Four tips for avoiding frailty in old age

Frailty isn't inevitable. Here are four things you (or your patients) can do to stop cells from aging too quickly


1. Watch the weight

Keep weight in the normal to overweight class. Those who are very overweight, classed as “obese” have a 7.9% chance of having difficulty getting around when they’re old compared to 2.9% of those who are a healthy weight.

Here’s a link to a chart that can help you figure out what’s a healthy weight, or a calculator that will give you a Body Mass Index (BMI) number.

Aim to have a BMI between 18.5 and 29.9, although some recent studies suggest people with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 live the longest. Being underweight is considered as risky to your health (statistically) as being obese.

2. Be active

…ideally every day, but at least for 30 minutes three times a week. This recommendation just makes sense – muscles that aren’t used wither and become weak over time. As some will say, “use it or lose it”!

Note that it doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise, just walking will do. And it doesn’t have to be 30 minutes straight of exercise. Ten minutes three times during the day works just as well.

An easy way to measure activity is to install a free pedometer on your phone. I tried out a few and the one I like best is called Pedometer Step Counter.  It tracks steps, distance, calories burned and time, and allows you to set goals if you want. You can look back by day, week or month to see how you’ve been doing. It’s really fun to see how far you’ve walked when on vacation… I walked over 150 km a month when we were in Spain last fall!

3. Don’t smoke

This one probably has something to do with losing lung function. Five-and-a-half percent of smokers became frail in old age, compared to 3.5% of non-smokers. But smoking also causes inflammation (see #4) so could be causing frailty and contributing to the aging process in several ways. There are so many reasons to quit. Smoking makes skin age more quickly too, so quitting will help keep you looking your best!

4. Reduce chronic inflammation

Two proteins are found in your blood that tell doctors how much inflammation might be hiding in your body.

The first is called interleukin-6, and it is an indication of inflammation levels in the body. Higher interleukin-6 means you have more inflammation, and that’s an important factor in aging and disease. More about that later…

The other is C-Reactive Protein (CRP), another marker of inflammation. Some doctors have started checking CRP levels to determine their patients’ risk of heart disease. Production of both interleukin-6 and CRP proteins can be decreased by cutting down on sugar intake and reducing stress.

A ‘unifying theory of disease’

A Harvard Health article refers to inflammation as a “unifying theory of disease.” Often thought of as a result of disease, inflammation has been shown in newer studies and observations to be part of the cause of many diseases. Mounting evidence suggests that coronary artery disease (that leads to heart attacks), diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease all include inflammation as part of their causes.

We recognize acute inflammation by the heat, pain, redness and swelling it causes. This is part of the body’s response to injuries, like cuts, scrapes, and sprains, to foreign substances, and disease-causing organisms like bacteria and viruses. Acute inflammation is part of our immune system’s protective action. The problem occurs when the helpful inflammation is not turned off afterward. This leads to chronic inflammation that can cause aging and disease.

We all have a certain amount of chronic inflammation and for many it stays under the radar, only to be noticed by a blood test. Anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen reduce inflammation and this is likely part of the reason that low-dose aspirin helps to prevent heart attacks along with its ability to prevent blood clots.

But many chronic diseases have been observed to occur less often in people who are taking anti-inflammatory drugs for other reasons, such as for pain or arthritis. Over a hundred years ago, it was observed that sugar levels in the urine of people with diabetes were reduced when they took high doses of sodium salicylate, a form of aspirin. It was even documented that sugar in the urine could be eliminated in some people with milder cases of diabetes. Of course, that doesn’t say that their blood sugar, the more important reading, was completely reversed, but it was a very interesting observation.

Cancers of the liver, cervix and stomach which make up about 15% of cancers, are closely tied to levels of chronic infectious diseases, generators of chronic inflammation. Cigarette smoke, a known cause of lung cancer, and asbestos, associated with a type of cancer of the lining of the chest, both contain ingredients that cause inflammation.

Inflammatory reactions produce reactive forms of oxygen that can damage cell DNA, and this damage can lead to the initiation of a cancer. Fruits and vegetables contain many anti-oxidants that can neutralize these free oxygen radicals, and this is likely one way that these foods help to prevent heart disease and cancer. They probably help to prevent diabetes and Alzheimer’s, too, through the same mechanism… reducing inflammation in the body.

Here’s what you can do…

The good news is that there is lots you can do to reduce inflammation in your body and keep your cells from aging more quickly. Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, and avoid high amounts of added sugar, refined carbohydrates (like white flour), and processed foods, especially those containing trans fats. Reduce stress as much as you can and exercise regularly, as it reduces the negative effects of stress on your health as well as keeping you fit.

Make sure you seek treatment for any infection, complete the treatment and go back if it’s not completely cleared. And talk to a doctor about whether you would benefit from a low dose of the anti-inflammatory, aspirin.

Jennie Collins Beaudin is a recently retired pharmacist who specialized in balancing women’s hormones for over 10 years while she owned her own pharmacy. Read more from Jeannie’s blog.


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