By keeping your body healthy, you can slow the natural ageing process and live healthily and independently
BY KHIRTINI K KUMARAN
MALAYSIA is close to becoming an ageing society. According to the Malaysian Department of Statistics, the population aged 60 and above rose from 8.1 per cent in 2011 to 11.2 per cent in 2021.
The life expectancy of those over the age of 60 has also risen. When men and women reach the age of 60, they can expect to live another 18.9 and 21.8 years, respectively.
Therefore, healthy ageing is critical for a long and healthy life with a lower risk of disease and illness.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), healthy ageing develops and maintains the functional ability for long-term well-being. Functional ability refers to the capabilities that enable everyone to be and do what they value.
“A successful healthy ageing is more than just the absence of disease and immunity. You want to make sure that you don’t depend on anyone but yourself when you age.
“It is about living healthily and independently and being useful to society as we grow old,” said Tan Sri Dr Mohamed Ismail Merican, a consultant hepatologist/internal medicine specialist at Prince Court Medical Centre.
The former Health Director-General spoke on ‘Healthy Ageing: Adding Years to Life and Life to Years’ at the 10th Malaysian Hybrid Conference on Healthy Ageing.
Factors influencing longevity
“Cellular multiplication slows down with age, and the rate of formation of T lymphocytes of the immune system decreases with age. The immune breakdown triggers the human ageing process and makes the body vulnerable to diseases.”
He continued: “There are genetic factors, whereby genes associated with the mechanism of programmed cell death (apoptosis) also affect ageing in individuals.”
The ageing process is also influenced by environmental factors such as excessive heat and light, constant exposure to toxins and poisons, poor oxygen conditions and malnutrition.
“If you were to adopt an unhealthy lifestyle, with overconsumption of alcohol and heavy smoking, lack of exercise, not enough rest or sleep, that can also contribute to you growing older faster.
As for longevity, he explained, factors include the family we were born into, gender and ethnicity, level of education, financial resources and accessibility to a quality healthcare system. For example, women tend to live longer than men.
“Generally, women have smaller bodies, thus less stress to the heart. They also have a stronger immune system compared to men because testosterone acts as an immune suppressant.”
Women also have less tendency to engage in physically dangerous activities.
Strategies to ageing healthily
“When we talk about healthy ageing, it is about developing and maintaining optimal mental, social, and physical well-being and function in older adults.
“It is likely to be achieved when communities are safe, promote health and well-being, and use health services and community programs to prevent or minimise diseases.
“There are simple natural strategies to help retain physical vigour, mental clarity, and youthful appearance as you grow older.”
Dr Mohamed Ismail said that there would be a decrease in strength, endurance and flexibility as we grow older. So it is best to do regular exercise to maintain fitness, strength and balance.
“Physical activity is essential, and one must exercise at least 45 minutes or three times a week.”
Good eating habits and healthy foods are crucial to staying healthier longer.
“Stimulate your appetite with a good diet and drink adequate water. You must avoid processed foods high in fat, salt and sugar. Take vitamin C regularly to enhance the immune system.”
He also emphasised the importance of managing risk factors for disease.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of frequent health screenings. Visit your doctor at least once a year for a thorough examination. Also, make sure you understand what medications you’re taking and why you’re taking them.
“Improve your mental fitness. Read newspapers, magazines and books, and learn new skills. You must keep your mind active and give a boost to the brain. Our brain is like a muscle; it needs to work out to keep it working effectively.
“Make sure you get enough sleep and rest. A good night’s sleep should be around eight hours.
“Be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to avoid falls and slips. Bones are reservoirs of minerals like calcium and phosphorus, but depletion of these minerals makes the bones weak during ageing,” he cautioned.
A holistic perspective
The Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS) hosted the 10th Malaysian Hybrid Conference on Healthy Ageing from March 15 to 17 in a physical-virtual hybrid format,
Themed “Holistic Healthy Ageing: 10 Pillars to Living Longer, Healthier and Better”, the three-day conference in Penang, featured symposiums, lectures and workshops from experts who are community members, leaders, NGOs, societies and advocates of healthy ageing from various healthcare-related industries.
The conference covered all significant aspects of healthy ageing, focusing on how to stay healthy and engaged in our later years.
The speakers’ expertise ranged from physical, nutritional, emotional/mental well-being, social wellness and engagement, and environmental aspects of ageing, and the topics reflected a more holistic perspective. — The Health