more prescription medications. 

So, what I found in my practice is that once people get on medications, they rarely ever get off. It doesn’t have to be like this. When’s the last time you heard anyone say, “Well, let’s get you off some of these medications.” It just doesn’t happen. Or when’s the last time you’ve heard your family, or parent’s doctor say, “Let’s evaluate your meds. Let’s get you off some.” Basically we’re so busy just adding more meds to offset the side effects of their previous meds. You know, Zantac for instance, this is one of my least favorite drugs. It was created for a good purpose, but it was created to be used short term only until the underlying problem was identified and addressed. But this rarely happens and the research now is showing that long-term use is actually causing cancers. 

This is really another reason that I went into integrative and functional medicine because we do need medications, but they’re over utilized and commonly we just keep piling them up. 

Here’s one for this, oh here’s one for this, oh here’s one to offset the other side effect. I think there’s a great misunderstanding about Zantac because we need that hydrochloric acid that Zantac is shutting down because that helps us to fight off bugs, helps us to digest proteins, which as we age, we just don’t do as well making it.

So by looking at supporting the hydrochloric acid function, we actually alleviate many of these problems. I won’t go into too much more detail about this, but this would actually be a good topic for another podcast. So what if we could evaluate and say, “Yes, people do need some prescription medications, but oftentimes they don’t need as many.” So evaluate your drugs at a regular basis.

Do you need them or is there perhaps a healthier substitute and was the underlying problem ever identified, looked for and addressed? Because the bottom line is medications again are necessary, but they need to be better managed. 

Many side effects of these are seen like confusion, diarrhea, and these symptoms tend to be written off as proper aging when in reality they’re simple side effects. So by evaluating what the benefit of each medication is for, what the side effects are, you may be able to really realize a lot of these quote things you write off to aging really aren’t aging issues at all. 

So my suggestion is to raise a red flag, look at what you might be taking, what your parents might be taking, your friends might be taking and starting a conversation around these things and say, “How much are they benefiting me? Are there alternatives? Are they giving me too many risks and side effects?” 

11:12 The third myth is that we’re all going to lose our minds. Now our bodies experience many changes with aging. I mean, no one’s getting out of here alive, right? But they’re age related changes including our memory and thinking, but dementia and severe memory loss that interferes with daily life is not part of the normal aging process. I’m going to say that again. There are age related changes, right? Our memories and thinking are affected. They’re just not as good as they were when we were young, that is part of life. But dementia and severe memory loss they can interfere with daily life is not part of the normal aging process. 

Now, these stats to me are very depressing, I have to admit. But worldwide about 50 million people have dementia and there are like 10 million new cases every year. Alzheimer’s is the most common form and may contribute to 60%, 70% of cases. It’s a fear problem. Especially I hear it in families and oh my grandmother and mother had it. So I’m just doomed. Well, it’s not true. So what if this doesn’t have to be.

You don’t have to follow the same patterns that you’ve seen in your family and friends. So genetics used to be thought of like a sentence. Right? But we’ve found that in functional medicine, genetics is like the gun with the environment or lifestyle choices is the trigger. So, we can actually influence those genetic factors that predispose us to certain issues. 

So instead of feeling doomed, let’s turn this into feeling empowered. Because information is power. And by knowing that I can take these steps, I can actually support myself and not go down that same road. Now, some people love to do their genetic makeups. It’s becoming more valuable regarding certain issues, chronic potential problems you might incur, especially there’s some good genetic studies now about cognition. And it allows people to take supportive steps, to prevent more decline or potential issues. I’m going to share a quick story with you. 

When I was in the ER, we had a psych unit in one particular hospital and every patient that came in to be admitted, no matter what floor, had to come through the emergency department. And we had many psych patients that would come through the ER and I remember I was always so put off by this. Until I learned a very valuable lesson. 

One particular woman came in, we were required to draw some B vitamin levels on these people, so we did. But what we found out was that she had many deficiencies, particularly in B12. Deficiency in B12, it can lead to neurological issues. So that actually was the causative factor behind her symptoms. So I wrote her off, but by looking at simple vitamin levels, her mental stability actually returned to normal. So instead of just writing people off, like I did that time, all she needed was some B vitamins. It was a very eye-opening experience for me. 

So what if vitamin deficiencies are a cause of many cognitive problems? What if medical conditions like being hypothyroid, medication side effects are causing the cognitive problems that we’re writing off to aging? Heavy metal toxicities. All these are examples of things that we can look like dementia, but can all be treated. So don’t be so quick to write off these issues. Take the time and evaluate and look for causes. Take the time and find a provider and look at these potential issues and identify any problems and find some solutions. 

15:11 The last myth I want to talk about is that we will all end up living in a nursing home. According to the National Institute of Aging, as of 2015, there are about 4.7 million senior citizens utilizing home health care, 730,000 live in assisted living facilities and about 1.4 million in skilled nursing facilities or nursing homes. So 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day and 5% of older adults aged 65 living in a nursing home. Now, I was surprised by this. I thought it was a lot more. And I think in general population, we think many people live in nursing homes, but it’s just not true. It’s a little, 5%. And of these 5%, about 50% are 85 years or older, 35% are between the ages of 75 and 84 and 15% are between 65 and 74. 

Now most nursing home residents are admitted with more than one condition. Most have three or more. The most common afflictions basically are after a stroke, cognitive, cardiovascular, hypertension, functional decline, and endocrine disorders like diabetes. But while only 5% of older adults live in nursing homes at any given point in time, about 25% of older adults require a nursing home care at some point in their life. And usually it’s due to falls, strokes, et cetera, and where their family members are not able to take care of them at home. 

Now 5% really isn’t that high, but it’s still higher than it needs to be. So what if we can decrease that number even more? And we really actually have already addressed some common reasons for nursing home living, typically falls. That honestly goes back to our first myth about weakness and decline because it doesn’t have to be like that. 

Think about Jack LaLanne, how active and healthy he was into his 90s. Cognition, we just talked about. So don’t fall into that fallacy that, oh, that’s just aging. Take the lid off and actually look for underlying issues that might be contributing. So if we take a more proactive stance to our aging, I believe the number of people living in nursing homes can decrease even more. 

17:36 So what’s the takeaway from all these myths? I think it’s human nature to really accept things as we see more and more people experiencing certain problems, “Oh, she’s got it too. That’s just what happens.” So we stop asking and live in a world of acceptance. But we need to stop, we need to start asking more questions instead of us accepting things, because what we’re accepting is based on false beliefs instead of saying, “Oh, that’s just the way it is. That’s in my family.” Ask instead, “What might be contributing to this issue? Is there a vitamin deficiency? Is there a hidden infection somewhere commonly in the gut that’s contributing to these symptoms?” 

Now, we’ll never have the mind and body we had when we were 20, but we can still be highly functional and live independently and have a full life. So don’t accept the decline so quickly. Start asking questions. Find an integrative provider who can run some lab tests and actually test functionality for your aging body, not just look for disease and say, “Oh, that’s just the way it is.” 

I know that I’m in my 50s, I’m asking a lot more questions. I’m reading more and finding ways to support myself and my family. So we don’t fall into these traps so we can enjoy the fullness of life. So I hope you enjoyed the podcast of The Four Myths of Aging. 

I’d like you to go visit my website myagingscore.com and take the quiz and find out how well you’re aging. Age well and prosper. 

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