UBC doctor explains medical advances in treating age-related diseases with activity
By Alistair Burns
The B.C. Catholic
Can 90 years old be the new 80 for seniors? So contended Dr. Larry Dian, a specialist in geriatric medicine and a clinical professor at UBC, when he presented his findings on the subject May 31 at Vandusen Gardens in Vancouver. His lecture was titled, "Successful Aging: Is 90 the new 80?"
"There are plenty of healthy 80-year-olds but fewer healthy 90-year-olds. Living into one's 90s depends on a lot of factors beyond our control," said Dr. Dian.
His thesis maintained that for many people who live to an old age, three keys things were apparent: a healthy lifestyle, an upbeat personality, and what he termed luck: good genetics drawn from one's gene pool.
"Most premature deaths are due to chronic diseases, but we can change through lifestyle. A successful life is to be healthy until 15 minutes before you die," he claimed.
First he tackled "healthy lifestyle," and reviewed some common steps. People who maintain an ideal body weight, have good blood pressure, minimize alcohol use, avoid smoking and illegal drugs, and get regular exercise have 90 per cent better health.
For staying in shape he prescribed ballroom dancing lessons. "First, it's wonderful aerobic exercise; second, for the men listening, you're outnumbered by beautiful women, and it's incredibly social."
He also contended that gardening and housework were good stress relievers; however, in many cases, the two activities did not amount to exercise. "People overestimate their active times," he pointed out.
After a surprised murmur rippled through the crowd, he moved on to clarify the term "exercise." You need at least two and a half hours of fairly vigorous activity weekly.
"If, at the end of each workout, you're able to speak breathlessly to someone else but not in full sentences," then the correct pace has been achieved.
Dr. Dian also perked up many attendees' ears when he delved into how a fitness regime should change throughout life. Up to age 50 you should focus on endurance and cardio workouts. Then, to age 75, to prevent muscle cell loss, weight training becomes key. For the final 25 years, balance and flexibility take the centre stage for continued health.
"This doesn't mean when you're 49, you should start hitting the weights for the first time," he clarified. The ages he mentioned are not set in stone; instead one should figure out a plan with a physiotherapist, and then stick to it.
"Pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said. A crucial part of living longer is personality type. He warned modern-day Eeyores who have a constantly negative outlook usually turn out not to live as long as optimists.
The third part of his talk dealt with adaptation to the aging-related changes that are inevitable. For example, the vast majority of people begin to lose their high frequency hearing as they age.
The most successful users of hearing aids obtain them at an early stage, in their 60s as opposed to their 80s. The older you are, the harder it is for the brain to adapt.
He urged all seniors to ask for help with activities such as bathing, and to use a cane or walker when they develop balance issues.
"If you like doing puzzles to keep mentally alert, great. If not, don't start now. Keep doing what you enjoy, since, I believe, dementia is a disease, and not part of normal aging," he concluded.