Aging by the Numbers
Staying on top of your health throughout life
Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander
Whether you are 20, 30, 40, 60 or 88, aging well is something we all hope to do – and although the concept varies slightly among individuals, there are some common goals most of us share. For example, when our mortality gets the better of us, we presumably don’t want to die of cancers (especially the kind we caused with our poor life choices), dementia, a fall from which we can’t get up or by being hit by a taxi. Paging Debbie Downer, right?
What we’d rather do is live fully right up until we die. At home, fit and healthy, a painlessly-in-your-sleep kind of scenario. So we diligently do the things we know we should, as often as we can. We exercise, we eat well, we get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and that’s that. Right? We’ve done what we can do, now it’s left for fickle fate to decide. Except it’s not.
There are many other things we can do to stay healthy well into our dotage. In the case of taxi-strike avoidance, we can look both ways, avoid crossing mid-block and wear bright, visible colors while walking around. In the case of aging well, perhaps we should get a little sanguine about it. In the literal, old-world sense of the word.
Dr. Laura Miles specializes in analyzing each person’s blood in order to identify his or her unique set of health-undermining risk factors and then deploying tactics to mitigate them. She’s very much of the “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” school of thought.
“I am all about prevention,” Miles says. “When a person comes to me, I evaluate where they are now, and then what we can correct or work on based on the results. Sometimes we can use supplements, sometimes we use medications, but we can almost always help a person feel better.”
Turns out that Vitamin D is crucial at every age, and so is avoiding inflammation. “In the 20s, I like to check a person’s Vitamin D levels, because at that age people are more susceptible to HPV, and when our Vitamin D levels are higher, studies have indicated that it becomes less likely that HPV can take hold. In our 20s, we also often experience the first big hit to our adrenals, which are glands responsible for our stress response, because we often find our first ‘real’ jobs in our 20s.” Miles also takes a hard look at a person’s nutrition in the 20s, because college diets are notoriously poor, and busy, newly employed, stressed-out 20-somethings need good nutrition.
In their 30s, people are often feeling worn out. “This is when people often have small children, and their careers have progressed, and it’s often hard to tell if you’re just tired or if you are fatigued, which is very different,” Miles says. “The 30s are also a time to look for inflammation. Do you have joint pain of any kind? Bowel issues? Headaches? Do you feel swollen in the morning? These are things we tend to think are normal when we hit the 30s, but they are not.” In the 30s, Vitamin D is still important, as is B12, and optimal levels of cortisol and DHEA.
In Miles’ own experience, she was deeply fatigued in her 30s, but the traditional lab tests yielded nothing but ‘normal’ readings. “My doctor kept suggesting that I was depressed, but I knew I wasn’t depressed. I was tired.” At the time, Miles had two small children and was on her first career path. She was an ophthalmologist with a healthy practice.
“I started researching possible causes myself, and realized that there were an almost overwhelming number of possibilities within those ‘normal’ results.” She found an organization called the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, whose philosophy is to look for and mitigate underlying disease through nutritional intervention. Bells rang, birds sang and Miles was fascinated enough to embark on a fellowship, which changed her life and then her career.
These days, she’s forgone ophthalmology for her current practice, and sees hundreds of patients a year – and she’s been at it for more than a decade.
When we hit our 40s, hormones really start to come into play. This is also when cholesterol rears its oily head, and whether we’ve managed it or not becomes an issue. Vitamin D is still key, but now it’s to mitigate bone loss.
In the 50s and beyond, it’s all about prevention: prevention of osteoporosis, dementia and heart attacks. Vitamin B12 is a superstar for 50-somethings. We tend to become easily depleted at this age, because we absorb it less efficiently than we used to. “Also, we take things for indigestion, like Nexium, which deplete Vitamin B12. A B12 deficiency can cause a real brain fog, which can lead to reduced cognition,” Miles says.
To sum it all up, though, Miles says that each person’s biomechanics are uniquely unique. That’s why she advocates ultra-specific bloodwork based on the needs of each patient. Having said that, she has four nearly universal tips for healthy aging.
Watch out for inflammation and figure out what’s causing it; it’s probably something you are eating. Know your cholesterol level, and manage accordingly. Keep an eye on your nutrient levels, especially Vitamins D and B12. And incorporate some type of exercise and stress management technique such as meditation or mindfulness into your life.
Enjoy the living, take care of yourself now … and watch out for taxis.