Recently, I was going through a chapter called the “Physiology of Aging” from my Environmental Physiology course on the Stanford website. This chapter intrigued me specifically because although it is amazing how dramatically our life expectancy has increased over the past centuries due to modern medicine, there are still some factors beside allopathy that could greatly affect our aging. In this section of the course, I watched a video of one of the professors go to the MIT AgeLab to try on AGNES, which is essentially a suit in which anyone can experience the deficits and incapabilties involved in the process of aging. The effects were so profound, and they seemed impossible to observe over the gradual lifespan of an adult. The video eventually showed how the professor wearing the suit lost motor, visual, flexibility, strength and dexterity skills. It actually got to the point to where I really felt sorry for elder people whom I have always assumed to have the same faculties I have. I obviously did not think old people could do everything but I did not realize it was that bad either!
On the brighter note though, the point of the video was to show the natural physical effects of aging in a normal person, not an immensely active and healthy person. The video also showed a brief interview with a 79-year-old sprinter! This guy still performs a lot of his work manually, even though he could use machines and has taken up the hobby of sprinting at such a late age. Despite that, he is in optimal health. He is essentially decreasing his chances of developing a myriad of devastating health disorders such as hypertension, abnormal blood lipids, or type 2 diabetes. With that being said, the professor also mentioned the lady who lived till she was 122, breaking the life span record so far, Jeanne Calment. Although her secrets included olive oil, chocolate, wine and a lot of humor, there is a far more convincing observation about this:
As human beings, we have literally transcended our biological drawbacks through biotechnology and new means of improving the human condition. This doesn’t just include the use of scanners or machines to detect cancers and kill them. This also includes the mere fact that a good number of us have given significant value to having a healthy lifestyle. Another words, a lifestyle rich of mindfulness, productivity and vitality. Moreover, factors such as physical activity can make such a big difference in the end, as it can enhance repair mechanisms in the body, slow the rate of cognitive decline associated with aging, and literally stretch out telomere length on ends of chromosomes, associated with longevity. In fact, the benefits are so copious that it is too difficult to even mention them all! Regardless, we should definitely take pride in the fact that we have expanded our life span out so much by just modifying a few things here and there, and if we continue to do so, we can go even farther!
Stress, is an immensely overrated, and overused term to describe conditions of students, working professionals and even homemakers today. It seems that we give stress too much of a negative connotation. However, stress can be fun and exhilarating too!
Recently, I was reading this article Clifton B. Parker about looking at stress from a different perspective than usual. This was published on the Stanford website at http://news.stanford.edu/news/2015/may/stress-embrace-mcgonigal-050715.html
Essentially, the Stanford psychologist, Kelly McGonigal expresses how stress can actually make people smarter, stronger and happier they simply look at it from a positive perspective. An integral message this article conveys is that we all know we have to encounter stress at some point or the other in life, and therefore, we should embrace it and live with it, rather than run away from it. In fact, those who can thrive under high stress conditions, are really the ones who have made it!
As I was thinking about this very idea about stress, an important realization occurred. In the field of medicine, health care workers have to work hard under stressful conditions to make sure their patients can be in better shape. As premeds, medical students, or even residents, we are going to have to deal with so much trauma, stress, negativity, apathy and inferiority in our profession. Thus, there is really no point in looking at this path as a stressful, and debilitating one.
This article mentions studies being done in which people show that their lives have been more meaningful with stress. Moreover, psychologists prove that stress can make a person stronger, more compassionate, and resilient over time, granted the person takes stress in the right approach.
Go check out Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk on How to Make Stress Your Friend for more info: http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=en
How much sleep is actually necessary for us? That must depend on how old you are, right? Have you ever wondered why you sleep for an adequate amount of time some nights, and still feel tired, or sluggish? What if there was a way we could “hack” our sleep?
The answer lies within the quality, not quantity of sleep we receive each night. Although doctors have emphasized the importance of getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night for many years, our energy levels, metabolic levels and numerous other factors of health are strongly related with the quality of sleep. In order to hack our sleep, we need to first address one of the main barriers that prevents us from doing so, TECHNOLOGY. We are constantly stimulated by our gadgets and “glowing objects” as Dave Asprey from Bulletproof Executive, describes it. Recent studies are now showing the decline in our bodies to produce melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone when we use our iPhones, tablets or other smartphones close to bedtime. Additionally, this disrupts our REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep in which we actively dream. A person in REM sleep experiences alpha, theta and beta waves, which are coherent with high-level, active concentration thinking. Therefore, the more REM sleep we experience, in contrast to light or Non-REM sleep, the better off we will be! This is not just in terms of physical health, but also emotional and mainly psychological health. If we want to hack our sleep, we can do something that naturally causes our brains to produce melatonin before going to bed, such as reading a good book or doing some calm, meditative state yoga. Also, you can tune into some soothing music or even play it!