No Cookie-Cutter Aging

cookie cutter 1While completing a master’s in gerontology program at USC, I learned about personalized medicine and personalized aging. That’s what Dr. Pinchas Cohen, the dean of the school and executive director of the Andrus Gerontology Center is researching. He explains that no two people experience the exact same aging process. While all people age, the way they age varies widely. This means that there is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all experience when it comes to growing older.    

How you age may not be at all the way your parents aged or the way your friends are aging. And the way you age may not fit the average description. I went back to graduate school in my 50s, and in my 60s, I went back again to earn a third graduate degree. My intention was to study successful aging while experimenting with my ability to learn at that age. Taking classes for the first time after a nearly 25 year lapse, the conventional wisdom is that it should have been a very difficult, if not impossible, task. This is especially true given that I had entered a field completely different from the business administration that I studied in my youth. Following common expectation, I should not have been able to complete two more degrees, but in spite of my advanced years, I not only finished both programs, but finished each with a 4.0 GPA to boot. So I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Some people retire in their 60s, others continue working well into their 70s and beyond. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to aging. And each of us can define how we will move through this stage of life. Cohen, an M.D., writes about a shift from “herd medicine” to “personalized medicine” and describes the superiority of targeted medical treatments. Applying the same approach to everyone does not work as effectively as tailoring care to the individual. While most people benefit from physical exercise, there are some who do not. For some jogging is best while for others walking works better. Certain diets help some people drop pounds and get healthier but they have no effect at all on others. And some people have been known to die young due to the foods they ate or drinking or smoking, when others live a long life eating chocolate, drinking regularly, or smoking a cigar every day. It just depends on the person.

Dr. Cohen’s work looks to genetics as part of the formula for helping individuals be healthier and live longer. In addition, he points to the significant importance of understanding the social and physical environment in which one lives and personal choices made on a daily basis. Bottom line: how well you age has something to do with your genes, but it has even more to do with the decisions you make every day. And those decisions relate to your particular makeup. What works for others may not work for you. The more you tune in to the messages your body sends you and the more mindful you are of the choices you make on a daily basis, the better your chances of creating the lifestyle that best contributes to you being able to staying healthy and live longer.

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