Four Lifestyle Changes for Graceful Aging

The National Institutes of Health states that therapeutic lifestyle change (TLC) is as effective, if not more effective, than medications in the treatment of many chronic conditions, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammatory conditions, hormonal imbalance and certain types of toxicity. TLC comprises three aspects: dietary modification, exercise and stress management.

In the United States, the medical model is an approach that unfortunately reduces physicians’ roles to that of disease managers, rather than health practitioners. In the functional medicine model, rather than asking, “What disease does the patient have?” the question is, “What biological system is in a state of dysfunction?” By looking at a person’s state of health this way, we are able to treat states of “dis-ease” and to get to underlying causes more effectively.

Aging is not a disease, but a symptom that indicates our state of health. What most people regard as aging is really nothing more than incomplete recovery from illness or injury, accumulated over time. An example would be a person that has knee replacement for severe arthritis, but fails to regain full range of motion in her knee. Without being able to fully extend it, her center of gravity will be thrown off, making her hyperextend the back and create a dysfunctional gait pattern, which can then result in lower back pain and other problems. Yet to family members, and maybe even to herself, she may seem to just be getting old.

Here are four steps that when incorporated into our lives can have a profoundly positive effect on how we age.

Incorporate a stress management technique: There are many stress management techniques, including meditation. According to Sant Rajinder Singh Ji, a master of Jyoti meditation, in his book, Meditation as Medication for the Soul, a person can benefit by sitting in a quiet place, closing their eyes, and without straining, look in the darkness in front of them and repeat any name of the higher power or a virtue while continuing their forward gaze. Doing this for even 15 minutes a day can have a deep, stress-reducing effect on the practitioner.

Eat a vegetarian diet of mostly fresh, organic fruits and vegetables: Functional medicine shows that many chronic illness come about as a result of poor nutrition. Simply stated, the body cannot continue functioning well, year after year, without receiving the essential nutrients it needs. The most nutrient-dense foods in the world are vegetables and fruits. The simple act of eating an organic salad for lunch can have profound health effects.

Have our vitamin D level checked and adjusted to an optimal level: As reported in a 2011 issue of Nutrition Research, The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 2005 to 2006 revealed that a large percentage of the U.S. population is deficient in vitamin D, which has been associated with arthritis, autoimmune diseases, cancer and diabetes. A deficiency in children can cause rickets, a bone disease leading to growth retardation, skeletal deformities that include bowing of the legs or knocked knees, and muscle weakness. In adults, a vitamin D deficiency can cause osteomalacia, an inability of the body to deposit calcium into the bone, leading to muscle and bone pain.

Vitamin D (actually a hormone) is called the sunshine vitamin because exposure to sunlight can help the body make it. However, many people are cautious about being in the sun and they should take vitamin D supplements to be sure to get an adequate amount. The recommended daily supplement amount of vitamin D should be at least 2,000 to 3,000 IU for adults, 1,000 IU for children (according to Dr. Michael Holick, and higher doses as needed to ensure an optimal 25-hydroxyvitamin D level of 50 to 100 ng/ml.

Exercise regularly: Just as food is medicine, so is exercise. A 2013 Harvard study by Craig Miller showed aerobic exercise was equal in effectiveness to a prescription antidepressant in raising the mood. This is just one of many benefits we receive from exercise. It keeps us limber, one of the key characteristics of youth. Resistance exercise can increase muscle mass that can easily diminish with disuse as we get older. Exercise is one of the tools that prevent osteoporosis, or demineralization of the bones, a condition that can make us susceptible to falling and fracturing our bones. All we need is 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day with a couple of one-minute bursts of rigorous effort to keep our body fit.

Veggie FestJames Gruft, M.D., is the author of the book, From Pain To Wellness. His office is located at One Trans Am Plaza, Ste. 100, Oakbrook Terrace. Contact him at 630-627-7500 or He will speak at 4:30 p.m. in the Main Tent, Aug. 10, as part of the 2014 Veggie Fest.

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