Aging - is it genetic, sex-differentiated or lifestyle caused?

According to aging expert, Dr Michael Roizen of the University of Chicago and author of the book, "REAL AGE: ARE YOU AS YOUNG AS YOU CAN BE?", when women age, they fare much worse than men, who, according to Dr Roizen, stay younger and stronger at advanced ages - both mentally and physically.

Roizen based his conclusions on his research in which he studied thousands of men and women over 40.

As I read through the details, I can't help feeling though, that many of the aging problems which happen to women are more lifestyle caused than sex caused.  Women traditionally pile nasty chemicals on their faces (in addition to burning off layers of skin and even, having surgery), they are constantly starving themselves and/or eating poorly, they often drop entire food groups from their diets in their desperation to look like an airbrushed picture of a star and finally, they depend upon the TV for their information, much more than do men (who tend to remain active and working longer than women).  TV does about the same thing to your brain as eating a constant diet of babyfood would do to your teeth and jaw muscles! (TV requires less calories to watch than does sleeping, evidencing no thinking is needed to absorb TV information!).

I cannot believe that the explanation lies (as Dr Roizen seems to feel) in the fact that women have low testosterone levels and ever decreasing estrogen levels especially in light of the fact that several studies show that supplementing estrogen can cause breast cancer and doesn't significantly stop the ravages of aging.

Following are descriptions of aging in various areas and what I feel to be the fix. Women USED to live longer than men - why is that not true now?  I sincerely feel it's our unhealthy lifestyle!


Dr Roizen says testosterone can cause hair loss as early as the teen years. Women don't experience this until after menopause.

WHAT I'VE READ: Hair loss can be caused by many things and most scientists think a certain genetic combination is the cause of most baldness in men. In women, hair loss can be caused by abusing hair for stylish hairstyles as well as anorexia or starvation or semi-starvation (for example, those who have had Weight Loss surgery notice a significant hair loss at the third month after surgery).

THE FIX: Men: get used to it - remember, 'some heads God made beautiful - others, He covered with hair'.  It's probably genetic.  Women: avoid coloring your hair - hair dying chemicals tend to damage and thin out the hair. Also get proper nutrition and avoid hair spray and other things which damage the hair and I think you'll have sufficient hair for your entire life.


Men hold on to their muscle mass longer than women.  Muscle mass, says Dr Perricone, a Yale specialist in the prevention of skin aging, is maintained by testosterone and women have low levels.  Women lose their muscles faster than men and this loss is accelerated after menopause.

WHAT I'VE READ: Testosterone is not the only factor in maintaining muscles - it's probably only a small factor.  The major factor in the young which retains muscles is suspected to be growth hormone which diminishes to practically nothing by the age of thirty because muscle depletion in BOTH SEXES is seen after thirty and seems to accelerate as both men and women age.

THE FIX: Men's muscles ARE stronger than ladies' - I've found that out by my own experience and the male levels of testosterone are probably the reason.  My muscles are larger than DH's but his are much stronger despite the fact I follow an aggressive cross training regime.  However, I think both, men and women can stop muscle loss by weight training a couple of times a week. Do whole body training with light weights 2-5 lbs (heavy weights can cause injury especially as we age).  The nursing home studies have clearly shown that it's entirely possible to stop muscle loss and to form new muscle even when both men AND women have obtained the age of 70 or older.


Women have less bone density than men to begin with and also, start losing bone density at an earlier age.  Menopause accelerates the process.

WHAT I'VE READ: Because hormone supplements have been shown to SLIGHTLY SLOW DOWN (2-15 percent) bone density loss in women, our affinity to get osteoporosis or brittle, porous bones has been totally blamed on a lack of estrogen.  However, numerous studies show that lifestyle is the largest factor in bone density loss, NOT estrogen (although thinking it's estrogen sells lots of pills!) and that bone density loss occurs in both male and females and also in young people who are undernourished like athletes. For example one study revealed that male pro basketball players might lose 2-5 percent bone density during a season.  Women do have smaller bones as a rule but don't have to get osteoporosis. Remember, NINETY-FIVE percent of women are thought to be lacking in sufficient daily calcium, a major factor in preserving bone density.  Another thing - what do women think the constant dieting to remain super slender does to the bones? Seems a no brainer!

THE FIX: Ann Richards, former governor of Texas saw her Mom suffer osteoporosis for years before her death. Ann, of slight stature, is high risk and when she got her bone density checked at the age of 60, she found that she had lost a lot of density and was well on her way to osteoporosis.  She began a program of training with light weights and low impact weight bearing exercise. Within six months, she HAD TOTALLY REVERSED the disease process and had actually gained bone density!

The moral of this story?  Drinking 3 glasses of milk a day and light weight training twice a week and some weight bearing exercise like walking, can go a long way to prevent osteoporosis.  Don't be afraid of gaining muscle weight - the heavier you are, (especially if your weight is in muscle and believe me, muscle is VERY HEAVY i.e. FOUR TIMES HEAVIER than fat!) the less your chance of losing bone density as you are stressing your bones.  Also, get proper nutrition, AT LEAST 1800 calories a day and more if you are very active. Forget looking like Pamela Lee - she's umpteen years younger than you!  Without the aid of air brushing and plastic surgery, you don't have a chance to look like her even if you HAD the genetics!


Men tend to get 'spare tires' - women get these too after menopause. Metabolism slows down for both sexes with aging.

WHAT I'VE READ: Yes, it's true. As we age, we require less calories before we start storing them as fat.  But the amount of weight gain is mostly genetic. Some of us can live the American life style and get away with it (i.e. no exercise and eating fast foods) and the rest of us if we live like that, get to be 300 or more lbs.  Blame your genes - those of us who tend to gain easily (about 25 percent of the population) need to take some measures on a daily basis, probably both exercise and restricting fat in the diet.  Understand though, that although the 'other 75 percent' doesn't face extreme obesity when they live the American lifestyle, they certainly don't IN ANY WAY, get away with anything.  Thin people suffer the bad effects of no exercise and too much fat in the diet too, like high blood pressure, heart disease and more.

THE FIX: First of all, don't be unreasonable about deciding whether you are really fat or not.  Just because you don't take a size 4 doesn't mean you are fat.  If you take an 18 or below, you are in the ballpark, size wise, now you just need to get fit and clean up your diet and you won't have to worry about weight gain.  I've kept my weight off for over five years and I AM in the 25 percent who would face extreme obesity if I didn't exercise and watch my fat intake.  Secondly, throw out your scale and use better gauges of weight gain like bodyfat tests (get dunked... it's the best test. Those new bodyfat scales they have, don't give accurate results) or how your clothing fits (and I DON'T MEAN A SIZE 4!) or how easily you can move.  If you are exercising aerobically and yes, walking counts but walk briskly, for 40 minutes or more per day and eating under 20 percent fat (but eat BALANCED... we NEED carbohydrates to live and keep our organs healthy!), then you won't have to worry about weight gain at all.  Thirdly, middle aged women should welcome the fat they are seeing around the middle. According to Debra Waterhouse, author of several books including OUTSMARTING THE MIDLIFE FEMALE FAT CELL, the fat around our middle helps produce estrogen when our ovaries are shutting down. Haven't you ever thought it rather strange that when scientists say that we need estrogen, that women are encouraged to conflict with the natural system by lipo-ing our fat around the middle?


Men get wrinkles more slowly than women. Dr Roizen theorizes this is because of thicker facial skin, more oil glands and slower bone loss.  Women start getting wrinkles at 40.

WHAT I'VE READ: It's entirely true that men are less wrinkled than women and seem to age better in their skin but I don't buy that it's a sex difference.  It's partially genetic of course i.e. if you were always burdened with too much oil when you were a teen, chances are you still have a sufficient amount in your forties and will look younger.  HOWEVER, it's also true that the fair races who have very little facial oil, also show the deviation between men and women as far as wrinkles.  Think about it - women are piling  chemicals on their faces beginning in their teens. Remember when you first started wearing makeup - how your face felt like it wasn't breathing anymore?  When women get older, they put more makeup on and also do things like apply chemicals (or a laser) to burn their faces. And we wonder why they look older than men who generally don't do these things?  Other factors which make you look more wrinkled are being too thin (the body consumes the facial collagen which makes you look older) and smoking cigarettes.

THE FIX: Quit smoking! (this will help various health problems besides forming less wrinkles!).  Eat enough to maintain a reasonable bodyfat level of about 23 percent (the current style is less than 10 percent).  Avoid wearing makeup... do we REALLY need to put on greasepaint every time we appear in public?  When I was in the convent, women looked just fine with no makeup and when the visitors from our families came, the women laden with makeup looked like they just came from the theater stage!  And if we don't wear makeup, we don't need to use chemicals to wash our faces either - water will do fine and the natural oils will be preserved. If you doubt that lifestyle has a lot to do with wrinkling, observe people who live in the wilds - people of ANY racial background, and you will see very little wrinkling at all, compared to what the American women have to contend with!


Men begin to lose brain cells at an earlier age than women, says Dr Roizen, however women after menopause lose brain cells more rapidly than men. Women have a much higher incidence of dementia according to Roizen. By age 85, over 50 percent of women are suffering dementia but only 20 percent of men have dementia at that age.

WHAT I'VE READ: I would not doubt Dr Roizen's statistics because they seem to ring true from what I've experienced but again, I question how much lifestyle has to do with it. NINETY-FIVE percent of women do not get enough calcium in their diets and calcium is a major factor in preserving brain cells, many studies have shown. Additionally, since 85 percent of women admit to dieting at any given time, women may be greatly undermining their brains through starvation. It would make sense that the body, if thrown into the emergency life-preserving system by the lack of food, will cannibalize its nutrients from places which are not directly needed for continued life. The thinking areas of the brain are not at all needed for continued life - the number of healthy Alzheimer patients are a good example of that!  Additionally, women (and men too) sometimes include dangerous chemicals in their diets.  For example, diet pop and other products containing Nutrasweet or aspartame have been observed by several studies to be toxic to the brain and nervous system (as well as the liver and other organs).  Finally, men often remain working longer and jobs traditionally held by males often require more thought than those relegated to females.

THE FIX: Ax the aspartame (avoid Nutrasweet - the sugar won't hurt you near as much). Get sufficient nutrition - at least 1800 calories a day and more if you are active. Drink milk to get sufficient calcium (you need 3 glasses a day) - if you are lactose intolerant, eat the equivalent amount of cheese about 3-5 oz a day.  Exercise your brain daily... learn new things, watch less TV and read more (and I DON'T MEAN romance novels!).


Women get arthritis more often than men. Dr Roizen attributes this to lighter joints.

WHAT I'VE READ: Lighter joints doesn't make sense as the cause of arthritis - since heavier people are more prone to the disorder and ALL people over fifty begin to show some arthritis.  I would go with not enough exercise, and poor nutrition as a greater suspect. (do I sound like a broken record by now?).  Smoking probably doesn't help.

THE FIX: Low impact exercise really helps prevent as well as lessen arthritis. Daily exercise has been shown to cut down pain as much as 75 percent!  If you have bad arthritis, try starting an exercise program with aqua aerobics - it's wonderful!  Additionally, get proper nutrition, at least 1800 calories a day, and more if you are active.


Now we get to the biggie and still the more prevalent killer of Americans. Fifty percent of individuals will DIE from their first heart attack!  Dr Roizen says that women get heart disease more slowly than men due to the 'protective effects of estrogen' but after menopause, they get heart disease at the same rate as men.

WHAT I'VE READ: Here I have to disagree with Dr Roizen. Men traditionally got heart disease earlier than women due to greater amounts of stress (believe it or not, going out to work is MUCH MORE STRESSFUL than staying home with the kids - I know, I've been there, done that!).  Since it was unacceptable for women to smoke until about 30 years ago, smoking is now attributed for more heart disease in man than in women up until the early 1960's when most women were smoking and  started to 'catch up' with men, quickly.  Stress and lack of exercise are large factors in causing heart disease as well as poor nutrition and a too high fat intake. However, over dieting or constant dieting to keep underweight (read that as stylishly thin) can also cause heart disease and is likely to blame for some of the young people we see just 'dropping dead' from heart attacks.

THE FIX: Exercise aerobically at least 40 minutes each day, at least 5 or 6 days a week. This is the best way to prevent or delay heart disease (our son the nurse practitioner points out that we all get it sooner or later but a healthy program will cause us to delay heart disease until much later!). Other ways to prevent heart disease include reducing or dealing better with, stress, reducing the percentage of fat in our diets (avoid fast foods... that will go a long way...), quitting smoking (a BIGGIE!), avoiding alcohol (don't you believe the recent proclamations that drinking is heart healthy - the bad effects of alcohol far outweigh any benefits!) and getting proper nutrition to remain at a healthy level of bodyfat.


This is the second most prevalent killer of Americans. Dr Roizen didn't address this, at least in the article I read but since there are definite things we can do to cut down our chances of getting cancer, it should be addressed.

WHAT I'VE READ: The American Cancer Society has stated that at least 75 to 85 percent of cancer is 'lifestyle caused'.  This is probably a conservative estimate.  Smoking cigarettes is an important factor because each cigarette floods the body with over a million free radicals - nasty aberrated cells which directly attack the immune system. Another major factor may be starvation since it also undermines the immune system.

THE FIX: Quit smoking, don't drink alcohol, don't diet (starvation undermines the immune system which is our greatest defense against cancer), exercise daily aerobically, watch the fat intake in your diet, keep a healthy bodyfat level, don't take estrogen (it has been proven to cause breast cancer), don't have an abortion (greatly increases your chances of breast cancer according to 23 studies) and stay away from chemicals like hair dye (which has been shown to increase chances of cancer in several studies) and aspartame.

IS THIS ARTICLE NECESSARY? As we go through the aspects of aging, it becomes evident that just doing the things most of us know are healthy, can go a long way to keep us healthy and prevent aging.  Scientists feel our bodies could last 120 years with our modern medical techniques and healthy living. Will we see that type of lifespan soon? All we have to do is put the knowledge we already have to good use and I think a longer lifespan (as well as a better quality of life)  is very possible for many of us.  By the way, don't forget the spiritual nourishment - numerous studies show that folks who follow a spiritual path, live longer, are more healthy and have more quality of life!

article by Sue Widemark

references: Merck manual, PDR, various health magazines

Also see: Reference books


Article by Sue Widemark

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