My neighbor Marie is hardly ever at home. During the day, stay outside with one of their concerts or volunteer to hang out with a friend. On Friday nights she usually goes out to dinner with her boyfriend. Weekends are spent visiting family, and during the summer he spends time at the lake cabin. It is not strange that I see it rarely, as it is constantly on the move. The amazing thing is that Marie is 88 years old.
She is a model of how I want my old age. She is active, involved, and relatively healthy. It is a puzzle, however, why some people age with good health, energy, and others decline much earlier. Without a doubt, genetics and lifestyle play a very important role. That said, there are many exceptions, people who live into their 80s, 90s, and up to 100 years, with poor genetic heritage and without paying much attention to healthy living. So what is the problem?
One explanation may involve epigenetic theory, in which your genes are affected by external or environmental factors rather than DNA sequence. This simply means that in addition to your inherited genetic makeup, how you live also affects gene expression.
In Chinese Medicine, the nature of your body is made up of something called Essence. She determines your overall health, how to grow, mature, your fertility, and the aging process. You inherit that essence from your ancestors, which sets the stage for your physical build (much like genes). As you age, that original essence slowly wears off and can never be replaced. When you have used it fully, it dies.
However, there is a second type of essence that can augment and preserve the original material. Living healthy, eating well and avoiding excesses; It can protect its original essence so as not to age so quickly.
This old theory of Chinese Medicine sounds a lot like the avant-garde current of epigenetics. Beyond meeting you first, China also offers some ideas on how to protect yourself for healthy long aging; as healthy and long as possible. This includes:
-Balance your rest and work cycles.
You need to rest by getting enough sleep to heal and rejuvenate your body. Also, while a certain amount of work is important to keep your mind clear, in Chinese medicine, overworking is considered a cause of illness.
-Move your body.
Movement in the form of exercise is the closest thing to the fountain of youth. Movement creates more movement and keeps your joints lubricated, your blood flowing, your heart and lungs healthy, and your mind sharp. Just remember to balance them with adequate rest.
-What you eat makes a difference.
You cannot ignore your diet for decades and expect a long and healthy life. Yes, sometimes it happens that you will see a ninety-year-old living off bagged snacks and content, but not many. By eating real, predominantly plant-based food that has not been preserved, or "enhanced" with chemicals, you will be a winner in the competition. And you don't have to renovate your entire kitchen; Research has documented that dietary changes, even small healthy changes, make a positive difference to your health.
-Mind over matter.
The Chinese have a saying that emotions are the cause of a thousand diseases; In my acupuncture practice I have found this to be true. Stress, anxiety, worry, depression, and negativity affect your health, and not in a good way. Negative emotions affect digestion, sleep, blood pressure, and hormonal rhythm to begin with. The impact of a poor emotional state is very real and difficult to imagine. Current research indicates that people with a negative outlook have shortened their life span. My recipe? A little gratitude in each day.
Your genetic makeup looks a bit like a hand you deal in a card game. You may or may not get a good hand, but how you play the game is what really counts. If we are talking about epigenetics or how to preserve the essence in Chinese Medicine, lifestyle makes a difference in how you age.
By Lynn Jaffee, Licensed Acupuncturist and Author of "Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health." This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com