Aging is a normal process that involves dynamic biological, physiological, and behavioral changes through the lapse of time.
What Is Aging?
Aging is a normal human process of becoming older. There are certain changes that occur in terms of biological, physiological, and behavioral aspects as someone grows older. Some of these changes will feel different as time passes such as the skin, your health, your sex life, or your sight, or the cardiovascular system. Some of us may even attempt to slow the process. But it is essential to keep in mind that this process is inevitable.
There may be certain things that you can do to slow the aging process. It is usually initiated based on genetic and environmental factors that start to operate from the time of birth. This process ultimately leads to death naturally as an individual gets old along with gradual dysfunctions of all organs. This phenomenon is the direct cause of diseases and death in humans. A 1981 study 1 suggested that the environmental factors that are relevant to lifestyle including stress, exercise, smoking, and exposure to sunlight either accelerate or delay the progression of aging. Evidence suggests that the maximum human lifespan is expected to be 115 years. However, the oldest recorded living person was Jeanne Calment who died in 1997 at 122. However, some people also experience premature aging due to unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Impact Of Aging On The Human Body
The true signs accumulate over time. It is a combination of psychological and bodily changes. Some of the impact of aging on the human body include:
- Grey hairs
- Susceptibility and frequency of disease
- Frailty and disability
- Health issues such as heart attack
- Difficulties related to sight and hearing
- Wrinkles and age spots
- Bones becoming brittle
- Losing bladder control
- Losing muscle mass and strength
- Sex life changes such as vaginal tissues become drier, thinner, and less elastic or men finding it harder to get or keep an erection
- Reduced sexual desire
- Lack of coordination, stability, and balance
- Cellular damage
- Excess hormonal fluctuation
The aging process starts early and affects almost all major organs in the body. For instance, a 2006 study 2 pointed out the lung matures at age 20-25 years. During this time the lung tissue becomes less elastic. The rib cage muscles deteriorate and the amount of air that can be inhaled also decreases. As one ages’, digestive enzyme production slows down and interferes with the ability to absorb nutrients. Aging also has significant effects on the heart. Fat deposits tend to build up in the blood vessels in the heart. The heart loses its flexibility resulting in atherosclerosis i.s hardening of the arteries. Vaginal fluid production in women decreases and vaginal tissues lose their elasticity. In men, the prostate gets enlarged and sperm production tends to significantly reduce.
Anatomical And Physiological Changes Due To Aging
This process induces several anatomical and physiological changes such as reduced cell counts, deterioration of tissue proteins, tissue atrophy, decrease in metabolic rate, reduction of body fluids, and calcium metabolism abnormalities.
1. Changes in the Central Nervous and Neuroendocrine System
As aging advances, the number of cerebral nerve cells reduces significantly with an approximately 20% decrease 3 in cerebral blood flow. Due to this, the size of the brain is slightly reduced and some neurons are lost in some selected parts of the brain such as locus ceruleus, substantia nigra, hippocampus, caudate nucleus, putamen, and cerebral cortex. Although the number of cells decreased, the rest of the cells compensated for the loss by generating branches. Due to this, memory, cognitive function, and intellectual functioning are greatly impaired when people get old. A 2013 study 4 revealed that the aging process causes a loss of neurons in the hypothalamus that influences a broad range. This range includes from the pituitary gland to lower target endocrine organs. However, there is very little evidence that loss of neurons in the hypothalamus is induced by aging.
Hormones are produced in the hypothalamus. A 2008 study 5 pointed out that female hormones are mostly influenced by age. Advanced age not only causes a reduction in sex hormones but also a decrease in the production and secretion of renin in the kidney, and aldosterone in the adrenals. To promote memory and cognitive health you can consider the following:
- Engage in physical activity to increase blood flow to the brain
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Stay mentally active by reading, or playing an instrument
- Be socially active
- Quit smoking
2. Changes in the Cardiovascular System
A 2012 study 6 states that cardiovascular changes usually occur in the myocardial layers. Changes in the cardiovascular system are displayed in arteries especially arterial walls that tend to become thick and hard. A recent 2020 study 7 suggested that due to these anatomical changes, the functionality of the heart displays decreased diastolic compliance as well as increased pulse pressure. The maximum heart rate, stroke volume, and circulating blood volume is also likely to be reduced. The stiffening of the blood vessels and arteries causes the heart to work harder in order to pump blood throughout the body. There are some things you can do to promote heart health:
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Eating a good and healthy diet
- Avoid smoking
- Practice mindfulness to reduce stress
- Get adequate sleep
3. Changes in the Skeletal System
According to a 2010 study 8 , as age progresses, the levels of calcium and protein in the bones decreases which ultimately reduces bone mineral density. Bone mass decreases due to depletion of the female hormones, reduction of osteocytes, and parathyroid hyperactivity. In addition to this, the articular cartilage in the joints also deteriorates and wears out, and the cartilage loses its elasticity. In order to promote bone health you can:
- Get sufficient calcium intake
- Get sufficient Vitamin D intake
- Engage in regular exercising
- Avoid substance abuse
4. Changes in Kidney
A 2017 study 9 found that the most notable anatomical and physiological changes caused by aging are seen in the kidney. As aging continues, the size, weight, and volume of the cortex and the number of glomeruli of the kidney are reduced. The reduction of Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) is caused by a decrease of renal cells and hardening of renal vessels. These changes further elevate the risk of renal failure owing to the accumulation of nephrotoxic substances or perioperative ischemic damages. In order to promote kidney, bladder, and urinary tract health:
- Follow regular a urinating schedule
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid smoking
- Eat more fiber-rich food to avoid constipation
- Do kegel exercises
- Avoid too much caffeine, acidic foods, and alcohol
5. Changes in the Respiratory System
A 2013 study 10 showed that the respiratory muscles and the thorax are also altered by aging. By the age of 55, the individual experiences weakened respiratory muscles and a stiff diaphragm. Thus, the elderly are at high risk of atelectasis and postoperative pneumonia owing to the gradual reduction of arterial blood PCO2, excessive dead space, reduced expiratory volume and rate, airway cilia impairment, and defense mechanism dysfunctions. To avoid respiratory issues you can:
- Quit smoking
- Exercise regularly
- Do breathing and relaxation exercises
Impact Of Aging On Mental Health
A 2004 study 11 pointed out that older adults have an increased risk of developing multiple chronic illnesses and many develop cognitive and mood disorders including dementia, and depression. These physical conditions negatively impact the mental health of the patient. Older adults also develop hypertension which is a comorbid condition associated with these chronic illnesses. Hypertension is a treatable condition if it is diagnosed early. However, this condition often goes undetected in older adults and this, in turn, can have dire consequences. Hypertension can cause heart failure, stroke, or pulmonary embolism.
It also increases the risk of developing depression and anxiety. A 2017 study 12 suggested that depressive symptoms occur in an estimated 15% of older adults. A 2007 study 13 found that late-life depression is associated with increased disability, worsened physical health outcomes, and higher mortality rates. A 2009 study 14 also suggested that it is crucial to identify depression and treat it because it is related to increased suicidal rates, greater disability, and decreased physical, cognitive, and social functioning.
How Can You Slow The Aging Process?
Aging is inevitable. However, there are several steps you can take to slow down the normal process. This will allow you to live longer and healthier. They are as follows:
1. Avoid smoking
Studies found that smoking is responsible for almost 480000 deaths per year in the United States. On average smokers die 10 years earlier than non-smokers. It is understandable that it almost feels impossible to quit smoking. But avoiding smoking can greatly increase a person’s mortality. Smoking interferes with circulation and blood pressure. Smokers are at an increased risk of developing cancer.
2. Eating a healthy diet
In this fast pacing era, people have become increasingly reliant on processed foods. Sugar, salt, and fat are also extremely detrimental to one’s health leading to a number of serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease, or reduced lung function. In such cases, it is essential to eat a healthy diet to ensure longevity. Avoid sugary drinks and processed foods and inculcate more fruits, veggies, and proteins in your diet. A 2013 study 15 found that one or two cups of red wine when consumed by females and males in their middle age, has been known to reduce the risk of heart attack by 30 to 50% approximately.
3. Exercise regularly
Exercising regularly has unlimited benefits including improving longevity and slowing the aging process. We may not be able to spend hours exercising daily but 15 minutes of physical activity every day can go a long way. So go for a walk or do some bodyweight or cardio exercises regularly. It will not only improve your health but also your mindset. A 2006 study 16 found evidence of the effectiveness of regular physical activity in preventing several chronic diseases and premature death. Another 2001 study 17 found that the relative risk of death from any cause and from specific diseases is usually associated with physical inactivity.
4. Get adequate sleep
It is essential to get an adequate amount of sleep to improve your longevity. Adequate sleep reduces the risk of heart diseases and lowers stress levels. A 2014 study 18 pointed out that the role of sleep is directly linked with improved longevity.
5. Avoid stress and worry
Stress and worry can be extremely detrimental to one’s health. Reducing your stress by practicing mindfulness activities can greatly improve your health and slow the aging process. Some of these mindfulness activities include meditation, journaling, or yoga. A 2017 study 19 found that older adults suffering from chronic pain found it beneficial to get mindfulness training on pain or sleep.
6. Healthy Relationships
Having healthy relationships can greatly influence a person’s health. Socializing with other people can work wonders in terms of longevity. A 2016 study 20 pointed out that a lack of social relationships can lead to cardiovascular, neoplastic, and other common aging-related diseases.
7. Drink less alcohol
Excess alcohol consumption can dehydrate the skin and with time damages it. This can make one look old. One report 21 suggested limiting your alcohol intake to avoid health risks.
8. Focus on your mental health
Aging can greatly influence your mental health. Hence, it is crucial to pay attention to the signs. Many individuals suffer from depression or hypertension due to the increased risk of developing chronic illnesses that are associated with the aging process. Consult a psychologist if you feel persistent sadness for at least two weeks.
9. Get regular follow-ups
The aging process also affects the kidneys, lungs, heart, and brain of an individual.
It is important to consult a doctor and get regular checkups because aging is associated with several comorbid conditions. If left untreated, these can have dire consequences and can even prove to be fatal.
Acing The Aging Process
It is impossible to stop the aging process. But it is possible to make healthy choices that slow it down. It is a natural process that cannot be avoided. By adopting a healthy lifestyle it is possible to ace the process.
- Harman D. The aging process. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1981 Nov;78(11):7124-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.78.11.7124. PMID: 6947277; PMCID: PMC349208.
- Sharma, G., & Goodwin, J. (2006). Effect of aging on respiratory system physiology and immunology. Clinical interventions in aging, 1(3), 253–260. https://doi.org/10.2147/ciia.2006.1.3.253
- Peters R. (2006). Ageing and the brain. Postgraduate medical journal, 82(964), 84–88. https://doi.org/10.1136/pgmj.2005.036665
- Park, D. C., & Yeo, S. G. (2013). Aging. Korean journal of audiology, 17(2), 39–44. https://doi.org/10.7874/kja.2013.17.2.39
- Jung, B. H., Jeon, M. J., & Bai, S. W. (2008). Hormone-dependent aging problems in women. Yonsei medical journal, 49(3), 345–351. https://doi.org/10.3349/ymj.2008.49.3.345
- Strait, J. B., & Lakatta, E. G. (2012). Aging-associated cardiovascular changes and their relationship to heart failure. Heart failure clinics, 8(1), 143–164. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.hfc.2011.08.011
- Homan TD, Bordes S, Cichowski E. Physiology, Pulse Pressure. [Updated 2020 Jun 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482408/
- Boskey, A. L., & Coleman, R. (2010). Aging and bone. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2991386/
- Denic, A., Glassock, R. J., & Rule, A. D. (2016). Structural and Functional Changes With the Aging Kidney. Advances in chronic kidney disease, 23(1), 19–28. https://doi.org/10.1053/j.ackd.2015.08.004
- Lowery, E. M., Brubaker, A. L., Kuhlmann, E., & Kovacs, E. J. (2013). The aging lung. Clinical interventions in aging, 8, 1489–1496. https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S51152
- Anderson G, Horvath J. The growing burden of chronic disease in America. Public Health Rep. 2004 May-Jun;119(3):263-70. doi: 10.1016/j.phr.2004.04.005. PMID: 15158105; PMCID: PMC1497638.
- McKinnon, S. A., Holloway, B. M., Santoro, M. S., May, A. C., & Cronan, T. A. (2016). The Effects of Age, Mental Health, and Comorbidity on the Perceived Likelihood of Hiring a Healthcare Advocate. Californian journal of health promotion, 14(3), 45–57.
- O’Neil M. Depression in the elderly. J Contin Educ Nurs. 2007 Jan-Feb;38(1):14-5. PMID: 17269434.
- Fiske A, Wetherell JL, Gatz M. Depression in older adults. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2009;5:363-89. doi: 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.032408.153621. PMID: 19327033; PMCID: PMC2852580.
- Park, D. C., & Yeo, S. G. (2013). Aging. Korean journal of audiology, 17(2), 39–44. https://doi.org/10.7874/kja.2013.17.2.39
- Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 174(6), 801–809. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.051351
- Blair SN, Cheng Y, Holder JS. Is physical activity or physical fitness more important in defining health benefits? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jun;33(6 Suppl):S379-99; discussion S419-20. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200106001-00007. PMID: 11427763.
- Mazzotti, D. R., Guindalini, C., Moraes, W. A., Andersen, M. L., Cendoroglo, M. S., Ramos, L. R., & Tufik, S. (2014). Human longevity is associated with regular sleep patterns, maintenance of slow wave sleep, and favorable lipid profile. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 6, 134. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2014.00134
- Fountain-Zaragoza, S., & Prakash, R. S. (2017). Mindfulness Training for Healthy Aging: Impact on Attention, Well-Being, and Inflammation. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 9, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2017.00011
- Yang, Y. C., Boen, C., Gerken, K., Li, T., Schorpp, K., & Harris, K. M. (2016). Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(3), 578–583. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1511085112
- Facts about moderate drinking | CDC. (2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/moderate-drinking.htm