When does aging start? When is one old? What body changes are associated with normal aging? Is there anything we can do to prevent or retard aging? – email@example.com
Aging, the gradual but progressive development of degenerative structural and functional changes within the body that invariably leads to death, actually starts at birth.
From birth, the cells of the body are subjected to various genetic and hostile environmental factors that result in damage and abnormality. Body cells have the capacity to regenerate, but this capacity is limited and decreases with age. Hence, with the passage of years, our physical and intellectual capabilities decline, and we become more susceptible to disease and more vulnerable to the effects of stress and disease.
There is no specific age at which a person becomes “old.” In fact, people “age” at different ages; some grow “old” faster than others. Also, the various organs and tissues of a person age asynchronously. Hence, a person’s heart could be “older” than his kidneys, etc. In any case, the term “elderly” usually refers to people who are 65 years old or older.
The aging process affects all cells, organs and systems of the body and the impairments that accompany aging usually start to manifest after the age of 35.
In the skin, muscles and bones, aging manifests as decrease in muscle mass and strength, loss of bone mass, increase in body fat, pain and stiffness of joints, thinning and wrinkling of the skin, and graying and/or loss of hair.
Aging dulls the sensory and motor organs: reading glasses become necessary; the ear is unable to hear high pitch sounds; food taste blander; the sense of smell becomes less discriminating; reflexes become sluggish, and motor responses get delayed.
Aging’s effect on the heart and lungs manifest as increasing difficulty to perform strenuous activities and reaches a point when climbing stairs becomes an ordeal.
With age, the immune system becomes less active and the person becomes more susceptible to infection. The muscles in the walls of most hollow visceral organs weaken leading to urinary retention and incontinence, and constipation. The secretion of hormones by the endocrine glands decreases, impairing many metabolic functions. Digestion becomes less efficient making the person susceptible to malnutrition. Females go into menopause and lose their ability to reproduce while males develop sexual dysfunctions.
We will probably ultimately be able to conquer aging, and perhaps even death, but this will be in the far future. At the moment, we do not yet have the know-how to prevent aging and its inevitable consequence, death. Antioxidants supplements have not been proven to halt or reverse the process. Stem cell therapy, on the other hand, looks promising but the technology is years, if not decades, from actually being of help.
In fact, we have not even increased the maximum life span a person can attain, which stands at 100-110 year. We have, however, been able to increase life expectancy, but this is largely because we have been able to control infectious diseases and not because we have been able to delay aging. In the Philippines, as of 2012, the life expectancy at birth is 68.99 years for males and 75.03 years for females—up from 30-something in 1900.
The most we can do at present is to increase our chances of aging successfully, which means, being active physically and mentally, and free of debilitating disease and disability, until death.
The key to successful aging is lifestyle: right diet (well-balanced; low-salt; low-fat) and weight control; non-smoking; regular exercise; moderate alcohol intake; good personal hygiene; stress-releasing activities; control (with the help of a physician) of chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus and hypertension; acceptance of one’s limitations; and, observance of safety precautions in and out of the house, i.e., use of appropriate gadgets and tools to overcome one’s physical limitations; etc.
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