Right from the day we are born, we age every single day. However, it is mostly correlated with greying of the hair or sagging of the skin. In reality, aging is a complex process that brings a lot of changes in the physical, psychological and social well being of a person. Let’s have a look at how your age affects your health (in the long run) and how it impacts your life.
Let’s get the basics in place!
Aging is determined by your genes and influenced by various environmental factors such as diet, exercise, microbes, pollutants, etc. This is why two people of the same age might differ in their physical characteristics and psychological state. Moreover, gender also plays a key role. Aging affects all physiological processes in the body over time but the major changes start to occur in your 30s and 40s leading to slow, irreversible changes in the functioning of the organs.
Physiological Changes That Happen With Age
The cardiac output (in simple terms, is the amount of blood pumped by the heart in a minute) decreases at a rate of around 1 percent per year after you hit 30. The rate might be higher in people with pre-existing heart disease. It is believed that the cardiac output of an 80-year-old person is around 50% of that of a 20-year-old individual. Moreover blood pressure (BP) and the risk of heart attack increases linearly with age in all individuals.
Tip: If you are at risk of heart disease or are planning to keep your heart healthy, ensure you lead an active lifestyle by working out regularly or at least walking every day. This not only improves blood circulation and keeps your heart healthy but also lowers your risk of heart disease.
It is shown that renal function tends to decrease gradually post 30 years. There is a decrease in glomerular filtration rate (the rate at which fluids are filtered through glomeruli, filtering units of the kidneys) and blood flow to the kidneys with age. The activity of the renin-angiotensin system and nitric oxide system (which play a key role in blood pressure management) also decrease with age. In fact, it is reported that the number of glomeruli per kidney decreases from 1,000,000 units at 40 years to 700,000 units at 65 years of age. This age-related impairment can also up the risk of kidney disease in elderly.
Tip: A natural and easy way to ensure that the kidneys are functioning to their maximum level is to drink around 2-3 litres of water/fluids every day. Also, do not hold/control the urge to pass urine.
3. Bladder and colon
Urinary incontinence has been found in 17% men and 23 % women older than 65 years. This is because the capacity of the bladder decreases with age from about 500 to 600 ml for people younger than 65 years of age to 250 to 600 ml for those older than 65 years of age. It is also seen that with age there is a decrease in intestinal motility. And because of the longer stool transit time and greater stool dehydration, there is an increased risk of constipation.
Tip: Do not self-medicate and always consult your doctor before taking any medications. This is because laxative abuse (used for constipation) is one of the common causes of diarrhea in the elderly.
It is reported that the liver decreases in weight which is around 20% of its original weight after the age of 50. Thanks to the large reserve capacity of the liver, this is not reflected in the clinical tests. As a result, liver function tests do not show a significant decrease in the liver function with age. However, with age, the ability of the liver to metabolize a large number of drugs decreases.
Tip: Say NO to alcohol because most liver-related deaths in India occur due to alcohol abuse. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to excess fat in liver cells (fatty liver), inflamed liver & damaged liver cells (alcoholic hepatitis) and permanent scarring or complete liver damage (liver cirrhosis)
5. Endocrine system
Aging is accompanied by an increase in glucose intolerance and the prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Increasing age results in a progressive deterioration in the number and the function of insulin producing beta cells. This in turn affects the ability of these cells to respond to changes in glucose level in the body. It is also reported that impairment of glucose tolerance develops largely after 60 years of age and can be associated with weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle.
Tip: Given the current lifestyle and eating habits, diabetes is also seen in younger people. Hence, getting periodic tests and checkups done plays a critical part in knowing and managing diabetes.
6. Bone Health
Just like any other part of the body, there is a decrease in bone density and bone mass with age. After the age of 40, your bone mass declines at the rate of about 10% for women and 5% for men and men every 10 years. By this calculation, you may end up losing 30-50% of your mass when you reach your eighties and nineties. Moreover, due to hormonal changes in women, especially during menopause, they become more susceptible to develop osteoporosis with age, as compared to men.
Tip: With advancing age, the body may not be able to replenish its stores of some vitamins and minerals naturally. So in addition to eating a healthy diet, older adults may need supplements such as calcium and Vitamin D to help maintain bone health.
Our skin tends to lose its tone and elasticity as we age leading to sagging and wrinkling. Moreover, the principal functions of the skin such as protection, excretion, secretion, absorption, thermoregulation, etc are also affected by the structural changes with age. It is reported that after middle age, most of these functions are impaired by as much as 50-60%. Also with reduced blood circulation with age the hair and nail growth is also impaired. In addition to this, certain environmental factors such as exposure to the sun, can also accelerate the ageing of skin.
Tip: Most cleansers rip off natural oils from the skin which require you to use a moisturizer to keep the skin hydrated. So no matter what type of skin you have such as oily, acne-prone, dry or dehydrated one, you still need to use a moisturizer to keep the skin nourished and hydrated.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)
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