Normal Aging is Not Disease – Adult Health and Wellness

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Physiological changes that occur with age do not necessarily cause disability. Aging does not necessarily lead to decreases in heart function, bone density, muscle strength, cognitive ability and memory, sexual desire and activity, physical and social functioning, nor does aging guarantee increases in blood pressure, cholesterol, and the anemia. However, there are some inevitable changes that come with aging. Here are some of the expected changes in various body systems that occur with age. How much change there is in any given body system depends on numerous factors, including our basic heredity, the lifestyle we’ve cultivated over the years, our emotional state, and how we’ve learned to deal with disappointment, loss, trouble, setbacks, and normal highs depths of life.

o Heart and circulatory system

As you age, your heart becomes less efficient and has to work harder. There is a decrease in the maximum pump rate and reduced oxygen extraction from the blood. The heart muscle gradually thickens and increases in size, while the arteries tend to stiffen as fatty deposits and plaque build up in the blood vessel walls. As a result, most of us gradually lose energy and endurance over the years, and many develop atherosclerosis and other heart problems.

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o Metabolism, body composition and body fat

A gradually decreasing metabolism along with hormonal changes often leads to decreased muscle tone. Body fat tends to increase until middle age, stabilizes over several years, and then gradually decreases in older people. However, as we age, layers of fat tend to redistribute under the skin to surround the deeper organs. Women often store fat in their hips and thighs, while men tend to develop larger abs. Drugs and alcohol are processed more slowly and reflexes slow down when driving or participating in sports and other activities.

o Brain and nervous system

Beginning in our thirties, there is a gradual loss and damage to some neurons, blood flow decreases, brain weight decreases, and there is a gradual loss of brain cell function, including impaired memory, an inability to remember recent events or remember names and to remember details. However, the brain adapts to these changes by increasing the number of connections between cells (synapses) and dendrites and axons (branched processes) that carry messages around the brain. A study in the Journal of Neuropsychology suggests that higher education may actually prevent age-related cognitive decline by allowing older people to access reserves from the brain’s frontal lobes. The potential human lifespan is about 115-125 years. In mammals, there seems to be a strong correlation between life expectancy and brain weight.

oh bones

Beginning in our mid-30s, our bones gradually lose density and strength, and lose minerals faster than they can be replaced. Bone loss tends to increase in many women after menopause, leading to an increased risk of osteoporosis. By the age of 65, one in three reports falling; One in 20 ends up with a fracture.

o Lungs and breathing

From our twenties, lung tissue loses elasticity, chest muscles shrink and our maximum breathing capacity decreases. With increasing age, especially in inactive people, the lungs become less and less efficient and the body cells receive less oxygen.

o kidneys and bladder

Kidneys decrease in size and function with age and become less efficient at dealing with dehydration or extracting waste and some medications from the blood. When bladder capacity decreases, urination can be more frequent, and when tissues atrophy, urinary incontinence can occur.

o muscles

Without exercise, muscle mass decreases by up to 22 percent in women and 23 percent in men between the ages of 30 and 70. However, strong muscle pulls oxygen and nutrients from the blood more efficiently, does less work for the heart, and helps the body stay sensitive to insulin and absorb sugar from the blood.

o skin

As we age, our body reduces its collagen production and our sebaceous glands produce less oil, causing our skin to become less elastic, drier and more wrinkled. We can develop age spots or liver spots (brown, yellow, white, or red) caused by a decrease in melatonin, the accumulation of waste products, and the development of cancer.

o Hair and nails

Our hair and fingernails grow slower as we age, and we also heal wounds more slowly. The hair on our scalp, pubic area and armpits gradually thins and the loss of hair pigment cells results in gray and eventually white hair. Nail symptoms can be warning signs of serious medical conditions, but nail changes are rarely the first clue. For example, red nail beds can indicate heart disease, while pitting and rippling of the nail surface indicate inflammation such as arthritis. White nails can indicate liver disease or anemia, while yellowish, thick, and slow-growing nails can indicate lung disease.

Thanks to Erica Goodstone, Ph.D.

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