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Add life to your years

June 30, 2002|by CHRIS COPLEY

It's true that none of us escapes death, but some physicians and researchers say we can extend our years of life by working with our body's natural processes.

Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, demographer and professor of public health with the University of Chicago at Illionois, says fighting the aging process by trying to enhance our body's natural systems is a popular concept.

But it won't work.

"This concept of hormones being the elixir of youth goes back a hundred years - researchers grafted the glands of monkeys and goats onto the testicles of males," he says. "A number of claims have been made for hormone injections. And there's some truth to it. The effects are real. But you can also get the same result free by exercising."

Cindy Kuttner-Sands, M.D., is a board-certified internist and board-certified geriatrician who sees patients at Washington County Hospital. She tells her patients their habits through life affect their health in later years.

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"There are some things you can change and some things you can't," she says. "Biological aging we can't do anything about. For instance, there's the point at which you can't have children anymore."

But some habits, even long-standing habits, can be changed.

"Smoking accelarates the aging process," Kuttner-Sands says.

On the other hand, some habits can add to the quality of life even as you age.

"Exercise and eat right. Avoid excess weight; laboratory experiments on rats show thinner rats live longer. Avoiding excess sun exposure can decrease the chance of developing skin cancer; wear sunscreen and hats."

The focus should be not on living long, Kuttner-Sands says, but on living well.

"I spend so much time with people growing older. I accept death and aging as part of life," she says.

"But I think a lot of people have difficulty with that. What's important is the quality of people's older years. They should be made as comfortable as possible and spend time with people they care about."

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