Can We Defy the Process of Aging?

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!

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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!

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The Old and New Brain Phenomena

Recently, I was reading a book called, “Quiet-The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain and was very interested in how the brain’s biological processes can impact our behavior or personalities. The book was basically about how the extrovert ideal of this generation really suggested for quiet people to step out of their comfort zone, which isn’t necessarily bad. However, it talked about some of the rewarding aspects introverts, and highly-reactive or sensitive people had, based on scientific research.

This whole concept of neuroscience really struck me and I wanted to go deeper and deeper. Of course, I can’t go that deep into it because I would have to be a neuroscientist or an M.D. to understand certain things. Regardless, there are some things that are just so interesting about the human brain!

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So, the book referred to the limbic system of our brain, which we share with the most primitive animals, to be the “old brain.” Now, this “old brain” is emotional and instinctive. It includes various structures, including the amygdala, which is our fear and emotional response center, and that is connected to our nucleus accumbens (a.k.a. the brain’s pleasure center.) There is also a part of the old brain that plays a huge role in reward-seeking and pleasure.

The “new brain,” on the other hand, is the neocortex, which evolved many thousands of years after the limbic system. The new brain was described to be responsible for thinking, planning, language and decision-making- some of the very faculties that make us human. So what is the correlation between the old brain and the new brain?

The old brain, as mentioned before is instinctive, and is interested only in survival, whereas the new brain is where our feelings are stored. So, if the old brain senses some danger, it may send a message to your new brain, making you in turn, fearful to that situation… Isn’t that wicked?! The brain works in amazing ways that we sometimes can’t even seem to comprehend.

Going back to the “pleasure center” of the brain, including the orbitofrontal cortex, the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala, we can really get excited about potential goodies like money or pictures of attractive people. It’s amazing to see that there is a certain part of the brain that lights up during an fMRI for a particular rewarding feeling! In fact, research has now proven that the more dopamine your brain releases, the more likely you are to go after rewards like sex, chocolate, money and status.. Isn’t that crazy?! That’s why cocaine and heroin make you euphoric, but that shouldn’t convince you to go risk your life on these drugs. However, going out to experience positive rewarding experiences are amazing, and there is simply no way that could go wrong for you..

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With that being said, this book has made me realize that there is a neuroscientific explanation for almost every single activity you perform, and that certainly impacts your personality. If you seek status or money, then you are likely to be using your old brain, but if you value family relationships and love more than you do money and status, then you may be using your neocortex or your new brain. If you think about this from an evolutionary aspect, we don’t have to fight so hard now to get food and shelter. Don’t get me wrong. There are millions of people struggling through poverty today but it would make sense to say that we are using more of our new brains now, because this is a new era. That’s why evolution makes SO MUCH sense! There is a need to emphasize that!…