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Staying young forever

Can youth be found in a bottle? Ageing babyboomers hope so. But the elixir to keeping young may just be in eating and exercising right

By Arti Mulchand

TIME Is On My Side was a Rolling Stones anthem for the generation of babyboomers for whom they have been the spokesmen.

But 30 years down the road, time is certainly no longer on their side.

Yet, many still want to stay 'Forever Young', to use another babyboomer anthem, this one written by Bob Dylan.

Babyboomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are so named because they made up the post-World War II baby boom.

They form a huge demographic group in most countries, leading to them being dubbed the 'pig in the python' by an American sociologist.

Now, they are entering their 40s, 50s and 60s, and their health issues are coming to the fore. In Singapore, there are 1,063,400 residents aged between 40 and 64. They make up almost a third of the resident population.

They were the first generation to reap the rewards of Singapore's rise to affluence.

But while diseases associated with poverty and the lack of proper sanitary conditions may have been wiped out, affluence has brought with it a new set of lifestyle-related ailments.

These can be triggered or compounded by bad nutrition, over-eating, obesity, lack of exercise, smoking and drinking.

Boomers who have indulged themselves are beginning to see and feel the consequences of their lifestyles, say doctors.

The 40s, especially, are considered the decade of vulnerability. Yet they are not about to submit to the old stereotypes of ageing.

Teacher K.Lim, 48, says that people of her parents' generation did not seem to mind growing old.

But, she says: 'Before, they would just get old and wrinkled. Things have changed. I'm not going to sit back and let my skin sag.'

And that, to a large extent, is why so much attention is being paid to the development of anti-ageing medicine, that is, medicine which can hopefully slow down, prevent or even reverse ageing.

In June, the first-ever Asia-Pacific conference and exhibition on anti-ageing medicine will be held here. It brings together 40 of the world's leading scientists and doctors in this field. The event's tagline is 'Prevent the avoidable, delay the inevitable'.

At the same time, alternative health outlets like GNC (General Nutrition Centers) have entered the Singapore market to tap what appears to be a lucrative market for supplements.

Just last month, for example, the American-based Life Extension Foundation opened its flagship franchise outside the United States, in Singapore. It set up shop in Centrepoint with its Singapore partner, Life Glow Asia, offering a range of anti-ageing products.

The Life Extension Foundation, which has research and retail facilities in Florida, boasts a worldwide online buyers' club, with some 100,000 members buying into its promise of life extension.

It has a mind-boggling range of more than 500 products, from powders to capsules.

As Dr Larry Wood, 54, director of the Life Extension Medical Center in Florida, sees it, boomers have become more receptive to anti-ageing regimes and medicine as they begin to feel the aches and pains that come with the wear and tear of age.

'Pain,' he says, 'is their reset button'.

COSMETIC CURES

FOR cosmetic solutions, some boomers turn to plastic surgery or minimally invasive options like Botox and filler injections, which plump up wrinkles.

Those queasy about needles or who are looking for quick-fix solutions turn to anti-wrinkle creams.

Most cosmetic companies carry an anti-ageing range, and the boomers represent a vital market for them.

L'Oreal Plenitude's brand manager Winnie Tay says close to 80 per cent of its Revitalift line is sold to people over 40. Last year, 150,000 units of Revitalift products were sold.

Five other brands, including Clarins, Prescriptives, Origins and Estee Lauder, also named babyboomers as great marketing opportunities.

Ms Lena Ong, manager of Clarins Institute, adds: 'Those in their 40s and older are always looking for anti-ageing and firming creams. They don't take a lot of convincing.'

But while lotions and creams may iron out the creases on the outside, boomers may have bigger problems inside.

Some scientists say the human body is physically capable of living up to 120 years.

Doctors say that genetics, the environment, lifestyle and stress on the body could affect how old a person lives up to.

They also agree that the ingredients to a long life are actually simple: A healthy, balanced lifestyle plus proper nutrition.

While that sounds easy enough in theory, in practice, many people turn to supplements and multivitamins to plug what they see as 'gaps' in their diets.

Ms Yong Pei Chean, 27, a patient care pharmacist at Guardian Pharmacy, observes that many people fear they will lose their mental and physical abilities as they age, and so seek a 'cure' to restore these functions.

Mrs Saju Vaswani, 52, a housewife, takes multivitamins, folic acid and vitamins C and E supplements.

'Sometimes we just grab what is convenient, so we don't get all the nutrients we need. How many people can honestly say they actually have three good meals?' she asks.

IT executive Daniel Wong, 52, who spends about $100 a month on supplements like gingko biloba and multivitamins, adds: 'I believe people who are older and have an active lifestyle should be taking supplements. I don't believe I can really get all the nutrition I need from food.'

NO NEED TO POP PILLS

BUT dieticians insist that most people do not really need to pop pills to get the nutrition they need.

A patient should take supplements only when he lacks particular nutrients, or does not eat well, says chief dietitian Gladys Wong of the Alexandra Hospital. 'Anyone who is healthy and eats a balanced diet doesn't need supplements. What they need more of are antioxidants.'

Indeed, antioxidants have been the biggest nutritional buzzword over the last five years, in part because they are said to prevent cancer.

One of the main reasons the body ages is the production of free radicals, or oxidants, during cell activity.

These oxidants can damage healthy cells, leading to ageing, cancer and degenerative diseases.

CURE IN ONE GULP

THE good news is that antioxidants are not as elusive as some might think. In fact, they are plentiful in a healthy diet and found in food containing vitamins A, C and E.

Still, numerous products promising antioxidants in one gulp have found their ways to pharmacy shelves, alongside other 'nutraceuticals'.

Nutraceuticals are designer-supplements that allegedly combine nutritional value with disease-preventative and medicinal benefits.

But dietitians and nutritionists say that the fountain of (antioxidant) youth may be only as far as your fridge.

Fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower have a high level of antioxidants.

They also have a range of other effects that pills would not be able to replicate.

For example, they are related to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Singapore's dietary guidelines recommend at least two servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This is small compared to that in the United States, where six to seven servings each day are recommended.

Still, some Singaporeans do not even meet the minimum requirement, says a 1998 health survey cited by the Health Promotion Board.

A board spokesman says: 'If your diet is poor, the remedy is to improve food choices and eating patterns. Failing this, supplements rank a distant second choice.

'Food can provide the ideal mixture of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, and greater assurance of its safety with long-term consumption - qualities that can hardly be duplicated with health supplements.'

Proper nutrition - as well as regular exercise - may sound far less exciting than a 'magic' life-lengthening potion or pill. But it is a simple change to make for an effortless - and proven - extension on your lease of life.

Send your comments or queries on this topic to arti@sph.com.sg and Life! will get the experts to reply next week

 

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