The annual meeting of the Mercia & Wales Region, held in the Trinity Centre, Sutton Coldfield, was well attended by 46 members from Worcestershire, Independent Members from Shropshire, Warwickshire and Wales, and guests from several local Women’s groups. We were delighted to welcome back Immediate Past President Gloria Banner, after her busy years in the leading role, and also VP Carrie de Silva.
After a welcoming cup of coffee and a chance to meet up with old friends and new, Professor Janet Lord, Professor of Immunology at the University of Birmingham answered very positively her question of whether healthy ageing was possible and how that could be achieved. A superb communicator, and passionate about her subject, her opening remarks made us aware of just how much life expectancy has changed over the last century, with statistics that brought this home forcibly. The world’s population has increased dramatically. She then took us back to the days when our forebears were all hunter gatherers, very often facing an erratic supply of food. Our bodies adapted over many thousands of years to this irregular supply, accompanied by the physical activity associated with finding it. They have not adapted over the last two centuries to the increasingly easily available sources of food, along with a much more sedentary life style. We are all eating too much and doing much less exercise. Calorie restriction and exercise can delay ageing changes.
Many myths regarding diet were challenged, some discarded, others encouraged. Generally, diets like the 5::2 Mediterranean type one based on chicken, and fish with at least the 5 a day supply of fruit and vegetables, and red meat limited to once a week resulted in preventing some of the ageing changes. The addition of vitamin Bs, vitamin D and Zinc were important both to bone and muscle health and for enduring cognitive function. Very strict limitation of fats is not necessary, and butter is allowed. Research is ongoing in to the use of Metformin, currently used by some diabetics, as a possible intervention of the ageing process.
The next fact was that ageing was a malleable function that could be halted at any time. It is never too late to intervene. Most important is regular exercise. Supported by so much interesting detail we learnt that 5 short bursts of alternating slow and energetic activity over twenty minutes daily is as useful as, for example, an hour’s run. Standing burns off more energy than sitting. Prof Lord stands all day at her standing desk. It also improves muscular strength in the legs which can decrease with age. For those counting daily steps 7500- 10000 were recommended. No smoking was tip 3, while one daily glass of red wine is allowed.
Janet is Professor of Immunology and she feels that much of the ageing process is a failure of the normal immune process of protection against infection with an increase in inflammation. She took us through the ways in which this can occur, but also pointed out that many of the increasingly commoner diseases associated with the ageing population, like diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s etc., could have the same background causing inflammation. Prof Lord’s department is based in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and near the Geriatric wards. She is a scientist, but works with many medical doctors from differing disciplines, on the basis that dealing with ageing might halt the development of some of these conditions. One interesting point was that statins can help in this respect by affecting this part of the immune system. A most stimulating talk, rounded off with the answering of many questions from the floor, brought the morning to a close.
After a delicious lunch, members attended a business meeting, which covered a summary of the recent Executive Meeting, an update on the current state of the membership and one on the revised website soon to be launched. Finally, a proposed resolution for the AGM on Campus Groups was explained.
A short tour of the adjacent historic Holy Trinity Church followed. It was a most interesting and enjoyable day.
Nesta Farrow, Sutton Coldfield