Have you ever looked in the mirror and asked, “Who is that old guy?” Seeing a stranger standing there with gray hair and wrinkles can be surprising, though our bodies have been gradually headed this direction since birth.
Aging isn’t a picnic, but it is inevitable, according to scientists, so how do we make the best of the changes?
One way is to know what to expect. Another is to stay on top of changes by partnering with health care professionals—not only when you’re sick, but for regular wellness exams. (Don’t forget eye doctors and dentists). You may be slowing down but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay active. Your health is in your hands.
Aging isn't a matter of choice, but it is a personal process--everyone does it in their own way and time. A lot has to do with genes. But here are some general facts that apply to each person:
- Hair. Melanin, the pigment in the hair follicle, decreases. Without melanin, new hair strands permanently fade to shades of gray and white.
- Skin naturally wrinkles and sags as it becomes thin and dry from a decrease in collagen and elastin proteins. Premature wrinkling comes from bad diets, sun exposure or smoking.
- Heart and blood vessels. As time goes by, blood vessels lose flexibility, and the heart has to work harder to pump blood. No matter the age, staying active helps maintain a healthy heart. A poor diet and sedentary lifestyle can lead to heart disease.
- Hormones decrease, including estrogen (menopause), testosterone (andropause), growth hormone (changes is body structure) and melatonin (sleep issues). Medical professionals can help you find the best way to manage these changes.
- Digestive enzymes decrease as we age, affecting nutrient absorption and the types of food we digest. A nutritious diet is more important than ever.
- Bones begin to weaken as early as mid-adulthood, becoming less dense and more brittle. This increases the risk of fractures. Height also decreases because the trunk and spine shorten.
- Muscles lose mass, strength, endurance, and flexibility. This can affect stability, coordination, and balance, contributing to weakness, fatigue, and reduced activity. Stretching and light exercise can make a big difference in how fast this happens.
Though such changes may not make you want to shout “Hooray!” Please don’t get discouraged. There are plenty of things you can do to stay healthy, active and happy. Be sure to read part two of Aging: What to Expect, to find out exciting ways to adapt to your ever-changing body.