Aging is not caused by wearing down, but is more accurately described as an orderly program of self-destruction. Some aspects of aging appear as accumulated damage (such as cartilage worn away from joints or build-up of cross-linked sugar-protein complexes), but on closer inspection, even these are seen to be entirely avoidable consequences of the body shutting down its repair systems. Luckily, various types of bodywork can drastically improve our body’s aging process.
“Living things are fundamentally homeostatic. They can repair themselves. They build themselves from a single egg cell,” says Josh Mitteldorf, of the Mayo Clinic. “The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that entropy (disorder, degeneration, damage) must increase in any isolated physical system. But living systems are not isolated. Living things draw free energy from their environment, use it internally, then dump waste entropy back into the environment. Total energy cannot be created or destroyed, but free energy becomes degraded into warmth as it is used. Both living things and non-living machines take in high-grade forms of free energy, use some of that for their various functions, and discard the same total amount of energy as low-grade chemical energy and warmth.”
This isn’t some lucky feature, tacked on to living bodies, rescuing them from an ironclad law of physics. The capacity for homeostasis is built into the form and function of living things. To a physicist, a living body is defined by its ability to create and maintain itself using ambient sources of free energy. The very function of the living machine is homeostasis and to reproduce.
Exercise generates free radicals like crazy, but the body’s native antioxidant defenses overcompensate. Muscles suffer little tears, bones tiny fractures, and yet the body repairs these better than new, and the result is that we live longer if we exercise. When we regularly receive bodywork, whether it be Swedish massage, reiki work, fascial work, acupuncture or other, our bodies revive, repair and heal faster as well as better than when we put off bodywork.
Some of the biochemistry of aging is understood now, and its basis looks like self-destruction, not like attrition.
Inflammation, which protects the young body against invading microbes, is turned against healthy tissues in old age, damaging arterial walls in particular, and triggers cancers everywhere. This is specifically where lymph drainage, massage and acupuncture are so excellent. Move the inflammation out of the body. Using nutrients as well as bodywork will improve mobility, motility and relieve unwanted pain—all of which age us too soon.
The most common change is the cardiovascular system in stiffening of the blood vessels and arteries, causing the heart to work harder to pump blood through them. The heart muscles change to adjust to the increased workload. Your heart rate at rest will stay about the same, but it won’t increase during activities as much as it used to. These changes increase the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) and other cardiovascular problems. Here again, all forms of bodywork assist in keeping the heart muscle doing its job. It keeps the vessels fluid and mobile, allowing the other muscles in the body to pump the blood back to the lungs and heart, keeping us active and healthy.
Age-related structural changes in the large intestine can result in constipation in older adults. In truth, it’s not age related, it’s diet related. The abuses we have put our bodies through in what we feed ourselves cause most of the issues we have in our guts. Other contributing factors include a lack of exercise, not drinking enough fluids and a low-fiber diet. Medications, such as diuretics and medical conditions such as diabetes, contribute to constipation. This can also be relieved through massage, other forms of bodywork and acupuncture. Changing our diet, regardless of how old we get, will help us not only feel better quickly, but allow our body to work toward healing better as well as faster. Massage; relax the muscles, move the fluids, reduce inflammation, improve range of motion. These are the best steps toward a younger you.
To promote bone, joint and muscle health, massage and acupuncture aid in keeping inflammation out of the joints, which slows down any erosion of the joint capsules and cartilage. Also, get adequate amounts of calcium; Vitamin D; weight-bearing exercises such as walking, tennis and stair climbing; and avoid substance abuse.
The brain undergoes changes as we age that may have minor effects on our memory or thinking skills. For example, healthy older adults might forget familiar names or words, or they may find it more difficult to multitask. We can promote cognitive health by taking the following steps: add physical activity, eat a healthy diet, play word games to keep mentally active, don’t ignore cardiovascular issues and avoid substance abuse. Some supplements assist in mending the memory centers, allowing for faster recall and clearer memory function. This is also improved with regular bodywork, massage, acupuncture and fascial work, all of which assist in keeping inflammation markers limited, which allows for an ongoing steady flow of lymph and blood to and from the brain.
With age, sexual needs and performance might change. Illness or medication might affect our ability to enjoy sex. For women, vaginal dryness can make having sex uncomfortable. For men, impotence might become a concern. It might take longer to get an erection, and erections might not be as firm as they used to be. To promote sexual health, be honest with partners and physicians. Hormones and diet change may help, as well as decreasing alcohol intake and getting massages. Keep the body relaxed and destressed and keep the circulation going.
Zachary Saber, LMT practices at WellnessFirst!, in Tucson. He specializes in myofascial release, structural integration and neuromuscular re-education, with nearly 20 years of hands-on experience. Connect at 520-232-4585, [email protected] or 3861WellnessFirst.com. See ad, page 3.