The Secret to Aging Successfully is No Secret: Live a Balanced Life

May 11, 2018, 6:45 a.m. ·

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A Stanford University researcher who has been studying the biology of aging for decades says there's no easy answer for delaying the aging process except to stick to what your mother told you, which is diet and exercise.

On average, most Americans are living to the age of 78. Only residents of Japan and the United Kingdom live longer. One researcher who studies the biology of aging says there’s no easy answer to delaying the aging process.

Dr. Thomas Rando of Stanford University studies the aging process in stem cells and how tissues repair themselves.

While Rando’s team has found a way to make stem cells in old muscles more like those in young muscles and heal wounds more quickly, there’s still not a silver bullet yet for medically reversing age.

Dr. Thomas Rando is professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences and founding director of the Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Stanford University. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News)

Instead, he said we should focus on adding balance to one’s days rather than adding time to one’s years.

“I think it’s becoming increasing common that the interest in studying aging is not to have people live longer but to have people live better,” Rando said.

Rando visited Omaha recently and told a University of Nebraska Medical Center audience that by understanding the basic mechanisms of aging, the secret to aging well, is no secret.

“Having studied this now for decades, sadly it comes down to things your mother would have told you, which is diet and exercise,” Rando said.

Rando said multiple studies suggest maintaining a balanced diet, which is to say, basically not eating too much, and regular exercise, can have a profound impact on one’s health and consequently, one’s life-span.

“And it’s really about what we call health-span, which is this idea that we’re not looking to have people live to be 150, but to live their normal lives but in a healthy state and as much as possible to avoid the ravages of age-related diseases, degenerative diseases in particular,” he said.

Dr. Jane Potter agrees with Rando’s assessment that quality of life counts over the length of one’s life.

Dr. Jane Potter, professor, internal medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, is chief of the Geriatric Medicine division at UNMC. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News)

Potter, a division chief in geriatric medicine, runs the Home Instead Center for Successful Aging (HICSA) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

The center represents a new model of care that is unique not only to Omaha, but the entire Midwestern region.

“I think we have learned a lot about how to help people age successfully and it’s an area of ongoing new information and research,” she said.

Research that provides education to UNMC students, residents, and the community, as well as preventive care with a focus on promoting independence and aging in place.

Finding a place to age and a community of like-minded people to age with is what keeps 75-year old Carol Herbin engaged. Herbin, who retired four years ago, says she likes going to the same place each morning because it gives her a plan for the day and almost mimics going to the job she left not too long ago.

After retiring from Lincoln High School, Michael Fultz enjoys his weekday workouts swimming, walking on the treadmill, lifting weights and socializing. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News)

“All the time. I’m here all the time,” Herbin said. “It’s my second home. That’s where I live and I love it,” Herbin said.

Herbin goes to Lincoln’s Madonna Proactive at least six days a week. She says lifting weights, working with a trainer, and going to aerobic classes makes her feel like she’s in control of her life, and makes her feel more powerful.

Michael Fultz, a retired industrial technology teacher at Lincoln High School, works out five days a week, swimming, walking on the treadmill and lifting weights.

Fultz says going to workout is not just about improving his physical strength, either.

“This keeps you sharp mentally, and then you get a chance to visit with people socially and that’s part of aging too,” he said.

Jeannie Hannan, wellness manager for EngAge Wellness at Home Instead Center for Successful Aging, wholeheartedly believes in exercise as medicine. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News)

Jeannie Hannan, wellness manager at the Home Instead Center for Successful Aging, said prioritizing physical movement throughout our lives reinforces the message that exercise is medicine.

Hannan says exercise can also prevent, treat and help people with chronic conditions. Additionally, exercise works wonders to improve our mental outlook.

“There’s research out there that it’s good for our mood, a great way to work with depression or anxiety or a lot of times if you just get moving, and then the friends that people make too, makes a big difference,” Hannan said.

Dr. Potter said making and maintaining meaningful relationships is another key component of successful aging.

“The vast majority of Americans, 65 to 75, are still looking for novel experiences,” Potter said. “Whereas, by the time people are in their late 70s into their 80s, they start to shift. The focus is more on depth of experience and friend relationships.”

Dan and Dana Teeters are regulars at the EngAge Wellness medical fitness facility at UNMC. (Photo by Pamela Thompson, NET News)

Dr. Potter said retired adults -- like Fultz and Herbin -- who replace a working life with a lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a healthy diet, socialization and purpose, may actually be able to extend their heath-filled years.

“A lot of those people should have another 20 or 30 years of life expectancy,” she said. “At age 65, if you are a healthy woman, you have a very long time to live.”

Potter says the information the center has gathered over the years shows the recipe to successful aging may depend more on a combination of healthy ingredients over time.

“It is a blend of being physically active, socially engaged, spiritually aware and vocationally fulfilled,” Potter explained. “Yea, it’s really those complex of things.”

Dr. Rando of Stanford knows staying physically active in today’s digital, screen-oriented world is challenging, especially when more people are sitting longer. In fact, sitting may be as much of a health risk as smoking.

“I think there is very good evidence that what is now termed sedentary behavior—which I and many people are guilty of for a lot of what we do in our careers -- but not getting enough physical activity can have negative effects on health," Rando said. "So prolonged sedentary behavior seems to change the way certain muscles in our body are metabolically active in a way that they can actually negate the benefits of physical activity.”

In addition to physical and mental activity, Dr. Rando said maintaining a strong sense of humor also benefits the aging process.

“Clearly if you want to live a long time, you should pick parents who lived a long time,” he said. “So I think knowing the genetics of your family in terms of longevity has predictive value. Now, whether there’s anything you can do about it, is still the issue.”