Baby Boomers Sicker Than Their Parents

Mature couple seeking health care advice.

Aging and Health Care – Baby Boomers Sicker than Their Parents at the Same Age –iStock

‘A massive generation of sick people.’  Those are the words Reuben Greg Brewer used when blogging about the recent JAMA study which found that today’s baby boomers are sicker than their parents were at the same age, suffering from chronic illness and disability related to:

How often I have heard my own mother say (who is now 80 and who just underwent her third joint replacement surgery), “These pills are keeping me alive.”

While the gist of Mr. Brewer’s blog trumpets health-field related investment opportunities for the savvy (Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Teva Pharmaceuticals, CVS Caremark), it really is a sad commentary on the general state of health in these modern times, to find that today’s baby boomers are sicker than their parents were at the same age.  It is also  a confirmation that chronic illness is big business in the Western world.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Research about the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle and stress is not new, by any means.

Why have we as a society bought into the illusion of “the magic pill?”

Why have the majority of people refused to take responsibility for their own health and wellness?

We are finite beings.  We have limitations.  We wear out.

What changes are you willing to make now, today, to improve your chances of aging well?  Although your body is ready, willing and able to restore function and mobility, beware of waiting too long.

A final thought, will you invest in yourself and/or in health-related companies on the stock exhange, each offering a unique ‘golden opportunity’?

Wow, I’m Sixty Years Old Today! Where Did the Time Go?

New York August 2012Maureena & Tim

New York August 2012
Maureena & Tim

Yes, another year has rolled around and I find myself another decade older this time–sixty years old!  For all you youngsters out there, you will eventually understand the reality of the often repeated phrase, “I don’t feel any older, I am the same person I have always been . . .” yet, truth be told, when I look in the mirror, I see the changes in my body and my face—gravity!  Some days, my bones can be a little achy too. However, I am still as keenly interested in everything that makes like worth living: loving relationships, passion for learning, enjoyment of my surroundings, meaningful work and activity, and a good measure of health.  I am committed to aging well.

Last year at this time, I was preparing for a parathyroidectomy—the surgical removal of a parathyroid gland that had become dysfunctional.  The parathyroid glands play such an important role in body chemistry, bone production, and health.  I was fortunate to find an excellent surgeon with a crack team, Dr. Michael Yeh, at UCLA.  The surgery was successful and I have been experiencing a good recovery.  Surgery, like chronic pain or illness, is always taxing to the body and can be very depleting.  My main concern was how to support the healing process and to optimize the healing of the surgical incision.  As many of my readers know, scar tissue is a topic I am keenly interested in and I am happy to report that the therapies I used post surgery supported the optimal healing of my surgical incision, leaving few internal adhesions.

I’m so grateful to have accumulated so much experience in the holistic field of medicine which has helped me come back stronger than before.  At the present time, my personal health recovery regimen includes chiropractic, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and movement and body alignment practices (Alexander Technique, Restorative Exercise, and Pilates).  My goal this year is to become even more aware of my body alignment, knowing that the way I move in my body and how each part communicates with the next, will determine my capacity for regeneration and strength and will help me to correct and limit the patterns that underlie chronic degeneration.  No matter what our age, isn’t that the best choice to make?

How will you support your self, your body, and your health this coming year?

P. S. I am so enjoying the gift that cumulative life experience brings to all aspects of my life!

Loss of Mobility, Myofascial Restriction, and The Turn of the Screw

Myofascial Restriction Leads to Loss of Mobility

Simply put, mobility is what separates the living from the dead.  That’s why cultivating and retaining it should be a primary focus of healthy aging. However, the gradual loss of movement and myofascial restriction are so subtle that we are often taken completely by surprise when one day, basic movements like looking over our shoulder, bending over, unscrewing the lid of a jar, or buttoning up a shirt become hard to do. Further, loss of mobility is often coupled with chronic joint and muscle pain, putting a damper on one’s efforts to stay active. Two key factors that herald this downward spiral are the loss of adaptation and compensation.

Adaptation and Compensation

Adaptation is the term coined by Hans Selye, who explored homeostasis and stress regulation in the 1970s.  More recently, this concept has been expanded to include Sterling’s concept of allostasis, which describes the body’s capacity to adjust moment-by-moment to internal and external changes in the body or stressors in the environment. This process may involve phases of tissue breakdown or tissue repair.  Over time, the body’s ability to effectively adapt to insults or challenges diminishes, losing its capacity to compensate mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome-
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Bodily compensation refers to the ways the body changes its structure and function to accommodate chronic changes linked to inflammatory conditions, injuries, or surgery, in an effort to stabilize and protect important structures like arteries, organs, spine, and brain. These changes are easily seen in myofascial tension or strain patterns which are often multi-layered, reflecting the cumulative nature of compensatory patterns.

How do myofascial tension patterns affect tissue mobility and function over time, impacting one’s health and well-being?

Myofascial Tension Patterns

Multi-layered myofascial tension patterns and bodily compensation work hand-in-hand to keep us going after our body has suffered structural changes.

Fascia is the ubiquitous connective tissue matrix that gives our body structures and organs their shape.  Myofascial tension patterns develop as ligaments, tendons, and fascial tissues are recruited to act as guy wires (to brace) or struts (to resist compression) to stabilize and support the body.

Patterns may manifest as a torsion or twist, as hips or shoulders attempt to counterbalance each other, one in the anterior plane and the other displaced in the posterior plane.  Or, there may be a top/bottom pattern, often seen in whiplash injuries, where the forward displacement of the neck is counterbalanced by tension in the low back. This pattern is also associated with years of computer-related head-forward posture.  Adhesions related to scar tissue can also induce abnormal motility patterns in visceral organs, reducing normal patterns of excursion.

Eventually, trigger points form, creating patterns of referred pain, further altering normal neuromuscular function by reducing range of motion.  Finally, nerve entrapment contributes to movement-induced chronic pain.

The Turn of the Screw

Time, wear and tear, inactivity, and reduced range of motion become the turn of the screw that leads to decompensation, phase four of Selye’s general adaptation syndrome.  Decompensation occurs when the body no longer has the resources or raw material (reduced hormones, strength, and function) necessary to sustain compensatory patterns.   Joints, discs, and bones begin to breakdown, muscles and visceral organs lose their tone and torpor sets in, accelerating the aging process.

Not a pretty picture, yet it is the common pattern facing us all.  Make the choice today to enhance your chances of aging well.

Aging well involves the foods we choose to eat, our activity level, social support, thinking patterns, movement practices that support functional anatomy (Feldenkrais or the Alexander Technique), as well as the support of  practitioners who can help us improve and maintain our mobility: acupuncture, myofascial release, frequency specific microcurrent, craniosacral therapy, or rolfing.

What are you doing to age well?

Aging, Muscle Mass, and Sarcopenia

Did you know that a continuous, lifelong process of muscle loss, known as sarcopenia, begins around the age of 30 and continues with a 3-5% loss of muscle mass and muscle strength with the passing of each decade?  Sad but true.

Building and Maintaining Muscle

While losing muscle is considered a normal consequence of the aging process, understanding the factors involved in this process can help us slow down the inevitable with the goal of maintaining strength and mobility well into our senior years.  Our discussion  focuses on four known factors associated with sarcopenia, the medical term for muscle loss due to the aging process.

Four Reasons Why We Lose Muscle After Age 30 

  1. Loss of motor units.
  2. Conversion of muscle fibers.
  3. Reduction in protein synthesis.
  4. The invasion of fat into muscle fibers.

Let’s briefly consider what each of these factors involve.

Loss of motor units. The ability to move and maintain muscle tone depends upon a connection between a neuron in the spinal cord and its assigned muscle fiber(s).  Together, the neuron and muscle fibers, known as the motor unit, cause the muscle to contract.  As we age, the motor neuron begins to fail due to wear and tear or inactivity.  Reduced signaling from the nerve to the muscle leads to muscle atrophy, loss of strength, and eventual loss of muscle fiber when the neuron dies.  Although other motor units initially try to take up the slack, they soon become overworked, causing them to become less efficient over time.   The loss is gradual but continuous across the lifespan.  Loss of motor units leads to reduced muscle mass and muscle strength.

Conversion of muscle fibers.  Muscle fibers may be described as either fast twitch or slow twitch.  Fast twitch fibers are able to rapidly generate high muscle tension for quick action but they fatigue quickly.  Slow twitch fibers are fatigue resistant and are usually associated with fine manipulations.  They are the first muscles to be recruited when a minimal level of muscle power is needed.  When a motor neuron dies, fast twitch muscle fibers may convert to slow twitch fibers as adjacent motor neurons re-innervate orphaned muscle fibers.  A reduction in hormones levels (testosterone, estrogens, growth hormone, and vitamin D) also accelerates the conversion process, affecting muscles and tendons, resulting in a gradual reduction in fine motor activity, balance, and speed of movement.  That’s why daily activities like climbing steps or even getting up out of a chair become difficult.

Reduction in protein synthesis.  Body structures and tissues are in a continual state of repair, breaking down and building up.  With age, muscle protein synthesis and muscle regeneration slows down,  resulting in reduced muscle mass.  A reduction in hormones also affects the rate of muscle protein synthesis and muscle mass, contributing to an increase in body fat.

The invasion of fat into muscle tissue.  As muscle fibers and muscle mass diminish, fat begins to deposit itself in the muscle fibers, significantly reducing muscle strength.

What’s a Body to Do?

Studies have shown that properly designed progressive resistance training, 2-3 times a week, is an effective way to intervene in or prevent sarcopenia.  Resistance training supports overall muscle strength, improves gait, and speeds up timed movements by increasing the effectiveness of neuron firing rates and muscle fiber recruitment.  It also positively influences muscle protein synthesis and hormone concentrations.  Other factors involved in retaining muscle mass and strength is the adequate intake of calories and protein in the diet.  This can become challenging as an individual ages, especially if their appetite is waning.   If you have experienced progressive loss of muscle mass and strength due to chronic illness or aging, talk to your doctor before beginning a program of progressive resistance training and remember, easy does it!

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References:

Sarcopenia: The Mystery of Muscle Loss by Chantel Vella, M. S. & Len Kravitz, Ph.D.

An Overview of Sarcopenia: Facts and Numbers of Prevalence and Clinical Impact by Stephen von Haehling, John E. Morley, and Stefan D. Anker.

Not Being Able to See the Muscle for the Fat by Christopher J. Oliver.

Successful Aging Through Movement

Have you made healthy aging a priority?  We’re never too young or too old to begin.  That being the case, I thought you might enjoy going off the beaten path to consider a novel developmental perspective of successful aging discussed within the field of somatic psychology, a sub-discipline of psychology.

Researchers within this field recognize and explore the role of first-person experience in the development of a social, emotional, mental, and internalized sense of self.  Thomas Hanna, a pioneer in the field, advocated the inclusion of a somatic perspective in the human sciences in order to understand and circumvent the aging process.  He studied the link between habituated, contracted bodily movement patterns associated with decrepitude and formulated a method for restoring structure and function, Somatics.  In his book, Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health, he proposed the following,

The reason that physiology and medicine have failed to perceive the myths behind aging is that they have failed to recognize the fundamental fact that all human beings are self-aware, self-sensing, and self-moving . . . By adding the somatic viewpoint to our human sciences, we not only become capable of overcoming many health problems mistakenly attributed to aging, but we are capable of overcoming many of the major health problems that plague all of mankind.

While most of us understand the concept of self-awareness and self-sensing, what is meant by the term self-moving and how does it relate to health?

Self-moving is the term Hanna used to describe the ability humans have to work consciously with  reflexive, unconscious, and involuntary muscular bodily movement patterns in order to restore structure and function.  He demonstrated how muscular patterns form in response to chronic experiences, like stress, which interfere with the ability to completely relax contracted muscles.  In time, this can lead to chronic stiffness, soreness, aches, and pain.  Internally sustained states of tension can lead to hypertension and cardiac disease.

Hanna also recognized the role of early social experience in the childhood development of habituated movement patterns which can impact a child’s health long-term.  This important topic has been widely studied in somatic psychology and will be discussed in future posts.

The good news is, no matter what the cause, chronic contracted muscular patterns can be released and reversed, leaving you feeling more alive and vital.  You don’t have to look and feel old in your senior years! To achieve lasting results will require time and effort, but aren’t you worth it?  Many people have had good results dealing with stress and undoing chronic muscular patterns by engaging in movement practices such as Feldenkreis, the Alexander Technique, Tai Chi, yoga, Somatics, and Qi Gong.  It’s never too early to start, so what are you waiting for?  Get moving!

Have you ever considered that optimal movement patterns could be the basis for long-term health? Have you engaged in a movement practice that had positive effects on your health?  

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