My dad, his brother and his sister.

Aging Well: According to the glossy Retirement Community brochures and the sexy Cialis commercials, our golden years promise to include long walks on the beach, golf and games with friends, and loving physical contact when the “time is right.”  So if you can handle a few laugh lines, age spots and gray hair, and find a trendy pair of reading glasses that enhance your intellectual demeanor, life is worth the wait as the final chapters are best.

But more and more of us are suffering as we age. Dementia, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis make us sore, stiff and slow. Our time is spent with specialists and our money goes to medications. Instead of waking up well, we wake up feeling disabled, depleted and disappointed.

Life has a 100% mortality rate, and the conditions of old age are increasingly accepted as part of the process. If that depresses you for longer than two weeks, see your doctor. But according to The Disease Delusion by Dr. Jeffrey Bland, there are 2 powerful misconceptions limiting our vitality in the golden years.

First, our approach to health care is outdated. When early 20th century medical pioneers developed antibiotics and immunizations, they were able to eradicate infectious diseases as the leading cause of death in a single generation. This amazing accomplishment saved countless lives, maybe even your own. And now we all know that germs are bad, and we stay home when we’re sick. We get the flu shot in hopes to avoid the latest strain.

But not even 100 years after we invented penicillin, 80 percent of ailments are considered chronic disease, and unlike strep throat, do not have a single causative factor. The infection model of pill-for-the-ill approach doesn’t offer a cure.  Anti-inflammatories may reduce the swelling and pain in our joints, but arthritis is not the result of an acetaminophen-deficiency. And as most drugs are designed to promote, alter or block a specific physiological process, serious side effects can occur when those same cellular mechanisms cause imbalance in our healthy organs.

The Reductionist approach to our body systems fails to acknowledge that each organ intimately affects the others. For example, it’s considered normal after 50 to consult an urologist for an awkward issue of erectile dysfunction. But ultimately, a lack of blood flow to a peripheral organ is an early symptom of vascular disease. Vascular disease is caused by atherosclerosis, a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. You may look and feel sexy enough to warrant a daily dose of Viagra, but you might want to consider visiting your cardiologist first.

The other “Disease Delusion” is that our illnesses are mostly an expression of our genetic makeup. But the relentless risk forms that require family histories aren’t nearly as relevant as we’ve thought.

Consider the BRCA gene. In 2013, women who carry this gene have an 85% increased risk of having breast cancer. And women everywhere are opting for double, radical mastectomies to avoid what is almost inevitable. But in 1940, the BRCA mutation only indicated a 24 percent risk increase. How can this be? It’s the same gene! Ah, but the gene doesn’t cause the cancer. It must be “turned on” by the environment.

And our lifestyles have changed dramatically. Our foods are grown with pesticides, thoroughly processed and wrapped in plastic, shelf-life guaranteed. In food factories, Mother Nature’s living flavors are exchanged for artificial ingredients and eye-catching colors, and promoted on a grocery isle end-cap with a Buy-One-Get-One-Free coupon.

In addition, we are stressed and exhausted and over-stimulated by 24-hour news channels that advertise the next new drug for the same old pain. We don’t move enough, we don’t get outside, and we feel…

Old.

Who wants to live long if you aren’t aging well and waking up awesome every day?

But there is hope. Good health isn’t something you pray for, it’s something you choose, and I don’t mean via Medicare plans, or meals of Lean Cuisine Light. Quite the contrary, it is freedom from both. Aging well is an option, should you choose to do what it takes.

8 Tips for Waking Up Awesome and Aging Well:

  1. Stop eating processed foods. If it comes from a package, it was made in a factory and likely contains ingredients that are toxic. Headaches, heart aches and hormonal imbalances are caused by chemicals in our food. When you crave potato chips, cookies or a zesty marinade, make them from scratch. Spend time preparing your food, or lose time feeling ill.
  1. Eat whole foods filled with color. Plants are filled with antioxidants, phytochemicals and living enzymes. These are the micronutrients that keep digestion, immunity and brain function running on all cylinders. Fruits, vegetables nuts and seeds are also filled with fiber, essential to keep the digestive track moving and clean, which in turn strengthens the immune system.
  1. Drink 5-8 glasses of water a day. This maximizes cellular activities, promotes detox and keeps your skin glowing.
  1. Stop drinking soda pop. It is now being recognized as the biggest contributor to obesity and diabetes (newly coined as diabesity). Regular colas contain high fructose corn syrup, which spikes the blood sugar and leads to insulin immunity. Since fructose is only processed in the liver, it also leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver, and severely inhibits the function of that organ.  Diet colas have saccharine or aspartame, and regardless of the source, these chemicals promote carbohydrate cravings, increase hunger and can lead to neurological damage.
  1. Eat organic as much as possible, especially meat and dairy. Factory farmed animals are given growth hormones to maximize their size and minimize the lifespan it takes to mature so they can be harvested sooner. Those are not hormones you want in your body! Factory farms consume 70% of our nation’s supply of antibiotics in attempt to prevent the diseases that naturally arise in filthy living conditions. (No one can clean a chicken coup with 60,000 chickens in it!) These antibiotics affect your gut flora and digestive health, and not to mention lead to antibiotic resistance.
  1. Eat less meat and dairy, if only to make room for more vegetables because you need them. Make the main course plant-based, and include only small portions of lean meat. Minimize cheese. Experiment with coconut, almond and soy milk; try hummus, avocado and cashews for creams. Your taste buds will adapt to whatever they think is “normal.” If you want a piece of cheese, eat it with joy and savor the flavor. Otherwise, skip it.
  1. If you have high cholesterol, go vegan. Our bodies are able to synthesize all the cholesterol we need, so any excess comes from food. Plants don’t have any. Work with your doctor as the results come fast (within weeks, you can be off medication)!
  1. Find a movement that you enjoy, and do it outside as often as possible. Every day, take several 5 minute breaks to breathe 10 deep breaths. Make them slow and controlled; match the inhale to the exhale. Direct your mind to focus on the sound, the sensations and finding tension to release. If you are forgetful, plug a reminder into your phone. In as little as 5 minutes, you will reduce cortisol and adrenaline levels, and induce a sense of peace, empowerment and well-being.

Aging well is awesome. Do it.