Age is inevitable; ageing is not, says Dr Caroline Low, an expert in preventative medicine — here’s what you need to know to stay in the long game, and the surprisingly simple lifestyle changes you can make right now.
Imagine your life at 100 years of age. How would you want to feel, physically, emotionally and mentally? Don’t dismiss the thought — all signs point to Singaporeans living closer to that landmark age. One 2017 study found that the expected lifespan in Singapore is 84.8 years — and it remains one of the longest in the world.
And more of us can expect to be around even longer: according to the report Ready for 100? Preparing for Longevity in Singapore conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) for Prudential, the number of us living to the age of 100 is on the increase. It takes many factors to live our best lives to that ripe age, but what is within our control is how we prepare for life on a longer runway.
We divide ageing into biological and chronological age — I look at biological ageing. If you don’t look after yourself by burning the candle at both ends, don’t get enough sleep and your hormones are all over the place, even though you have a birth age of 50 and look as if you’re 38, internally you may be 68. We used to think that nature and nurture contributed equally to your health; now we know that nurture — how you treat yourself — accounts for more like 90 percent.
Inflammation is the biggest health problem today and it comes down to controlling our levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. It’s the most important hormone related to ageing.
How do we control it? You need to sleep. Balance your hormones. Remember that you are what you eat. Know the source of your food and try to eat organic and non-GMO (genetically modified) produce. Avoid highly processed food — anything that comes out of a box. Reduce sugar as it causes inflammation — but more crucially, avoid corn syrup which is a thousand times sweeter and never gets metabolised.
It isn’t just about getting more hours; what matters is when you go to bed and the quality of your sleep. Around 75 percent of human growth hormone (HGH), which is responsible for tissue growth and regeneration — and therefore longevity — is released during sleep. You get a major surge in the first period of Stage 3 sleep, about an hour after you doze off, and a release of HGH every time you hit that stage again during the night. If you’re sleep-deprived, you miss the boat.
If you want to make just one lifestyle change, get better sleep. My personal rule is to always get seven hours of sleep each night, and go to bed before midnight.
We work to global timing, travel to different time zones for regional roles and our bodies are always operating against the grain. The new norm is to go home from work at 7.30pm, but your phone is still switched on, so at 9.45pm your boss can text you and still expect an answer. Our cortisol levels never come down to allow our bodies to rest. Singapore’s kiasu culture makes it hard to switch off, but it’s not just happening here; it’s city life and a global phenomenon.
Patients usually come to see me because of unexplained lethargy, acute brain fog and lack of stamina. I see a lot of people who have burned out and say they have lost their edge. It shouldn’t take you feeling as if you’re on the brink of losing your career to seek help. To be in it for the long haul, be aware of your health. Don’t rely on a doctor to tell you you’re sick.
We don’t want to menopause early, before the age of 53. To put it bluntly, once we go into menopause, our DNA begins to change and prepare our body for death.
You don’t want to experience decades of your life in that state. That’s why we need to look at slowing the ageing process down with good sleep, nutrition, supplementation and addressing hormone imbalance.
It’s also important to talk about andropause in men. Women will talk about having hot flushes, but men will rarely share about feeling fatigue, lack of motivation and depression. Andropause is a much slower process and harder to identify, but men experience changes in body shape and hot flushes too.
I do tell my female patients when they’re going through menopause to talk to their partners about andropause, so they can understand each other — at the end of the day, you want to walk off into the sunset together.