“Aging is life’s defense mechanism
The Dr. Vincent Mera is Head of Internal Medicine and Anti-Aging at the SHA Wellness Clinic. With a degree in medicine from the University of Seville, Dr. Mera specialized in Internal Medicine as a member of the Puerta de Hierro Clinic in Madrid. Almost 25 years of experience as an internist guarantee this professional anti-aging medicine specialist who works with state-of-the-art techniques and therapies in the fields of nutrition, detoxifying products, physical preparation, relaxation procedures, fibromyalgia, sleep problems, and anti-smoking programs.
Mera is a member of the American Academy of Regenerative Medicine and Antiaging (A4M) and also from the American Board of Antiaging/Regenerative Medicine (ABAARM). He has traveled the five continents, where he has participated in multiple training programs, but he points out that his stay in Okinawa, the Japanese island where the longest-lived people on the planet live, is the one that has had the greatest impact on his clinical knowledge about aging human.
Dr. Mera, who in 2021 received the European Awards in Medicine that accredits him as the best European doctor in the field of Antiaging Medicinehas published numerous articles in prestigious medical publications such as “The Lancet”, “Revista Clínica Española”, “The Journal of Infectious Diseases” and “Travel Medicine” and has also just published his latest book “Young at Any Age” (Ed. HarperCollins Ibérica) about which he talks to us in this interview.
QUESTION: Do we age from the day we are born? What is really getting old?
REPLY: The cycle of life is to be born, grow, multiply and die. Aging is a biological process whose purpose is to separate the beginning and the end of life. Consequently, we are always getting old, even to death. Aging supposes, therefore, a defense mechanism of life, the longer this period is, the more years we will live. The goal is not to eliminate aging, but to make it more bearable. Although aging and disease are commonly associated, it should be remembered that it is perfectly possible to grow old without getting sick and also to get sick without having aged.
Q.: Can we say that antiaging is opening a new path within preventive medicine?
A.: We can prevent accelerated aging with two tools: stepping on the brake or taking our foot off the accelerator. The best results of preventive medicine are obtained with a more anticipatory than participative attitude. This is the current trend.
Q.: Can many things be prevented?
A.: By definition, in preventive medicine, except death, everything can be prevented. This is because the risk of getting sick is always the product of two component causes, genetics and the environment. Being a product, the closer one of the two variables is to zero, regardless of the magnitude of the opposite, the probability that the disease will occur will also tend to zero. To get sick, altered genetics is usually not enough, you need a pathological lifestyle. The same in reverse. For example, if you smoke; but your genetics are good, you may never develop emphysema or cancer. In short, genetic diseases that do not depend on lifestyle are exceptional and, in addition, fortunately, we are also gaining ground on these diseases with gene therapies.
Q.: What should be the ideal attitude towards aging?
A.: The best results are obtained with an individualized approach carried out genomic studies that inform us of the presence and magnitude of the risks associated with aging. From this point we must carry out a planning of the solutions with a comprehensive and integrative perspective. Once the diagnosis and the action plan have been made. The execution of the treatment must be more participatory than imperative. That is, provide personalized therapeutic routines that the patient can follow with a certain discipline.
Q.: Do you think that, in general, people are prepared to age healthily?
A.: In my experience, the problem for most of my patients is information. When you explain to them clearly enough the benefits and risks of the lifestyle based on their own genetic makeup, virtually everyone who can follow the recommendations will happily follow it.
Q.: Don’t you think that many people take care of their external appearance, camouflaging their years, so that it seems that they don’t age but they neglect the internal?
A.: Indeed this is a frequent error. True youth is kept from the inside out and not the other way around. The reason for this mistake, apart from the lack of information, is that taking care of the external appearance is easier and requires less effort; but obviously the results are not just contrived.
Q.: Does the chronological age usually coincide with the biological age? It would be desirable?
A.: In most people the two ages coincide. However, at the extremes of the population we have individuals with incredible biological ages for their years (up to a 20% difference due to excess or deficiency). That is to say, the normal thing is that the chronological and biological ages coincide; but what is desirable is that, as the years go by and the risks of getting sick become apparent and the quality of life deteriorates, a younger biological age allows us to enjoy life without the limitations that a greater chronological age would impose. In short, this is the objective of anti-aging medicine, to give more life to the years and more years to life.
Q.: To what extent does genetics influence aging?
A.: There are many studies, but in general it is estimated that the impact of genetics can be one third. In other words, lifestyle could be up to twice as important as genetics itself. Modern epigenetic research is confirming these hypotheses, revealing how certain genes can be turned on or off depending on lifestyle.
Q.: Let’s go to practical examples of how to age well, what should our diet be?
A.: Our food must be scarce in quantity and of great quality. There are many diets that you have to know how to adapt to our lifestyle. The best results are obtained with the Mediterranean diet and vegetarian diets. Intermittent fasting is a technique that is also providing good results. However, caloric restriction with an adequate intake of micronutrients is possibly the system with which the best long-term results have been obtained in animals of all types.
Q.: Tell us about the importance of physical exercise, what type of exercise is the most appropriate?
A.: Exercise is one of the seven pillars of aging, just as important as diet. Diet without exercise doesn’t work, just as exercise doesn’t work without proper diet. There are two types of exercise, cardiovascular, which does not protect against homonymous diseases, and strength, which tones us, gives firmness to the body and especially protects us against falls that can be serious as age advances. Recent studies show that the impact of exercise is especially evident in the groups that practice less exercise. If we divide the population into five groups ranging from those with very little functional capacity to the group of athletes, putting another group “not so bad” and “not so good” on each side of the mean. Well, the difference in mortality between the bad group and the not so bad group can be up to 20%, while the difference between the other groups is much smaller. In short, it is not about exercising like an athlete, it is enough to do a little more exercise than those who lead a completely sedentary life. In these patients, the benefits are enormous. More even than lowering cholesterol and blood pressure together. Once again it is shown that the anticipatory attitude is simpler, cheaper and more effective than classical medical treatments. The strength of the grip with the hands or the number of squats in a row that we can do correlate quite well with mortality. Consequently, the practice of small isometric exercises with weights, perfectly adapted to the characteristics of each patient, can be of great help to improve the biological age.
Q.: You also attach great importance to the good management of emotions…
A.: Yes it is another of the pillars of aging. Sometimes an expert is needed to help us. Breathing, meditation, muscle stretching are part of many of the oriental techniques for managing emotions. Other Western psychotherapeutic or conductive-behavioral techniques can also work very well.
Q.: Is stress one of the great enemies of healthy aging?
A.: Stress isn’t always bad as it partly drives us forward. The fundamental problem is the consequences of stress. That is why it is not necessary to always avoid stressful situations, what is really important is to counteract the consequences of stress, such as nervousness, hyperactivity, tachycardia, muscle contractures, cognitive deterioration and emotional blockage with primary responses that can seriously impair our health, interpersonal relationships and our happiness.
Q.: What can you tell us about the importance of sleep, of a good rest?
A.: It is one of the pillars of aging. Not only sleep hours matter, but also the quality of restful sleep. The effect of sleep on the body is similar to the effect of restarting the computer. If the process works well, we can fully perform the next morning. Being overweight, causing obstructive apnea, and stress and toxins causing central apnea, are the three great enemies of sleep. Of course tobacco, alcohol and any other drug, banished… The elimination of toxins is common sense. However, some of them are addictive and satisfying. Today we know that to a large extent there is a genetic predisposition to addictions and the need for immediate reward. Curiously, not all toxins cause the same damage to all people. The ability to counteract and metabolize the effects of toxic substances is genetically controlled, an issue of therapeutic interest.
Q.: I imagine that the psychic aspect is also important. If you maintain a young spirit, will you stay young for longer?
A.: Of course. It is necessary to adopt a positive attitude towards aging and feel it more than a failure as a success. With this simple attitude, most people enjoy life more and want to live longer. We must feel young at any age.
Q.: Does a sense of humor also influence healthy aging?
A.: For managing emotions and improving interpersonal relationships, a sense of humor is a particularly useful tool. We have to start by laughing at ourselves. Few things relax more than a sense of humor, whose beneficial consequences are also contagious. With a sense of humor, we not only make our existence better and longer, but also that of those around us.
Q.: Lastly, what did it mean to you to receive the European Awards in Medicine?
A.: The awards are both a recognition that we are on the right path and an encouragement to continue walking on it. The feeling that invades me after receiving the prize in Paris is twofold. On the one hand, I am deeply grateful to the jury and, on the other, immense inner energy to be able to continue helping my patients to feel young at any age.