The human body is a complicated, intertwined network of systems that miraculously allows us to walk, breathe, talk and understand others, normally without any thought as to how we do it. However, as we age, we notice that what once worked well does not necessarily do so any more.
Our bodies begin to react in ways that surprise and dismay us, and we start having to pay more attention to diet and exercise – and not ignore the little twinges that manifest themselves at inappropriate times.
So how do we aspire to healthy aging? In an episode titled “Aging well, Suzuki-Style,” David Suzuki, host of the long-running CBC-TV show, The Nature of Things, sets out to ask questions from a scientific perspective, and joins researchers at the University of Waterloo and elsewhere for some analysis and explanation.
The 83-year-old undergoes DXA testing in Kinesiology Professor Marina Mourtzakis’ lab. A DXA is a type of x-ray machine that deciphers between lean tissue, fat and bone tissue. It is quick and non-invasive, and is often used for detecting osteoporosis, a prevalent issue for people as they age.
Suzuki finds that even though he is very lean and in great shape, there is an area around his abdomen that is a little higher in fat mass, which can put one at risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Does that mean he is chubby? “I prefer to say ‘cuddly,’” Suzuki jokes. Mourtzakis notes that “fat can be good when it’s the right type in the right places.”
Suzuki also joins Kinesiology Professor and Chair Bill McIlroy in his lab at the Centre for Community, Clinical and Applied Research Excellence (CCCARE) for a stress test to assess his balance control, another key area of concern for aging populations. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, falling is the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations among older adults in Canada.
Often, falls lead to limits in mobility, which in turn affect quality of life in all other areas. “Supporting preventative measures is the best way to reduce long-term health costs,” McIlroy says.
In the lab, sensors on a moving platform and on the person measure how much balance control an individual can maintain under different conditions. “We rely on a healthy nervous system, good sensory information, like vision, and the ability to generate the proper movements to maintain balance and prevent falls. Aging affects all of these things,” McIlroy says. “Even affecting one component, like vision, will influence balance and fall risk. That is why balance control is such an important thing to measure.”
See the whole show on “Aging Well, Suzuki-style."