Embrace Aging with Grace: How Functional Medicine Can Help

"Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege granted to few.”  The origin of these words is unknown, yet their wisdom endures. Despite the constant barrage of messages depicting aging as a negative journey, the truth is that growing older is a valuable experience, especially when compared to the alternative. As we become increasingly aware of our own mortality, we gain the capacity to cherish our lives more fully, beyond the pursuit of material possessions and ceaseless comparisons with others.

Embracing graceful aging does not imply an acceptance of wrinkles and gray hair; rather, it entails a deliberate focus on what promotes our well-being. Functional medicine strategies can empower you to explore and optimize your well-being. Functional medicine providers spend time listening to you and gathering your medical history. We use this information to identify the challenges of aging including triggers such as poor nutrition, stress, toxins, allergens, genetics, and your microbiome (the bacteria living in and on your body).

What does it mean to age gracefully?

An happy, older couple having tea together and chatting. How do you define graceful aging? To some, it means acknowledging the increasing number of candles on their birthday cake without attempting to appear or behave younger than their years suggest. However, for others, particularly those dealing with physical limitations, it can seem like a euphemism that minimizes the difficulties associated with the aging process. Nonetheless, graceful aging remains an achievable goal for everyone in their later years. It hinges not on one's appearance or the activities one can or cannot engage in but on their mindset. We can set our own guidelines as we age, shaping our experience by selecting our attitude and approach to life's transformations. Each person's journey is unique, marked by their individual challenges and strengths.

What is the Functional Medicine approach to aging?

At its core, Functional Medicine is a patient-centric approach to healthcare contrary to the traditional disease-centered model. Instead, it relies on evidence-based practices rooted in scientific knowledge to identify and address the specific hormonal, genetic, environmental, nutritional, and lifestyle factors that enhance the body's inherent capacity for self-repair. Rather than reactive, it adopts a proactive and personalized approach to patient care, avoiding the one-size-fits-all paradigm that merely treats symptoms once they manifest.

With a primary objective of extending both lifespan and overall wellness, Functional Medicine dedicates itself to optimizing cellular functions. This optimization helps you attain peak cognitive abilities, sustained energy levels, and enhanced stamina, ultimately empowering you to thrive.

What are the best preventative strategies for aging gracefully?

There are 4 major areas of focus that apply to the process of aging.

  • Nutrition & Supplementation
  • Exercise & Physical Activity
  • Stress Management & emotional well-being
  • Sleep & Restorative Practices

What is the best diet for aging gracefully?

Many diets are touted for their health benefits.  The Keto diet, for instance, can be an effective therapeutic diet for insulin resistance and neurological issues. On the other hand, people with food sensitivities may benefit from a higher-carb diet that focuses on plant-based foods to support gut health, such as an elimination version of a paleo diet.  While there is no ‘one diet fits all’ choice, most healthy eating plans share the same basic principles.  

The one component all healthy diets have in common is that they avoid ultra-processed and inflammatory foods. In particular:

  • Processed sugars, including high fructose corn syrup
  • Preservatives
  • High glycemic foods
  • Industrially raised animal products

The foods to eat to support healthy aging can vary from one person to another and depend on their health, goals, personal ethics, and other factors. With that said, here are some of the key food groups:

  • Plants in their natural form, i.e., vegetables
  • Non-commercially raised, high-quality meat
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Getting the right amount of protein
  • Low glycemic index food
  • Probiotic-rich foods

What about supplements?

It’s always a good idea to work with your doctor or functional medicine practitioner, who can test for nutritional imbalances, consider deficiencies and excesses, and use both diet and supplements to balance your nutritional status.

Most people need some supplementation due to poor soil quality, highly processed modern diets, excessive stress, and other factors. Nutritional imbalances have become very common.

A few examples often suggested by functional medicine practitioners are the following:

  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • Iron
  • Fish oil

And for the more active older adults:

  • Creatine
  • Beta-Alanine
  • BCAA (Branched-chain amino acids)

What kinds of exercises should I be doing?

Physical activity is an important part of any healthy aging and longevity plan. Some of the key things regarding exercise for longevity include:

  • Full range of motion. 

Exercises encompassing the full range of motion involve movements that guide our joints through their complete natural range of motion. Engaging in such exercises promotes joint health and conditioning the muscles to operate seamlessly within their entire range. A noteworthy example is observing infants; when they attempt to retrieve an object from the floor, they instinctively squat until their buttocks nearly make contact with the ground, demonstrating the full range of motion of the hip joint. Incorporating these exercises into your daily routine is highly recommended.

A healthy and fit older man going on a jog by a lake.

  • Aerobic Exercise

Getting the heart rate up and breaking a sweat can help support the cardiovascular health and lymphatic system.  It is recommended to do some type of aerobic exercise daily.

  • Resistance Training

Weight training is specifically important to support our muscle and joint health as we age and may help to reduce the degree of sarcopenia (decreased muscle mass) and loss of bone density we see today.  These should be done a few times per week.

How can I reduce my stress levels?

Sometimes, stress is so overwhelming that there's no way to avoid its negative effects on your mental health.  Employing the following strategies may help deal with the day-to-day anxieties of life.

  • Eating the right foods & taking daily supplements.  For example, probiotic-rich foods have been linked to lower social anxiety.  
  • Be Mindful.  Whenever you feel anxious, practice mindfulness techniques, such as picking an object and focusing all your five senses on it.  Another way to practice mindfulness — and lower anxiety — is yoga. 
  • Stay active, especially outdoors.  One study found that people who exercised outside reported feeling more energy and less tension and depression than those who did indoor workouts. 
  • Set a nighttime routine. Hop into a warm bath or shower.  Set an electronics curfew.  Try some deep breathing exercises. 
  • Nurture a positive relationship with yourself. The narrative we construct about our position in the world and the significance we ascribe to our existence significantly influence our journey towards healthy aging and longer life. Many individuals gauge their self-worth by their level of productivity or the opinions of others, often leading to self-perception challenges. Instead of associating our value with productivity or external judgments, we should all recognize our intrinsic worth based on our authentic selves and our unique contributions to the world.

Will my sleeping patterns affect me?

Inadequate sleep can significantly reduce our lifespan and make us more susceptible to various chronic ailments. Sleep deficiency is strongly linked to conditions like cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, and other illnesses. Surprisingly, the negative effects of insufficient sleep on our health become apparent rather swiftly. Research indicates that just a few days of sleep deprivation can potentially lead to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

A healthy elderly man sleeping in a peaceful bedroom. Aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep per night is recommended for most individuals, although some may require more rest. People who exercise regularly may need extra sleep to replenish what their bodies expended during workouts. It's important to recognize that sleep is the critical period during which our bodies undergo healing and repair processes, enabling us to perform at our best on the following day.

When it comes to the role of genetics in determining our lifespan, many still believe that they are destined to inherit the same diseases and longevity as their parents or grandparents. However, we now understand that this is not entirely accurate, thanks to the field of epigenetics. Epigenetics delves into environmental factors that can activate or deactivate your genetic expression. These factors encompass your dietary choices, the nutrients you incorporate or omit, the supplements you ingest, potential exposure to toxins, stress levels, exercise routines, and the quality and duration of your sleep. They collectively influence whether you manifest genetically predisposed diseases and also dictate how long you will live, regardless of your family's history. Essentially, these dynamic epigenetic factors continually instruct your genes, directing them on what actions to take and which ones to avoid. In essence, we can counteract accelerated aging today by keeping these disease-associated genes switched off, thus enhancing our prospects for a longer life.

Your path to graceful aging and longevity starts here! Don't let outdated beliefs hold you back. Take control of your health and join us in unlocking the potential for a vibrant and fulfilling life.  Request your functional medicine consultation today!

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