Healthy Aging: Oxygen and the Aging Process

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HEALTHY AGING: OXYGEN AND THE AGING PROCESS

Antioxidants can keep you from "rusting" -- and exercise can keep you from falling

Everyone knows we need to breathe to stay alive, but did you know that breathing helps kill you, too? Now don't go holding your breath and expect to live forever because it doesn't work that way.

I'm not talking about air pollution, global warming or anything like that. What I am talking about is oxidation, the same process that causes metal to rust.

A few years ago I attended a 75th birthday party for a friend. When asked him how he was feeling, thought his reply was appropriate.

"Marshall, I'm rusting," he said "Nothing is falling off. I'm just rusting."

As I approach retirement, I understand what he meant.

Many years of research are revealing that the aging of our bodies is related to the process of oxidation and its effect on our body tissues. We now have proof that the cholesterol in our circulation causes blockages in our arteries that can lead to heart attack and stroke.

By breaking cholesterol down into its component molecules, medical science has found that it is the LDL fraction of cholesterol that causes these blockages. Additional research now is indicating that LDL must first be oxidized to cause its damage. Other research projects are adding credence to the hypothesis that oxygen contributes to the aging process.

As we all know, supplemental oxygen is essential to treat many heart and other medical conditions. The anesthesia required for so many modern surgical procedures could not be administered safely without the concomitant use of oxygen.

Approximately 20 years ago, when hyperbaric chambers were being introduced into the practice of medicine, the observation was made that some older patients experienced temporary improvement of mental acuity for a period of time after hyperbaric therapy. It was felt that the increase in blood oxygen caused this temporary improvement.

The message is clear: We can't live without oxygen, but is it killing us?

No one has an answer to this question yet, but extensive research is attempting to get us an answer. One of the most active research areas deals with a group of substances we now call antioxidants. These substances may diminish the damaging effect oxygen has on our tissues. Vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene are among the antioxidants.

Ongoing research suggests that daily ingestion of 400 units of vitamin E significantly reduces the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and may offer protection against heart attack.

Taken properly, antioxidants should do no harm. However, if you take antioxidants and ignore the other proven factors that can help you live longer and healthier, you will be doing yourself a disservice.

Continue to follow a healthy diet low in animal fat and cholesterol without excess salt. Watch your calories and keep your body weight within your age, height and gender parameters. Do some form of exercise regularly to keep fit.

Try to manage the stresses that might upset your life and deal with them intelligently. Have regular checkups with your physician to keep track of cholesterol levels and other important early markers of potential illness. Modern medicine has come to the point where early detection can save lives.

Someday, possibly with the help of antioxidants and other preventive all be able to look measures, we may all be able to look to older age with clear minds and sound bodies.

Bottom line: enhanced function and resistance to falls.

In most cases, light weights were attached to the ankles, and leg extensions were performed. "We also looked at improving flexibility and balance through tai chi (a Chinese martial art) and working on cardiovascular endurance, mainly through walking, Province said. "The only high-tech equipment we used was a computerized balancing platform," he added.

The balance-specific training, Province said, had the greatest impact in reducing the risk of falls. "But this could be misleading because not all the treatments were applied [to each person in the study]. We believe in a full-court press: exercises for balance strength, flexibility and endurance.

"Now we know what works. Next is designing a program that makes them stay with it. We think the key is long-term compliance."

Two essentials, he said, are a group setting where there is social interaction, and qualified supervision -- perhaps provided by a health-maintenance organization.

"If you're not careful," Province said, "you can cause the exact thing you're hoping to prevent -- and there's also a cardiovascular risk. So anybody (65 and older) should have a physician's OK before embarking on an exercise regimen."

Meanwhile, seniors are becoming increasingly targeted by the fitness industry.

Dian Nissen-Ramirez, a San Diego fitness professional with a master's degree in health education and exercise science, has created two video workout tapes: Ageless Fitness -- A Fresh Start No. 1 and No 2.

The 45-minute videos include safety tips and simple aerobic and interval training programs.

Fitness educator Mary Ann Wilson, a registered nurse based in Spokane, Wash., also offers videos for seniors. Her Sit and Be Fit video focuses on strengthening postural muscles and is safe and effective, she says, for people with osteoporosis -- the bone condition that afflicts more than 25 million Americans.

-- SAN DIEGO-BASED CARDIOLOGIST MARSHALL FRANKLIN, MD

Natural Way Publications, Inc.

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By Marshall Franklin

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