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Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad participating in a cycling event in Hulu Langat in July 1992.

I HAVE been asked repeatedly regarding my ability to function at this late age. I feel obliged to explain about my experience even if it is not based on scientific study.

Frankly I don’t know how I am what I am. All I can say is that, I have been fortunate in not suffering from the diseases that shorten one’s life.

I did have a heart attack but I survived. Heart attacks are not as fatal as they used to be. Whatever we may do to stay healthy, if we are assailed by these fatal or debilitating diseases, a long healthy life cannot be expected. Certainly, we cannot be active and function like healthy people. It is one thing to live long, but it is another thing to live long and well.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad riding a horse at Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Equine Centre, in Serdang recently. Horse riding helps with good posture.Courtesy of Chedet official

But if one is not assailed by these debilitating diseases, one can do quite a lot to stay healthy and to function like a normal person.

Certainly, many things are within our control and we should do our best to control ourselves so that we stay healthy and probably live to a ripe old age.

Self-discipline, or the ability to control what we do in life, is life-saving. We must always try to control our desires.

Good eating habit

The first thing that we can do to stay healthy is to have a good eating habit. We should eat to live and not live to eat. The body really does not need a lot of food except when one is young and growing. For them the food is needed to ensure good bodily growth. Still, the amount must not be more than what is needed. Obesity often follows over eating even among children and the young. And obesity is not good for health or longevity.

It is difficult for a young person to know how much he should eat. But the shape of his body will tell whether he is eating too much or not.

Young people, particularly teenagers, tend to stay slim despite the large quantities of food they take. But if the body shows a tendency to accumulate fat around the waist then he should realise that he is eating beyond his body’s needs.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the National Day celebration in Putrajaya this year.NSTP/MUHD ZAABA ZAKERIA

When that happens cut back on the amount you normally eat. Maybe reduce the quantity by one-fourth or one-third. Avoid carbohydrates (rice) and fatty (oily) food. Very quickly the tendency to accumulate fat around the belly will stop.

Children grow fat because of doting parents insisting on them taking a lot of food. Parents should not do that. Teach the children to eat more fruits and vegetable and less rice or carbohydrates. And certainly less sugar. Addiction to fast food is dangerous. Do not take more than two bottled or canned drinks a day.

The problem of obesity usually begins at the age of 40. The tendency at that age is to eat as much tasty food as available. When food is tasty, more of it would be taken.

The stomach responds to the bigger intake by becoming bigger. When the stomach is bigger, more food is needed to assuage the feeling of hunger. Overeating will result in weight gain. As the stomach grows bigger and bigger from overeating, more food would be needed to assuage hunger.

The body absorbs the food and converts it into fat, which is deposited all over the body. Obesity is bad for health.

With such a big body, the heart has to work harder to deliver blood and absorbed food to the overweight body. To cope with the heavier work, the heart enlarges. The blood pressure goes up bringing with it all kinds of symptoms and diseases related to high blood pressure.

Fatty plaques are deposited in the rteries, narrowing them. The blood flow may be blocked.A heart stroke may take place, sometimes with fatal results.

So in order to avoid blood pressure diseases, eat less and don’t grow fat. Besides the heart, the other organs of the body i.e. the liver, kidneys and pancreas will all be overstressed. Any one of these organs may fail and shorten life.

Stay active

Personal hygiene is obviously important. Nowadays people brush their teeth regularly. It is good to wash the mouth and brush the teeth after meals. At least brushing the teeth before sleeping is good. Using dental floss to clean in between teeth will help the teeth to remain healthy.

One characteristic of the human body is that all the parts need to be used all the time in order for them to be healthy and to function well. If they are not used or neglected they will wither and lose their ability to function well.

The best example is the muscles. If they are constantly used as in hard work, they will develop and function well. We see this in bodybuilders. Their muscles develop very well as they do regular muscular exercises.

On the other hand, people who do not do much physical work tend to become flabby and weak. Their muscles do not stand out and their muscular strength would be below normal.

People who are not well and are fond of lying down most of the time would find themselves quite weak when standing up. They cannot walk far and they cannot run much. It is because their muscle strength has diminished from disuse.

We see this among pensioners. They are often inactive, preferring to sit or lie down. Very quickly they become weak. Those who like to stay in bed would become very weak. Their health also deteriorates. They cannot resist common ailments.

Not only will the muscles weaken but the bones also become weak with disuse. They become brittle and would break easily if they fall.

To avoid all these, old people (pensioners) should stay active. They should walk about and do some physical exercise. They will feel sleepy but they must resist the urge to sleep long hours, especially long sleep in the day time. A short nap is all right but prolonged sleep will weaken the body.

What goes for the muscles of the body also goes for the brain. If the brain is not used, it too will lose its functions. Forgetfulness is common among old people. Name and words cannot be remembered. The ability to string words into sentences would deteriorate.

Recognition of things and faces would become harder and harder. Forgetfulness would get worse and worse with ageing. When told something, it would not be retained for long. In fact, after getting the answer, the same question is asked again.These are the signs of senility.

To prevent deterioration of the brain, be active, talk, read and write, solve problems, argue and debate. People who do these things will retain much of the functions of the brain even as they age.

Reading story books is very good. It helps the memory and the ability to frame sentences. You will remember words which you have read again and again more easily.

Read newspapers every day

When talking or making speeches, memory of words and phrases and the alternatives would spring to the mind easily. If one does not read books or one seldom reads, the words do not come spontaneously when talking or making a speech. Special words in specific subjects, for example scientific words, or words used in economics, will be hard to remember when speaking or making speeches.

Reading newspapers every day also helps to keep the mind active and improves the capacity to form words and phrases.

It is normal for an old person to remember incidents in the past than recent incidents. But even this can be improved with reading and talking.

As we age the hairline tends to recede, exposing more and more of our scalp. We tend to become bald. In most cases you cannot do anything to stop it.

But some are caused by dandruff. The hair falls together with dandruff scales. If the dandruff can be got rid of, the hair would not fall as easily.

A good way to be rid of dandruff is to scratch the scalp while bathing in a hot shower every day. Initially, the hair will fall even more together with the scales of the dandruff. Eventually, the dandruff will diminish and disappear.

The scratching should go on as the action causes blood to go to the scalp. This will nourish the roots of the hair and make it healthy and strong. The hair will not fall so easily and hopefully the progress towards baldness will stop or at least slow down.

Stand and sit upright

Another physical change associated with ageing is the hunching of the back. This is due to the softening of the bones of the vertebrae. The body of the backbone collapse at the front to become wedge-shaped causing the torso to bend forward. The result is a hunched back. In extreme cases the torso is so bent at the hip that the body is almost at a right angle to the legs.

This progressive bending can be mitigated or avoided by consciously sitting or standing upright. It also prevents loss of height. Horse riding helps as it is important to sit in the saddle consciously upright to avoid backache.

At all times stand upright like a military officer. Also, when walking it is important to keep a straight back. These deliberate straightening of the spinal column strengthens the bones and prevents them from collapsing.

Another deformity associated with age is lumbar lordosis, when the lumbar vertebrae gets dragged forward because of the pull of a big stomach. This condition is often associated with beer drinking. The abdomen can be so big that the feet cannot be seen or even reached by the person.

The obvious way to avoid lumbar lordosis is not to overeat or drink beer and to stand up straight. How can one know one is standing up straight?

A good way is to stand with the back against a wall. Five parts of the body must touch the wall, namely the heels, calves, buttocks, scapula and occiput (back of the head). If you can do this then you are standing up straight. Try to maintain this position when you are standing up anywhere, anytime.

I hope that this little article can explain why the signs of ageing can be reduced. This is not a scientific study but they are just the impressions I get as I age. At all times I try to stand or sit upright. I have never eaten much even when the food tasted good. I try to get enough sleep. I do take short naps when in the car.

I train myself to be quite disciplined, controlling my feelings, especially in the presence of people. However, I do get emotional about loyalty to country.

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