Are we aging or regenerating?
MATTHEW EDLUND M.D.
Illness, or a failure of regeneration?
Living things don’t go around wondering how they’ll get sick and die. They want to know how to live. That should be your concern.
All living things regenerate to survive. So do you and your body — no matter what your age. We renew, rebuild, reinvent ourselves constantly, every moment we’re alive. Know how to regenerate well, and you can know real health — physical, social, mental and physical wellbeing.
The American medical model is wrong. It sees the human body as a machine. Machines rust. Machines decay. Machines are dead.
You’re alive. Your biology reinvents you every second, a vast cascade of information that continually makes you new. You should know that:
• Most of your heart is new in about three days.
• Most of your body is remade in three to four weeks.
• The proteins pumping in your heart that let you read and think are made, used, repaired, destroyed and recycled in 60-90 minutes.
Life is very fast. We use up our body tissues quickly. We also remake ourselves constantly — and we’re never remade the same. You are rewired every morning once you wake. If you walked 20-30 minutes the day before you will have grown new brain cells. They will live in memory areas, and you will use them within days.
You’re a new you. It’s time to get used to the speed of your remaking — and to use that knowledge. Give the body the right information and it will regenerate right, for what you do is what you become.
Aging or development?
Machines look the same and are the same. Stamp out 14,000 Ford Fiestas, and they’ll have the same equipment and actions. Not you. You’re never the same.
Even if you don’t believe you’re always new, you know from your own growth and development that it’s true. A baby is rapidly changing even before it’s born. Our brains take more than 20 years to mature — and continually reorganize themselves until death. We have different muscles, different joints, different hair and skin every day.
We don’t look the same, we’re not built the same, but we think we’re same. Why? One reason: because most of the changes are internal. We see hair grow. We see nails grow. We don’t see our brain grow. We don’t see our sinews reform and regroup. We don’t see the new cells lining our gut every day.
Another reason: our “constant” sense of self. We have a personality. After adolescence, we’re pretty much the “same person,” which is itself another false mental construction. Ask biologists — memory changes every time it’s retrieved. It’s never remade in the same manner.
Ask people a question when they’re teenagers, like Dan Offer did, then ask the same question 30 years later. You’ll get really different answers — really different.
Oliver Sacks knows more about the brain than most. A most powerful memory of childhood was the Blitz of London. He remembered the fires crackling, the buildings burning, flames leaping. Except he wasn’t there. He learned the facts from cousins and friends — until the “facts” became his own. They became his memories, part of his history and character.
Our teeth are pretty permanent. So is the lens of our eyes. Not our brains, nor our viewpoints, nor our memories. Yet our mental selves preserve the illusion of our “unchanging” selves.
Very fortunately for us, we change all the time. We renew and reinvent all the information that makes us and can do so for a very, very long time.
Regeneration and aging
Bodies regenerate to survive. They can do it very well if they know what to do. That’s one reason I wrote “Healthy Without Health Insurance.” So people would have a cheap, simple program to stay well and regenerate well — for the rest of their lives.
But the real promise of regeneration is what it does to transform and improve us. We don’t answer an arithmetic problem at 60 the way we did at 25 — we just think we do.
Instead, our bodies and brains have experienced, changed and learned. They’ve acquired useful information from the vast sea that flows through us every day. That useful information is what we call knowledge. And with age can come something better — really useful knowledge, what we once called wisdom.
Wisdom recognizes that every moment counts. Wisdom recognizes that we regenerate and renew and can find new meaning every moment we live. Wisdom recognizes that simple actions — for what you do is what you become — can allow people to live well into their 90s, and live well.
Wisdom helps us recognize the richness of experience. It lets us become understanding, tolerant, amused and content.
The real trick is to not get sick. The real wealth of most people is not their “net worth” but their health — their full sense of wellbeing.
That’s more than the pursuit of happiness — it’s the result of regenerating your body right. And doing that can also help regenerate the world in which you live.