It's not the passing of years that's to blame for fading health and death – people die because biological system failures occur that can be traced back to molecular and cellular damage.

It's the damaging effects from our environments (directly related to poor lifestyle habits and negative thinking) that contributes to the breakdown of our cells, invites disease in and fosters specific disorders (think heart disease and low or high blood pressure for example), not advancing years.

As the body ages, this cellular damage continues to accumulate until cells no longer repair themselves, causing the break-down and weakening of the immune system – our warrior against disease. This opens the door to life-threatening degenerative illnesses to take hold.

Truth is, old age never stole anyone's life. The most common causes of death by far are degenerative diseases.

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Degenerative diseases are non-infectious disorders that generally appear in youth or middle age. Diseases of the skeletal, nervous and muscular tissues (an example is osteoarthritis), cardiovascular diseases of the circulatory system (heart disease) and cancers are all degenerative diseases.

They strike us mentally and physically and affect us emotionally. For example, Alzheimer's is a degenerative disease of the brain that can eventually lead to dementia, while osteoarthritis is a skeletal illness that affects the joints.

Even if the disease itself is not the direct cause of death, complications from these degenerative disorders, (due to a weakened and compromised immune system), such as pneumonia and life-threatening infections, finish the job.

So, although it may appear that someone is dying of old age, because no visible symptoms of disease are apparent, degradation on a molecular, silent level is killing them.

Generally characterised by a gradual loss of function that affects one or more organs or tissues, degenerative illnesses can seriously mess up our mobility making us more susceptible to falls and injuries and their resultant infections.

But, lucky for us, it doesn't have to be this way. We can, at any moment, shift our perceptions about health and longevity, quit blaming outside sources and "old age" for our demise, empower ourselves and act to change things.

For starters, we need to "dump the junk" and adopt healthier eating by eliminating all life-destroying ingredients such as white sugar, chemical additives, artificial colours and preservatives.

"Dump the junk" and by eliminating all life-destroying ingredients such as white sugar, chemical additives, artificial colours and preservatives. Photo / Getty Images

We need to look to Mother Nature to benefit from her live-giving "clean eating" nutrient dense foods.

All the micro and macro nutrients needed by the body and the brain are readily supplied naturally for a reason. We cannot expect our immune systems to work at peak efficiency when we're not fueling them with high-octane fuel.

Eating to fuel the immune system is just half the battle. If we really want to kick our immune system into high gear, we need to honour what the body and the mind were created for – action.

If you have not already, it's time to begin a challenging exercise programme built around resistance training - the best "bang for your buck" when it comes to boosting your immune health and the key to avoiding degenerative diseases. With so many choices readily available (free weights, exercise bands, gym machines, sandbags, kettle bells etc.), there's something to suit all tastes.

Resistance training is the best
Resistance training is the best "bang for your buck" when it comes to boosting your immune health and the key to avoiding degenerative diseases. Photo / Getty Images

Good health is not a cause – it is an effect and includes one's physical, mental and social conditioning. It's not just about being free of disease, but about having a positive, healthy outlook on life and feeling good physically.

Get diet and fitness right, and good health and longevity follow naturally.

Truth is, we can be young in years, but old in health, or we can be advanced in years with stellar health. We can continue to give in to outside influences and errant beliefs about ageing or take charge of our own lives and how we feel mentally, emotionally and physically. The choice is always ours.

Don't wait for some degenerative disease to manifest before acting. Take pro-active steps now to improve the overall quality of your life, to live healthier and longer and squeeze the last bit of vitality out of every moment. You'll never know what magic the next moment holds for you unless you're living it.

A primary focus of modern research is telomeres. Located on the ends of gene-carrying chromosomes, research shows that they shorten with age. DNA is constantly replicating itself eventually causing DNA degradation as little bits of telomeres fall off the end. When this happens, the risk of disease increases.

There are no guarantees in life including one's health. Being young does not guarantee perfect health any more than advanced years guarantee ill-health.

■ Carolyn Hansen is co-owner of Anytime Fitness.