Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Age and Ageing

Lots of media discussion this morning, surrounding the Macmillan Cancer warning over the enormous strain that the NHS will soon face from treating breast-cancer in its ageing population. It predicts that nearly 1.7 million will be coping with the illness by 2040; three times as many as today

Simultaneously, the Nuffield Trust warns that the total cost of looking after dying patients is nearly £5 billion a year, with two thirds of the bill being passed to the NHS.

Quite obviously, we are all worried by the strains the health service is facing and of late, several politically-motivated individuals have been running a busy disinformation campaign on the future of the QEQM in Margate. To reassure my own readers, I've attached the latest information, in the form of a letter from the Hospital Trust's Chief Executive, Stuart Bain, to our Thanet MPs, Roger Gale and Laura Sandys.

Back to the point of today's column then, which is that it's up to all of us, to make a conscious effort to stay fit and healthy as the collective beneficiaries of the world's finest health system.

Last month, I watched a BBC programme on health and ageing, Presented by Dr Michael Mosley and followed some of its more radical suggestions on diet and exercise. The result has been a personal weight loss of 9 kilos and higher overall fitness.

As a former endurance athlete, it's not that I was unfit in the first place and I know from my regular and rigorous CAA pilot's medical that my own physical age is a good ten years less than my actual age. I simply wanted to get back control of my weight before I became any older, as I have a sweet tooth, which forces my wife to hide any chocolate in the house.

What has surprised me is how little I have to eat to remain stable, in contrast to how much junk I used to eat, with days where one can eat what one likes and days where carbohydrates are tightly restricted; I've even halved my modest alcohol consumption. The big question though is can I keep this self-imposed asceticism up indefinitely?

If you happen to be my age, in your mid-fifties and are relatively fluent with the controls of a PlayStation or an X-Box, you will also notice, when playing popular games like Modern Warfare 3 online against teenagers, that fading reaction speed makes it quite impossible to go head to head with the younger players who at times appear to be moving around at an impossible blur of virtual speed. It can be deeply frustrating and the only viable strategy to win points is age and cunning, through setting tactical traps. That said, games like Chess and even the X-box which demand extreme concentration, will slow the effects of ageing on the brain, as does exercise for the muscles.

There are some brutal truths about the ageing brain, once we start to go through middle-age; slowing of speech and loss of memory being the most measurable and seen at its worst in some politicians I can think of. By the time we reach the age of seventy, our brain mass has shrunk back to the equivalent of a six-year-old child, reportedly losing almost two thirds of its mass, with the principal casualty areas being those closely linked to memory and coordination. Living here in Thanet, one sees the results on the roads almost daily with drivers, who are no longer safe. One basic test is to see how long you can stand on one leg with your eyes closed. If you are in your twenties, fifteen seconds wouldn't be unusual but we become older it becomes more and more difficult to hold the one-legged pose for more than a few seconds; one reason perhaps that Tai Chi is so popular among the elderly population in China.

It all sounds great, I'm sure but typing away here, I've developed a sudden craving for a chocolate croissant, the negative effects of which could quite possibly cost the NHS £100,000 in twenty years time.


Michael Child said...

Simon I have been experimenting with this one and find that the more chocolate I eat the longer I can stand on one leg with my eyes shut.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the man who invented jogging, die of a heart attack whilst jogging ? That's enough of a warning for me. I do regularly sit ups, up in the morning, down in the evening, and I am certain that I am not straining my heart. We can all become exercise gurus and be hit by a bus tomorrow. I am more concerned by the prospect of loneliness in old age, and if the fat die younger than the rest of you, then how can they be costing the NHS more ?

Simon Moores said...

He probably had an unavoidable genetic predisposition to early death. Genetics wins over fitness and lifestyle every time, which is roughly why 5% of the population can smoke 40 a day, drink like a fish and still reach into their nineties.

For the rest of us, like looking after the car, a little precautionary maintenance can work wonders as we pass forty...

Anonymous said...

Yes, I have an unavoidable genetic predisposition to being fat, both my parents were morbidly obese, as are my siblings, all 10 of them. Diets don't work, yet the 'little precautionary maintenance' you suggest certainly does. After years of trying to lose weight, I've discovered that changing just a few things has allowed me to lose a steady 1lb a week in the last 26 weeks. You don't need to join a club, just watch every programme you can on tv regarding obesity, it works for me !

Don Wood said...

My brain must be smaller than my six year old grandson he is much smarter than me at everything. As for chocolate croissant I cant remember what they taste like but I am sure I would like them if I could rememmber where to buy them from. The joys of growing old.

Anonymous said...

Hilarious time had in this household with a competition on who could last longest standing on one leg with eyes shut. Daughter....30secs...son-in-law (show off)....45secs. Both in their late 20s. Me? At 65 managed 7 seconds. Pass the chocolate!

Anonymous said...

Smoke a pipe. Pipesmokers live longer healthier lives than non-smokers.

Chocolate is good for us.

Animal fat is necessary to stave off depression. Better a fry up than a lifetime on prozac eh ?

The tyranny of the aerobic underweight stick insects is reaching its end, now it is recognized that exercise should consist of aerobic and anaerobic components (Work used to achieve this for us up until Thatcher banished it)

Why were the bowmen of England so strong ? You got it protein valency for muscle growth and health. two complementary protein sources per meal. The brekkie of the yeoman of England being ideal. Bacon and eggs.

I remember an ex publican hotelier of Cliftonville. He drank 18 pints of guinness per session at our family hotel. In the hotelier's 60s the Dr was warning him about his drinking etc. In the hoteliers 80s he mourned the death of the much younger GP marking the occasion by the consumption of 18 pints of guinness.

Anonymous said...

Simon I have this diet routine 2 months now. Basically I do the 5:2 (5 feed 2 fast) as Michael Mosley did. My latest blood test was crystal clear when before my cholesterol levels were sky high.
Also as a result of this restrictive diet my portions became smaller and the urge for food is not the same anymore. The only problem is that the people around me say that they days of fasting I lose my temper easily and my husband believes it is because of the lack of food. I have no problem with weight though, but because both of my parents suffered cancer and many cardiovascular diseases I decided to take the plunge and offer to me and to my family a longer healthy life.

Simon Moores said...

I haven't had the courage to attempt the 5:2 regime. Mine is a kind of hybrid one day on one day off which has produced results but I'm finding the discipline hard and in particular when I'm exercising.

It's very much like the glycogen loading and starvation diet the week before a marathon and I remember how awful that felt with low blood sugar before I carbed up 48 hours before the race.

Simon Moores said...

OK.. fitness and weight targets now achieved since following the BBC Horizon regimes on both. I'm now going to see if I can adjust this to the recommend 2:5 days of two fasting and five eating normally, instead of the alternate day on and day off regime I've been following for two months.

I'm already hungry and it's not 10am yet and the green tea in front of me doesn't look that appetizing!

Not sure I'm tough enough to do it for a month, let alone forever but we'll see.

Simon Moores said...

Eating a light breakfast after a two day fast is nothing less than sensual. If you are going to try and follow this BBC Horizon diet regime then I suggest a single lollipop as a treat to stave off feelings of hypoglycemia. Strangely enough, day 2 of not eating is easier than day 1 but turning this into a lifelong regime could be a very different matter, despite the successful results to date.


Simon Moores said...

I mentioned this diet on a visit to the doctor a week ago and he expressed the view it made sense.

I also observed that since starting it, I hadn't noticed the normal arthritic aches and pains; the legacy of a former endurance athlete at age 56.

A few years ago, I gave up running. Why because after any run, I was crippled by the inflammation in my achilles tendons that followed. The orthopaedic surgeon I saw expressed the view that normal people didn't try and run across the Sahara and this was a simply a consequence of giving my body such a hard time over the years.

I mentioned to my own doctor last week that while I was cycling and had no problems, I had observed that on my recent visit to Istanbul, miles of walking around the sights hadn't triggered the normal painful inflammation.

His opinion was that many people produce an excess of uric acid which causes inflammation and gout and quite possibly my new restricted diet, as per the BBC programme was reducing this.

So today for the first time in a very long time I went for a couple of mile run.. jogs and interval sprints to push up my heart rate for training effect.

Normally, by this time in the evening I would be feeling pain and tenderness in my achilles tendons and knees but as yet.. absolutely nothing.

If I wake up tomorrow morning and can walk straight away, rather than hobble downstairs, it will be nothing less than a small miracle and I will have stumbled on a side benefit of the diet that needs reporting.

If I am hobbling about in the morning I will report it here. Otherwise assume something remarkable has happened!

Simon Moores said...

Another two weeks passes. Weight is stable and I'm coping with the two days of fasting, although today I gave in mid afternoon of day 2 with Xmas almost on us.

I made-up for it by going for a run and can report that I still have no achilles tendon inflammation or stiffness after.

Clearly something unusual has happened and its related to this change of diet I think, rather than a ten kilo weight loss.

I now need to try and work-up to a comfortable 3 miles at a pace. Nothing more as at 56 that would be pretty pointless given modern sports science, where the goal is quality and working heart rate and not quantity.

At this stage and based on my own experience and both subjective and scientific observation, I would say, try it and measure the results for yourself. It takes about six weeks to get down to target weight in my case (- 8 kilos) and I would say I'm a new man as a consequence.

Simon Moores said...

Tried several short runs over Xmas and have Achilles tenderness at the base of the right leg. Not as bad as it used to be (crippling) but enough to tell me to stop and rest it until further notice.

Put on 1.25 kilos after Xmas and was intending to fast today and tomorrow but a dead car battery and other issues put me in such a bad mood that I could see myself in a hypoglycemic spiral and so just had some panatone, yogurt and a banana, which has worked wonders to boost my blood sugar level back to normal and eliminate the Shrek-like ogre.

Will have to reschedule the two day fast this week.

Simon Moores said...

Watched Michael Mosley talk about his new book on the fast diet on BBC breakfast. He's now advocating fasting on Monday and Thursday rather than two days in a row for best effect.

Inflammation from running has disappeared as suddenly as it came so I may start up carefully this week again.

Put on 1.5 kilos over Xmas but lost it again during the two day fast so I'm stable.

I have my CAA annual medical on Saturday so it will be interesting to see what this complete check-up ECG, bloods et al shows up since last year.

Simon Moores said...

12th Jan 2013. I've been on this diet for over three months now and have just had my annual CAA commercial pilot's medical. Full ECG, bloods, MOT, you name it.

The medical examiner is so impressed with me that he had me send the link to the programme during my examination (via my ipad) and declared that he's going to go on the same diet!