What Is Aging?

What It Is, How It Happens & How to Stop It

Young and senior women face to face
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Aging: it's something we all do but understand very little about. Sure, it's easy to make a list of all the changes that come with age - memory loss, wrinkles, muscle loss - but no one really understands what aging is, why it happens and how to stop it.

What Is Aging?

Think of aging as "that which happens to our bodies over time." This definition encompasses all of the aging the human body goes through, as opposed to the signs of aging that occur later in life, like gray hair and wrinkles.

Some aging is caused by the body. Think: kids growing and teenagers going through puberty. Other aging accumulates over time, like skin damage caused by sun exposure. As a result, aging is a combination of bodily changes and the impact of how we take care of ourselves.

In other words, aging is the impact of time on the human body, and it occurs on multiple levels:

  • Cellular aging. Cells age based on the number of times they have replicated. A cell can replicate about 50 times before the genetic material is no longer able to be copied accurately, which is due to shortened telomeres. The more damage done to cells by free radicals and other factors, the more cells need to replicate.
  • Hormonal aging. Hormones play a huge factor in aging, especially during childhood growth and adolescent maturity. Hormone levels fluctuate through life. Puberty brings acne and larger pores. As we get older, hormonal changes lead to dry skin and menopause.
  • Accumulated damage. Accumulated damage is all external. Exposure to toxins, the sun, harmful foods, pollution and smoke takes a toll on the body. Over time, these external factors can lead to tissue damage and the body falls behind in its ability to maintain and repair cells, tissues and organs.
  • Metabolic aging. As you go about your day, your cells are constantly turning food into energy, which produces byproducts that can be harmful. The process of metabolizing and creating energy results in damage to the body over time. Some believe that slowing down the metabolic process through practices such as calorie restriction may slow aging in humans.

    Aging Doesn't Discriminate

    Our age-obsessed culture is completely consumed with slowing down aging and increasing longevity, but growing old is 100 percent unavoidable. The aging process doesn't discriminate. It starts early and it affects every major organ in the body.

    For example, around the time a person is 20 years old, lung tissue loses its elasticity, the muscles around the rib cage begin to deteriorate and lung function, that is, the amount of air that can be inhaled, decreases. Production of digestive enzymes slows down, which affects how nutrients are absorbed into the body.

    Fatty deposits build up in the blood vessels in the heart, and the vessels start to lose flexibility, resulting in atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries. In women, vaginal fluid production decreases and sexual tissues atrophy. For men, the prostate can become enlarged and sperm production decreases.

    How to Slow Down the Aging Process

    As previously mentioned: aging can't be avoided. That being said, there are several measures you can take regardless of your age that can turn back your biological clock and help you live longer:

    • Eat well. Within the past few decades, processed foods have become an increasingly larger part of our diets. Added sugar, salt, and fat are all wreaking havoc on our bodies, leading to a multitude of serious health issues, including cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Do yourself a favor and eat well. As a general rule of thumb, if you have to open it to eat it, you shouldn't be eating it. Read labels. Cut out sugary drinks and white starches, and incorporate more fruits, vegetables, fiber, and lean proteins.
    • Don't smoke. If you're a smoker, you've likely struggled with quitting, but don't give up. Quitting smoking improves circulation and blood pressure, and drastically reduces your risk of developing cancer.
    • Exercise. You might not be meeting the recommended 30 minutes of activity a day, 5 days a week, but the good news is that even just 15 minutes of moderate activity a day can improve longevity. Walk the dog, ride a bike or take a fitness class. Any activity is better than none at all.
    • Socialize. Socialization keeps us young and does wonders for longevity. Maintain good, healthy relationships with others. Stay connected to the ones you love and make it a point to meet new people.
    • Get sleep. Ignore the saying "you'll sleep when you're dead." You need sleep, regardless of the relationship you have with it. Get a good night of sleep every night and you'll reduce your risk of heart disease and lower your stress levels.
    • Don't stress. Stress, anger and holding onto grudges can be very damaging. If you work to reduce your stress levels now, you'll thank yourself later. Incorporate meditation or journaling into your day-to-day and give yourself a break.

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