Written by Frank Tucker
I had a recent birthday and it got me to thinking…what is aging? Don’t get me wrong, I feel as young as ever. I don’t get carded anymore but people always say I look too young to be retired from the Military. With that said, there are aches and pains, it takes me longer to recover from a workout, it’s tough to keep the weight off and I’m getting chronic illness typical of my age group. The truth is, we all get old. It is an inevitable part of life. The process of aging is a complex one, though it may appear straightforward to many. Many consider the aging process to consist of wrinkling of the skin, greying of the hair and even muscle weakness. Let’s take a look at what really happens with aging.
What is aging?
Aging is an inevitable part of life. Every human that is born on this planet will start to age immediately all the way till the end of their lives. Ageing can slow us down, and affect our heart and mind and can make us weaker. Our faculties and vital sensations change. Changes in personality are common.
Is it genetic?
Well, that is a slightly difficult question to answer. We all age – that is a fact. But some people may age a lot sooner than the others. For example, some people who are young may start to notice greying of their hair a lot sooner than individuals of the same age. To some extent, this is genetic, though studies have not clearly identified which genes are involved in this process, and whether anything can be done to prevent it. Scientific research has made attempts to find this out, but so far there is nothing concrete that will determine how long we live and how quickly we will age.
What are the changes with aging?
The brain is prone to changes as we get older. The loss of memory is fairly common, and is called senile dementia. However, adults can also get affected early with memory loss with certain clinical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease variants. The size of the brain gets smaller, and scans have shown that certain parts of the brains are atrophied in older people. Memory can be kept sharp through constant mental activity, a healthy diet and regular exercise.
The heart is the core of our well being. It beats non-stop, 7 days a week, 365 days a year from the moment we are born till the moment we die. It is a resilient organ that can unfortunately be affected by the aging process. Changes that can be seen include thickening of the heart muscle, calcification of the heart valves, narrowing of the heart arteries (that causes a heart attack), enlargement of the heart and alteration in heart rhythms. Of course, not every individual is affected as described, and changes can be minimal and not affect the patient’s quality of life. Our heart can be kept healthy through regular exercise and a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat and salt.
Our skin is the largest organ of our body. It exhibits constant growth and rejuvenation throughout our lifetime, but is subject to a great deal of change as we age. Stretch marks, fine lines, wrinkles etc. are age related changes that are common in many. The skin also becomes more prone to tearing and injury as it gets thinner due to a reduction in the amount of collagen and elastin content within it. Keeping the skin healthy required lifestyle modifications, along with the use of natural products that maintain skin tone and elasticity.
The skeletal structure of our body is maintained by the constant replenishment of the bones with minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. As we get older, it is natural for the amount of calcium and other minerals in the bones to reduce. In women, this is often seen after menopause, but as a general rule thinning of the bones is a phenomenon of aging. The increased brittleness of the bones that is due to thinning is called osteoporosis. Osteoporosis increases the propensity of the bones to fracture after experiencing minimal trauma. Having a good diet and performing regular exercise can keep the bones healthy. However, despite best efforts, it is common for bones to become weaker as we age.
Muscle weakness is a well recognized phenomenon of aging. In addition, the loss of muscle tone and muscle mass is also seen. A decrease in overall muscle strength means that patients will be unable to exercise them as hard as they used to when they were younger, and this naturally leads to weakness. In fact, muscle weakness can lead to loss of balance and even falls, and in patients with osteoporosis this can ultimately cause fractures.
As we get older, the ability of the body to ward of infections and illnesses reduce. Older patients are prone to infections such as chest infections and urinary tract infections, primarily because their immune system is not as strong as it used to be many years ago. Inflammation forms part and parcel of our immune response, and constantly elevated levels of inflammation can be seen in older individuals. This can predispose them to developing heart disease and stroke amongst other conditions.
The above are just some of the common changes that are seen in our bodies as we get older. Literally every system and cell in the body will be affected by aging, demonstrating changes that reduce its function to varying degrees.
The effect of stress
There is a widespread concern amongst the general public that stress levels have a direct impact on how quickly we age. But the question is whether this is really true? To an extent it actually is.
Stress can cause the release of a variety of different mediators in the body. These are involved in the breakdown of foods to release energy and nutrients that maintain the integrity of cells and tissues within the body, and help maintain the normal functioning of vital organs. Normal processes can produce toxic free radicals within the body, and elevated stress levels can have an impact on this. Stress can also bring with it certain vices as a response to help relieve it. For example, some people may take up smoking as an escape from stress; some may take up drinking. These habits are well recognized for the damage they cause tissues, and this can indirectly impact aging. In a nutshell, stress can directly and indirectly impact overall aging.
Aging is a complex phenomenon that is unfortunately an inevitable part of life. It can affect literally every vital system in the body, reducing their function and overall capacity. Steps can be taken to help slow down aging, amongst which diet and exercise are on top of the list.