Secret of successful aging is a myth

Published 11:01 pm Saturday, January 7, 2012

The old adage of “The secret to successful aging is to choose your parents wisely” is a myth.

We have been taught that our genes (heredity) pretty well determine how and when our bodies decline with old age. Actually, what we inherit from our parents is very important but it has been greatly overstated.

 Even such inherited diseases as Huntington’s can be delayed or kept from appearing. This is great news for families that pass on numerous forms of cancer, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis and a good many others. Genes play a key role in passing the disease on from generation to generation but proper diet and medication can often delay or prevent the disease from showing at all. The MacArthur study has determined that “heredity is less important than a good environment and healthy lifestyle.

The study shows quite clearly that only 30% of physical aging can be blamed on our genes. “Additional studies of Swedish twins over the age of 80 show that about half of the change in mental functioning is genetic.” And consider this: The study shows that as we grow older what we inherited becomes less important while our lifestyle becomes more so.

The authors go on to state that the chance of becoming fat, having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and weak lungs are generally not inherited. We do these things to ourselves. If this is not dramatic enough, the study goes on to point out that where we live and how we live has a “profound impact on age-related changes in the functions of many organs throughout the body including the heart, immune system, lung, bones, brain and kidneys.” Wow.

In the November 1999 issue, of Physicians magazine, Susan Larson reported that the top ten research studies of the late 1990s showed that the patients who list faith in God as extremely important did dramatically better during serious illnesses. In fact, over 40% said faith in God was the most important factor for getting well.

The Dartmouth Medical School study found that elderly patients were 14 times less likely to die after heart surgery if they found strength in their religious faith and remained involved.

The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine reported that high blood pressure ranked 40% lower among people who attended religious services at least once a week and prayed or read their Bibles once a day.

A study of 1,700 older folks at Duke University showed that those who attended church were only half as likely to have immune problems as those who did not. They had fewer diseases, less depression, and fewer unhappy life events.

Duke also reported that older patients who professed religious faith cut their hospital stay in half.

The American Journal of Public Health, after a 28 year study, reported that people who attend religious services weekly were 25% less likely to die than those who did not attend.

After a study of 2,205 residents of Marin County the researchers concluded that an individual gains from 7 to 14 years of life attending religious services.

In an early study by the Veteran’s Administration it was found that the patients who ware seen by a chaplain on a regular basis went home two days earlier and recovered faster than those who were not visited by a chaplain in the hospital. These studies are why most of the medical schools in the nation have courses that instruct doctors to support religious faith in their patients and why hospitals have ministers who are trained to serve as chaplains in the hospital setting.

In the next column on aging let’s consider that getting old should involve more than simply existing. Old folks have the ability to participate in life events including the basic drive of intimacy. There is no reason to give in to the myth, “The light may be on but the voltage is low.”