José Viña put his 96-year-old mother a few months ago to climb six floors up the stairs every day, and he says that his health has improved. "When he goes to train, he tells me that he does not feel like it, for the third one to breathe, and his pulse goes up, but he goes up. At first it cost more, but now it does not keep going up because only the roof has it. Then, yes, it goes down in an elevator, the falls going down are very dangerous ".
Viña, who just turned 65, is a professor of Physiology at the University of Valencia and, for 30 years, directs a multidisciplinary group dedicated to investigating how to improve life in old age, which fortunately, he says, is getting longer. He applies the story. In addition to not smoking, your diet It is rich in vegetables and fish, and drinks wine in moderation. He plays tennis every week, runs 15 minutes almost daily, on Tuesdays he does pilates and spends at least a quarter of an hour every morning in meditation. The interview takes place in the Palacio de Congresos de Valencia, at the end of a marathon day of talks at the Longevity World Forum, where he has just spoken.
Question. In this congress we have heard old age defined as a disease. What do you think?
Answer. I do not agree. It can not be a disease something that happens to everyone, for this we would have to change the concept of disease. What we can accept is that unsatisfactory aging requires treatment.
P. The gerontologist Aubrey de Gray said that in no time we can live a thousand years. What do you think?
R. According to the current scientific paradigm, that is not true. It is true that in just a decade, between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, quantum theory and the theory of relativity revolutionized physics. In science nobody can be sure of what is going to happen. Now, with the current paradigm, the maximum life of our species is around 115 years.
P. You argue that improving the quality of life in old age is not only desirable, but crucial for societies.
R. The population in Spain, Europe and the rich world in general is aging a lot. The pyramid of the population has been reversed in a few decades. By 2035, the number of people over 65 will surpass those under 18 in the United States. And in Europe, projections indicate that by 2020 one third of people over 65 will be dependent, and the percentage will increase to 50% by 2040. The consequences will be enormous. A vigorous 65-year-old person spends around 900 euros a year in health care, but a dependent person needs 14 times more. If we can not change the trend, what happens by increasing the exercise and improving the nutrition of the elderly, we go to disaster, to economic infeasibility.
P. You propose to intervene in the previous step to dependence, which is called the fragility phase. What does it consist of?
R. Fragility is a geriatric characteristic in which a person has difficulty doing a series of things, such as getting up from a chair, taking a bottle of water or walking, but still can do them. If you can not, it is already a dependent person. Exercise is one of the most useful mechanisms to avoid this transition by reversing frailty, as we have concluded through a clinical trial.
P. Which have been the results?
R. With sessions of one hour five days a week, our program, in which a hundred people over 65 participated, showed a reduction of almost 50% in the parameters of frailty, while visits to the primary care physician They fell in half. This has an impact on health spending, and what I like most as a doctor means that the person is better.
P. How should the exercise be?
R. It must be multicomponent. That is, the walk is not enough. It must be aerobic, like walking fast or, if possible, even running. There are people of 70 and 80 who run. Although this must be done with caution. I recommend first a medical review and follow a program designed by a specialist. It should also include strength exercises, such as weights and rubbers. And it must be social; when the exercise is done only the abandonment is more likely.
P. In his day he believed that, in excess, exercise could be harmful, but he has changed his mind. Why?
R. For years I seriously thought it was like that. With my group we studied the longevity of the riders of the Tour de France hoping to find that they would live less, but it turned out that they live 11% more. The study was done among the riders of the Tour between 1930 and 1960. So if you are trained and supervised previously by a doctor, there is no problem. The more, the better.
P. It also ensures that exercise improves cognitive decline and prevents Alzheimer's.
R. Yes. Exercise is one of the most effective interventions currently available to prevent Alzheimer's disease.
P. The second factor that underlines to age better is nutrition. Do you mean a list of foods, a type of diet or what?
R. The Mediterranean diet is beyond doubt that it is good. But in addition older people frequently have nutritional deficiencies. For example, in Europe 45% have protein deficiency. Many from 70 or 80 have no appetite, are alone, do not cook, chew badly. And they need more protein per kilo of weight than a 40-year-old person. It is necessary to eat fruit and vegetables, but also proteins. The elderly need a very well-made diet or, if not, take supplements, and it's not that I have shares in any company that makes them.
P. Should we be thin?
R. Children under 70 or 75 years old, yes. From that age, it is not so important. Spontaneous weight loss is a sign of frailty in geriatric people.
P. One of their investigations concludes that the centenarians have special genetic characteristics. They were? Does longevity depend on exercise and nutrition or are letters given to us?
R. Maximum longevity is limited by genetics. The average longevity and the quality of life in old age, for the lifestyle. The letters are given to us, but then it depends on how we use them.
Repair the body eternally
The conference of the gerontologist Aubrey de Gray, who said that we can live a thousand years, divided the audience of the Longevity World Forum held on November 7 and 8 in Valencia. The promises of the director of the Sens Foundation, based in California, enthused a large part of the unskilled public and some young researchers, one of whom asked for a job during question time. His words were received, however, with coldness by most of the senior scientists, several of which did not stay to listen to him.
De Gray explained his view that the human metabolism is too complex to understand, but that the body can be repaired like a car or an airplane, regularly correcting the damage it accumulates over time. The Londoner mentioned seven types of "maintenance" actions, but he only stopped to explain the use of stem cells to alleviate cell loss. If he has to bet, De Gray says that his therapies will be applicable in 15 or 20 years. "Although it is possible that we find problems that we can not solve in that period," he admits, "and it costs us 100."