Health, Sports & Psychology

Can we hold back time?

Updated Saturday 17th June 2000

Although a novice to television Edward Enfield has done rather well in his new semi-retired career. Once a Local Government Officer, he still needs all the stamina and mental alertness he can get. So Ever Wondered sent him to find out what happens when we age and if you can really hold back the years

Edward Enfield Copyrighted image Icon Copyrighted image Copyright: BBC

Although a novice to television Edward Enfield has done rather well in his new semi-retired career. Once a Local Government Officer, he still needs all the stamina and mental alertness he can get. So Ever Wondered sent him to find out what happens when we age and if you can really hold back the years...

First port of call - Edward’s local gym. What are the benefits of exercising? Edward meets up with fitness instructor Claire Dawson at an Elderly Fitness Class to find out...

Edward and Claire Dawson Copyrighted image Icon Copyrighted image Copyright: Used with permission Claire Dawson holds a Diploma in Fitness and Exercise from the YMCA and is an accomplished personal trainer.

Claire Dawson: The saying "If you don’t work it - you lose it" is very true with exercise. Playing sports regularly works the heart and lungs, it improves circulation and keeps you mobile. This helps you to be independent which is very important as you get older.

So exercise can keep you physically fit, but what’s actually happening to our bodies when we age. Why do we feel the same but not look the same?

In order to find out - next stop a little light refreshment with Biological Gerontologist Professor Tom Kirkwood...

Professor Tom Kirkwood Copyrighted image Icon Copyrighted image Copyright: Used with permission Professor Tom Kirkwood is an expert on Biological Gerontology at Manchester University. He is currently researching the molecular and cellular basis of the ageing process

Edward: What is ageing?

Professor Kirkwood: Ageing is surprisingly hard to pin down. Proteins are being damaged, DNA and membranes are being damaged. Each individual event that causes the damage is tiny, of no great significance in itself, but it’s the build up that matters.

Edward: What can I do to turn back the clock?

Professor Kirkwood: It’s harder to claw back lost youth than it is to slow the ravages of ageing. One of the faults associated with ageing is damage done by oxygen, so if we take foods rich in anti-oxidants these can help to combat some of the damage that has contributed to ageing.

Edward: Can I claw back any of my lost youth though?

Professor Kirkwood: You can certainly slow the clock, turning it back is more complicated - it depends on where you started. Exercise can be very important as it keeps the heart and lungs in good shape. Some evidence shows that the benefits of exercising can actually slow down the process that causes ageing to occur in cells.

Edward: What about my mind?

Professor Kirkwood: Some evidence also shows that exercising the mind can slow the advances of ageing, such as working on a crossword puzzle. This reinforces the connection between the nerve cells and through these connections we can keep our sense of identity and memory preserved. In fact exercising your mind like this does the same thing as a glass of carrot juice does for the body.

Edward: So the answer to old age is the three Cs - Constant exercise, Carrot Juice and Crosswords!

If, examining the contested nature of health and the key aspects of health work in different cultural, historical and policy frameworks appeals to you, then have a look at course K203 Working for Health.

Edward Enfield Copyrighted image Icon Copyrighted image Copyright: Production team

So it seems many of the signs of ageing are internal - we can’t see them. What are the outward signs of ageing? Edward agrees to a physical test with Exercise Physiologist Dr Dawn Skelton...

Dr Dawn Skelton Copyrighted image Icon Copyrighted image Copyright: Used with permission Dr Dawn Skelton is a Research Fellow in Cellular and Integrative Biology at the Imperial College School of Medicine at St. Mary’s. She has been working with older people and exercise since 1990

Dr Skelton: Often older people lose their sense of balance. Generally people rely on their vision and senses in the neck, spine and the ankles for their balance, while older people tend to rely only on their vision. But your eyesight gets worse when you get older, so it’s important to re-train your balance.

The strength of leg muscles is important for balance as well.

If you’d like to find out more about the importance of seeing older people as individuals, whose unique experiences are of intrinsic value.

Looking after your looks can also help old age. A haircut can take off ten years, but what’s actually happening inside the mind? Edward meets neuropsychologist Dr Felicia Huppert at the Addenbrooke’s Clinic to find out...

Felicia Huppert Copyrighted image Icon Copyrighted image Copyright: Used with permission Felicia Huppert is a Lecturer in the Psychology of Ageing in the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge University. She has a long standing research interest in health and well-being in the elderly


Edward: What’s going on inside my head that causes ageing?
Dr Huppert: Changes occur in you brain when you age, the part of brain called the hippocampus which is particularly involved in learning undergoes dramatic changes, which can be caused by high levels of stress.

Edward: So am I losing my mind?

Dr Huppert: Memory loss is a common problem which can start to occur in people aged 30 -40. It’s funny that people will accept slowing down physically in old age, but not slowing down mentally. The good news is that recently we have found that the brain and the hippocampus can be re-generated in older people - just by keeping the mind alert, and having mental stimulation which challenges the mind.

Felicia holding up photograph to Edward Copyrighted image Icon Copyrighted image Copyright: Used with permission Edward agrees to a mental test, and scores very highly, in fact better then the average 18-24 year old... he never ceases to surprise even himself!

If you would like to find out more about health and old age, here are a few suggestions to help you:

Books you can read:

'Natural Treatment to Improve Your Memory', Steven Dentali, Prima Pub, ISBN 0761524657

'Age-proof Your Body: Your Complete Guide to Lifelong Vitality', Elizabeth Somer,Quil, ISBN 0688169775

'How to Prevent Falls: A Complete Guide to Better Balance', Betty Perkins Carpenter, St.Martins Press, ISBN 0312098251

'It's Never Too Late to Look and Feel Young Through Exercise', Oliver Heuts, Pilot Books, ISBN 0875762077

'Exercise for Healthy Ageing', Dawn Skelton, Available from the Research into Ageing Charity. Call 0207 4046878 for details

Links You Can Surf
If you want more information on Age Concern

Tips on the ageing game and how to live to 100!

Also on the Ever Wondered site: You can join Penny Smith as she asks are we really living life 24-7? Or discover the secrets of dendrochronology as Cathy Groves asks how does nature tell the time?

If you think you might be interested in studying more about these subjects, find out what the Open University

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