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Aging Well: Memory and Movement
Dr. Andrew Weil

In 1971, three years after obtaining his degree from Harvard Medical School, Andrew Weil embarked on a four-year journey through North and South America and Africa, collecting information on drug use, medicinal plants, and methods of treating disease in other cultures. His exploration of alternative medicine, mind/body interactions, and medical botany became a lifelong focus. Dr. Weil is currently director of the Program in Integrative Medicine, and a Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine at the College of Medicine of the University of Arizona.

"One of the problems of looking at aging research is that it's very important to distinguish the diseases of aging from the process of aging. Much of what we see that we say is a consequence of aging may actually be the consequence of diseases that people become more susceptible to when they get older. That susceptibility may have more to do with lifestyle than with aging itself, in particular with nutrition, with activity and so forth.

"I think that one secret of successful aging is to adapt to the changes that happen in the body as you grow old. There's loss of elasticity, for example. There's a decline of healing ability. But those changes are not necessarily inconsistent with being in good health. There are many examples of people who grow old and reach what we call the old, old stage of life, and then have a fairly rapid decline and death without suffering, without disability. I think that's a goal that more of us could work toward. And I think there are specific actions that we can take in the way of adjusting lifestyle to increase the chances that we're going to be in that category.

"Of the studies on aging that have been done, one factor that stands out greatly is the importance of exercise. Physical activity seems to be an across-the-board panacea that increases people's chances of arriving at old age in a better rather than a worse condition. That doesn't necessarily mean a strenuous workout every few days. It might mean just increasing general life activity, rather than sitting around and being a couch potato.

"In the mental/emotional/spiritual realm, the one that jumps out is engagement--engagement with the world, engagement with society, engagement with other people. That seems to be highly protective in old age.

"Memory loss like many other functions that we look at may not be a necessary correlate of aging. I think what we do see is that in many old people there is somewhat of a loss of recent memory. Many people today are very frightened about more serious memory loss. Especially the dementia of Alzheimer's disease. But in fact the percentage of older people that have Alzheimer's disease is still a small minority. As you get older and older the percentage increases. But it may be that what we call the ordinary memory loss that's accepted as normal with aging, in fact, is preventable and highly treatable.

"In my view the secret of memory is attention. If you're not paying attention when something goes past, it doesn't get filed. And the secret of attention is motivation. If you don't care whether you retain something or not, then you're not going to pay attention. It won't get filed. So I think there are a lot of things people can do to train their memories. And it may be that what we call the normal memory loss of aging is, in fact, an example of the principle of use it or lose it."

Body & Soul is currently airing Monday-Friday at 7:00pm and 8:30pm on PBS YOU.

Program Description
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.
Timeless Tai Chi
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