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The fourth AGE-WELL 2018 Conference held in Vancouver (October 16-18) brought together more than 400 attendees to discuss “Innovation in Action,” which focused on how technology is reinventing and supporting healthy aging.

It was an opportunity for academic researchers, industry innovators, caregivers, government representatives and older adults to network, exchange knowledge and collaborate among AGE-WELL stakeholders. And good news for Canada’s older adults: They are finding solutions to make aging easier, while inventing tools to increase their independence and choices.

Dr. Brendan Byrne, Telus Health

Keynote speaker Dr. Brendan Byrne, chief innovation officer, TELUS Health, is both a doctor and an entrepreneur. Over the past 25 years, he has explored how digital health can transform information into better health outcomes. He recently launched Wellness Garage, a precision lifestyle medical practice that assesses a client’s current risk and then helps them develop lifestyle strategies to optimize their health and prevent disease.

Dr. Byrne immediately got the audience thinking about what aging actually is. “We age right away at a cellular level, or biological aging. The next stage is phenotypic resilience [the ability to adapt successfully to acute stress or adversity] and the last stage is deterioration,” he said.

His approach is to empower individuals to take control of their health in order to live longer and preserve function. During his session, he outlined two key factors to reach this goal.

First strategy: Delay disease
The National Council on Aging in 2015 reported that 80 percent of adults aged 65 and older have at least one chronic disease and 68 percent have two or more. Hypertension was the leading chronic condition. Dr. Byrne added that heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and diabetes (almost one-third of Canadians live with it) are the disease risks to focus on.

“Health is determined by medical care (11 percent), social circumstances (24 percent), environment (7 percent), genetics (22 percent) and individual behaviour (36 percent). We can change the latter,” he quipped. Changing behaviour isn’t rocket science. We can change our eating habits, how much we exercise (Dr. Byrne recommends 150 minutes per week combining aerobic, strength and functional exercise), and it’s important to get a good night’s sleep – more than seven hours. Stress tolerance is crucial, as are relationships and purpose. “Good behaviour equals good health,” he said.

Other key lifestyle modifications include, reducing media consumption and the fructose we eat: We need just one teaspoon daily to operate our bodies, but gross over-consumption is driving health damage.

“Eighty percent of premature cardiovascular disease is preventable; one-third of cancer is highly preventable; one-third of Alzheimer’s is preventable and 70 percent of type 2 diabetes is reversible.” But how can these diseases be prevented?

Dr. Byrne helped develop Wellness Garage to help healthcare professionals assess a client’s current risk and assist with the development of lifestyle strategies.

Second strategy: Address the biological mechanisms of aging

“Behaviour is still the best medicine we have, and it’s vital to measure our biological systems,” said Dr. Byrne. He looks at behaviour as a health journey – along the way you take control of your body, have confidence by knowing your body and work to optimize what you have. He noted that 68 percent of health is within our control.

“eat, move, sleep, chill, love and
follow your bliss”

Our first health “job” is to become familiar with seven numbers that he believes can give us a good shot at mitigating disease.

  1. Blood pressure
  2. Blood sugar FBS/HbA1c – fasting levels
  3. Triglyceride TG/HDL ratio. This is the best marker for insulin resistance
  4. GGT liver enzyme. Dr. Byrne cautioned that fructose is more dangerous than alcohol and overconsumption means the pancreas is straining to produce more insulin.
  5. CRP – inflammatory marker. The good news is that it can be lowered.
  6. A:G ratio – glycerol fat. It’s important to know how much visceral fat and lean muscle mass you are carrying.
  7. Vitamin D. Though not typically tested, dosage is important. (You can ask your doctor to order a test at a cost of about $65.)

Add to that, eat, move, sleep, chill, love and follow your bliss, said Dr. Byrne. As well, he stressed the need to shift away from the concept that age equals sickness: “Let’s look more at what we can do as individuals and how we can create a sustainable society and sustainable aging.”