There is no denying that in the West we are in increasingly poor health. And whilst we often focus on weight issues, thyroid problems and diabetes, we are also acutely aware that some thirty year olds look like fifty year olds and some forty year olds have the skin, spines or bladder of an eighty year old. And when Granma is more sprightly than Mummy, we’ve got to ask why, as well as how we can avoid it.
Because respecting the aging process is one thing, but premature aging is another.
1: Chronic stress.
This is arguably the greatest source of premature aging. Chronic stress is when we are not briefly highly stressed (such as if we are almost hit by a car) or a tiny bit stressed for a couple of days (such as if a child is ill). Chronic stress is when we are moderately stressed most of the time. And, as you can see in the faces of people with Anxiety Disorder(s), it doesn’t do you much good. When you’re stressed you develop deep, anxious expression marks, paler skin, wider pores and a general drained look to your face.
This is because when you’re stressed your body is pumped full of cortisol and adrenaline, which force the glucose and, subsequently, the moisture out of as many bodily tissues as they can, trying to give you an energy boost to help you escape the source of stress.
Except we are in a state of continual, moderately high stress, both mental and physical. And we can’t really avoid most of it. Anxiety over relationships, harsh work deadlines, unpleasant working environments, caffeine, alcohol and drug abuse, all these things cause your body to become stressed. And we rarely truly get away from them.
2: Too much sugar.
Now, I will never take back that there is no such thing as a bad food. But all foods, nutrients and micronutrients have a limit that, when exceeded, causes problems. And sugar is one of them. People who consume too much sugar often experience a tightening of the skin, caused by water retention, which eventually leads to either oily or dry skin. It also greatly overworks the liver, pancreas, kidneys, thyroid and many other glands and organs to a lesser extent.
This is because a very high blood sugar content is actually poisonous to your body. But if we didn’t absorb all the sugar we ate, we would hardly have a few teaspoons in our systems at any given point. Therefore, our body absorbs all the sugar, burns what it needs and uses insulin, produced by cells in the pancreas, to store the excess. The first storage location is the liver, being the only organ that can process fructose and one of the most efficient places for accumulating fat quickly. If your blood sugar stays too high your pancreas can’t produce enough insulin for it any more and sends what amounts to a distress signal to the rest of the body, which encourages it to treat sugar as a waste product and dispose of it in the kidneys. If there’s still too much sugar after that, you enter hyperglycemia and die.
This process is perfectly natural, but when you push your entire system to its limits like that, day in, day out, eventually the organs have trouble fulfilling their other functions, such as producing digestive enzymes, hormones, regulating blood pressure and filtering byproducts out of the blood. And when you eat as much sugar as we do in the West, our organs and glands are continually overworked, to a point where their other functions are inhibited, which accelerates aging.
3: No loadbearing.
This is a big one just for how badly the younger generations are getting hit by it. Loadbearing activity basically means any activity where your body is compressed by weight. It ranges from standing up (the weight of your body) to weightlifting (the weight of the metal) and in all its forms it’s observed in tribal societies worldwide. This sort of activity actively compresses the bones and is known to help prevent osteoporosis.
The reasons for this are still a little vague and guess-work-ish, but the two current theories are that it encourages remineralization of the bones and discourages demineralization. Mineralization is where minerals, such as calcium, carbon and phosphor, are added into something, such as your bones. Your bones are continually losing and gaining minerals, just like your muscles are continually losing and gaining protein. Loadbearing helps prevent osteoporosis firstly because your body prioritizes what you need. Just as lifting weights tells your body it needs more muscle fibres, loadbearing tells your body it needs denser bones. Loadbearing prevents osteoporosis secondly because something denser is harder to break down. When your bones are dense with minerals and compact in the right places, chances of your body being able to strip the bone right down in the case of an emergency (such as a pregnancy mineral deficiency) are far lower.
What was the last time you picked up something heavy? What was the last time you carried something heavy? Until very recently, even in urban areas people would carry heavy shopping bags, children, move furniture and heavy machinery with relative ease. In wilder societies people carry children, baskets of food, entire tents and whole animals all the time. To boot, they spend more time on their feet with some sort of weight in their hands, on their backs or above their heads.
4: Too few micronutrients.
Another problem with our diet is that we’re massively undereating micronutrients. That’s vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other trace elements. The effect of this is most obvious when the people who, based on dietary guidelines, overeat these nutrients are the people who age the slowest and look the healthiest. Technically, we all need to eat more zinc, selenium, magnesium, manganese, phosphor, calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, creatine, Omega 3, etc than we are even recommended. The recommended daily amount should actually be seen as the minimum level for many micronutrients.
But we aren’t even getting that. A good test measure is to look at how many bitter and sour foods you eat. You see, many of the most essential, most underconsumed micronutrients taste awfully bitter or sour. And many of the less bitter and sour foods have been specifically bred to taste like that. Which is why lemons and kumquats have higher vitamin C than tangerines. Or dandelions and spinach have more micronutrients than iceberg lettuce.
To boot, how many people even eat tangerines or iceberg lettuce daily? How much of your diet do they represent? In reality, we should on a daily basis consume various greens, some fruit (sweet or non-sweet) and some root vegetables and on a weekly basis consume various types of offal, seafood, nuts and seeds.
5: Too little sleep.
Not sleeping enough ages and degrades your brain. Or at least that’s the effect. Your short term memory becomes hazy, your long term memory has the odd gap, your focus is poor and your interpersonal skills become worn.
This happens because most brain repair happens in your sleep. Your brain is continually breaking and regrowing neural connections. These connections form pathways, which is how information is pieced together to form memories, concepts and learned behavioural patterns. When these pathways break down, your brain regrows them as needed, which is how an unused language becomes “rusty” and a new skill is formed. All the information is there, after all, our brain’s capacity for storage is theoretically limitless, it’s just we need to connect the right bits of information together.
When you don’t sleep enough, or deeply enough, these pathways don’t grow or grow back as quickly. Therefore, you commit less to memory, learn more slowly and start forgetting things that you had already memorized. This is made worse when stress is added to the mix, as memory loss creates stressful situations, poor sleep creates physical stress and being stressed makes sleep harder and lighter, creating a loop. Your body, when stressed, needs far more hours of sleep because the sleep is so light, but due to missing deadlines, forgotten work and stressful interpersonal relationships we want to stay up later and mend what stress broke.
In the West we often don’t go to bed until our brains are about to give out, force ourselves to get up with annoying sounds and caffeine (stressors) and overwork ourselves over the day, only to use stimulating and stressing foods and imagery to keep ourselves up all night to “unwind”.
Just as too much of one specific food can make you unwell and too much sugar can age you noticeably, too much food in general, or too many calories, also has an aging effect. We’re all familiar with the effects of overeating when you don’t lose the weight, but regular overeats matched with regular starve or fast days can be just as bad. People who regularly overeat are suffering the burdens of excess sugar, but also the burden of excess fat, protein and waste products.
This means their organs are being overworked, needing to produce more enzymes and hormones, their stomach is stretched, their kidneys are filtering slowly. This can eventually result in a state of being continually slightly run down. The same way if you have a massive holiday binge you start feeling groggy and look fatigued and sick the next day, repeatedly overeating starts to cause lethargy and eventually creates a slightly ashy colour under your skin, some skin sag and oiliness to the cheeks and nose. This is because your organs are not getting a rest, your body is having a hard time getting rid of all byproducts through the kidneys so it starts getting rid of them through other means and a lot of your energy is being invested into digestion.
Per capita, Americans eat around 3700kcal/day, England and the rest of the world are not far behind. We are pushing our bodies to their limit daily.
7: Sitting still.
This ties into loadbearing, but is also important for muscle density and health. Think of the legs of someone who has never walked since childhood. The muscles are all thin and, even when the person is a healthy weight, their legs look like they’re all bones with a little skin and fat on top. This is because muscles you don’t use aren’t maintained. Your body digests them. This is in part when you need more protein or calories and aren’t eating enough, but in part it happens daily to muscle you aren’t using. Muscle is very calorifically expensive and, as far as your body is concerned, why regrow muscle when you aren’t using it?
Nowhere in the world do humans sit still, day in, day out, except in the West. The actual shape and support of our furniture aside, we have to agree it’s pretty comfortable. We can sit in one position for hours and only feel any harm when we stand up and notice a cramp. But this isn’t natural. Even though humans worldwide are naturally lazy, humans outside the West are very different to humans inside it. They sit less often, and get up frequently. When they sit they are not as comfortable as we are, so they move about, fidget, stand up, lie down, squat or stretch. All these minor movements, complete with bursts of intense activity and occasional long treks, lead to better muscle tone. This muscle tone stretches loose skin and shapes fatty tissue, giving men and women alike a more youthful, healthy appearance.
But here in the West it isn’t uncommon to get out of bed, walk downstairs, sit down for breakfast, walk to the car, drive to work, walk to our desk, sit down all day except to pick up our lunch, come home and sit down on the sofa with dinner, only getting up to go to bed. We probably spend well over 95% of our time (around 23 hours) sat down or lying down, without much fidgeting and rarely getting up. As such, our muscles are weak, small and undefined, giving our bodies the shapelessness of muscle wastage usually only seen in the very ill and very elderly.
8: Too little fluid.
Water is a pretty important part of our bodies. And whilst water retention caused by excess sugar can pump your body up, giving it a pudgy, wobbly appearance, plenty of water flushing through the system is actually good for you. For starters it helps the kidneys flush out dangerous byproducts and can help stop them from overworking. Secondarily, some water under your skin will fill out stretch marks, expression marks and wrinkles and encouraging clearer, lighter sweat helps avoid congested pores, leading to fewer spots or blackheads.
But we don’t drink much fluid that isn’t laden with sugar or other substances that slow its digestion and cancel our its beneficial properties. We also eat very little raw food, one of the healthiest sources of fluid besides water, sometimes healthier. Raw fruits and vegetables and even raw meat are heavy with water which is often lost when we cook things. And the main method of cooking foods to retain moisture (stewing) has become increasingly unpopular, with our main choices, instead, being frying, baking or boiling, all of which, unless you drink the water from boiling, extract and boil off the fluids in your food.
9: Low volume heart and lungs.
Another side effect of our inactive lifestyles is that our heart and lungs are not used very much and not pushed to the max more than a couple of times a year. This is good in one sense: just like our other organs, our heart and lungs can be overworked by being pushed to the max daily and are better off resting and doing low level activity most of the time. But, just as with our muscles and bones, when we use them too little, they start to atrophy. This means that your heart, like any muscle, starts losing muscle fibres and becomes weak, which is the reason for sudden death in underweight people; and your lungs don’t stretch and properly fill up, leading to shallow breathing, which is what causes hyperventilating people to sometimes faint.
When your heart is built properly, it can take and move a healthy volume of blood with every pump and won’t start to degrade until old age. When you fill your lungs enough with every breath, they take in plenty of oxygen and stay healthy and won’t suffer weakness until old age. However when we underuse them both, we end up with degraded heart and lungs similar to what we see in much older people.
And we don’t really exercise our hearts and lungs. A marathon a day would be excessive for them, but some form of moderate activity for a couple of hours once a day, such as brisk walking, some bodyweight activities or some gardening, plus intense activity once or twice a week, such as 30-60min jogging, weightlifting or climbing, will help your heart and lungs fill their natural capacity. Our problems are further compounded by our bad posture and stillness. When you don’t move as much blood can pool at the lowest points of your body, causing chilblains, inflammation, cramps and varicose veins and your heartrate takes a while to pick up when you stand, causing dizziness, nausea and even panic attacks. When you sit crouched over you are cramping your organs, particularly your lungs, leading to poor breathing that is hard to correct without retraining yourself.
10: Too little fish.
This one may seem a little odd to some of you, but pescetarians live the longest, are the least prone to obesity and disease and are the healthiest in their old age of any group of people based on diet. The Okinawans, the Icelandic, the Sardinians and the Ikarians all live longer than the rest of the world, the Okinawans being notable for the old age of their women and the Icelandic for the oldest men in the world. They are all fitter and healthier, with lower rates of mental illness, heart disease, stroke and the general ailments of old age than anywhere else in the world.
Fish provides various forms of natural salts and minerals, a healthy balance of Omegas 3, 6 and 9, as well as some of the micronutrients that, as mentioned, we don’t eat enough of, like zinc, magnesium and selenium. It’s not surprising, therefore, that adding fish into your diet, swapping meat for fish or swapping dairy for fish makes you look younger and live longer than otherwise. Of course, you could seek out all these elements as supplements, but the benefits of whole fish and other seafood are undeniable.
However, again, we don’t really eat fish. And the main fish we eat are the lean, flavourless kinds that have been overcooked or fried in vegetable oil, if not deep fried. Seeing as Omega oils are a type of fat and micronutrients often have a strong taste, it’s not really surprising that what little fish we eat provides us no benefit whatsoever.
And those are the ten reasons that, as a population, we are aging prematurely. Between our low levels of activity, bland, highly calorific, highly artificial diets, stressed out bodies and low fluid intake, it isn’t really all that shocking that we’re starting to look and feel older at a much younger age. And that’s before you look at heavy drinkers and smokers, who age even more rapidly than their more moderate or abstinent peers.
What are your bad habits? Based on this, what can you do to age as nature intended? What are your tricks for avoiding these ten bad Western habits? Feel free to share in the comments!
TTFN and Happy… Fishing?