The prospect of growing older isn’t a reality many of us want to face. Even as we observe the telltale signs of aging in regards to our parents and mature colleagues, there’s a very tempting urge to block out the changes and refuse to acknowledge the fact that the same aging process will happen to you.
Coming to terms with your own mortality is no easy task, but there’s no need to view aging as something to be feared. Everyone ages, and everyone experiences physiological changes as an outcome of getting older. Whether these changes occur rapidly or slowly depends on specific factors of how you live your life; everything from mindset and daily behaviors to looking after your health needs directly influence the mechanisms of aging.
While no one individual can prevent the aging process from occurring, the progressive functional decline brought about by growing older can be controlled through numerous preventative steps taken throughout the years. Even altered behavior later in life can profoundly affect how a person ages, meaning it’s never too late to make a change and witness improvements to your overall quality of life.
This article will discuss the following topics further:
- The many mechanisms and developments of aging
- Current data pertaining to how long humans could potentially live for
- Expectations regarding aging and its correlation with health
Understanding the Various Mechanisms of Aging
A Look Into the Biology of Aging
Quite simply, the concept of aging refers to a variety of changes in dynamic biological, physiological, environmental, psychological, behavioral, and social processes. There are many benign changes that occur that are age-related, such as graying hair and the appearance of wrinkles on the skin. Additionally, there are multiple age-related changes that are detrimental to an individual’s overall health, such as a decline in cognitive, mental, and physical functions.
What researchers want to gain a better understanding of is the aging process as a whole by studying the cellular and molecular processes underlying the biology of aging, along with any changes that accompany the onset of age-related diseases. In order to gain more clarity on the aging process, it is crucial that scientists are able to identify various factors that can affect the longevity of an organism.
The Genetic Basis of Aging and Longevity
It is well known that interactions between genetic and environmental factors are major determinants of longevity across many species, humans included.
Research conducted in laboratory studies has yielded findings that could have a positive impact on human health in an aging population. Examples of these health-lengthening possibilities include:
- Activities that increase lifespan can also have a positive influence on the healthspan (the portion of lifespan spent in good health). Interventions that work to extend longevity may reduce the burden of multiple diseases, which can pose a major risk later in life.
- Reduced caloric intake and the elimination of overeating can significantly extend the lifespan, reduce inflammation, and delay the onset of several age-related diseases. This finding has entered the field of clinical testing as a potential intervention to enhance chemotherapy and reduce some of its side effects.
- The treatment of cellular senescence by the selective removal of senescent cells. Cellular senescence is a process of cell death where cells lose the capability to normally function, including the ability to divide and replicate, yet they continue to secrete molecules that damage neighboring cells. Senolytics can remove senescent cells and restore physical function in living organisms, and further data suggests that eliminating senescent cells in the brain preserves cognition in the wake of certain degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
- Multiple generations can inherit longevity through epigenetic changes, which affect gene behavior but do not alter the underlying sequence of DNA. What this suggests is that parental lifespan and behavior can influence the overall life and health expectancies for the next generation through mechanisms other than genetics.
How Long Could We Live For?
This question has plagued the scientific community for a very long time, and there really is no clear answer, as that depends upon numerous factors that can affect longevity. As medicine advances and society continues to develop, it’s natural to see the average lifespan of the general population shoot up as well. This explains why poorer countries tend to have a declining health rate, while more prosperous countries often see an overall longer lifespan for their citizens.
Accessibility to health care is vital for maintaining a long and healthy life. Since aging in and of itself is a disease, the most modern medicine can hope to do is work to prevent the occurrence of additional health risks like chronic illnesses. The development of these diseases, which tend to exacerbate the risk of age-related problems, accelerate the overall aging process and exponentially worsen your quality of life.
Knowing the Absolute Limits of Aging
There are many anecdotal accounts throughout human history of folks living far longer than the milestone age of one hundred years. While still an impressive age to make it to, more and more individuals are exceeding life expectancies and living well beyond one hundred years; the oldest living person on record died in 1997 and was over 122 years old when she passed.
Though living more than twelve decades is an amazing accomplishment worthy of celebrating, it still does not give us a threshold from which we can determine the absolute maximum age humans can live to. However, recent breakthrough data has given us a much more accurate understanding of how long humans are theoretically capable of living until the body cannot sustain itself any longer.
In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers utilized mathematical modeling on large datasets from the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia to predict that, after reaching 120 to 150 years of age, the human body would lose the ability to recover from health issues like disease and injury, subsequently resulting in death. Medical data from more than 500,000 individuals was anonymously analyzed through a simple blood test, which was provided by almost everyone in the dataset. The blood tests allowed a computer model to determine something called the dynamic organism state indicator (DOSI) for each individual, which is a measure of biological age. Alongside the time between blood tests, researchers were able to assess a person’s ability to recover from stressors like illness or injury.
What it all comes down to is recovery time. The DOSI findings from this study were used to measure the general recovery time of the participants, a factor that has a profound impact on longevity. While aging itself may not cause degeneration, it does increase one’s susceptibility to other diseases that can affect physical condition, as well as lowers overall resiliency. This makes it more difficult for the body to recover from illness and harm.
Growing Older: Expectations Versus Reality
Taking care of your health is a necessary component to living a long and healthy life, something both young and old folks should make a habit of prioritizing. The easiest way to develop health problems later in life is by failing to keep your health in check, which directly correlates with your overall quality of life. However, there’s a much less discussed factor that also has a significant influence on how you age – your personal beliefs and attitude toward getting older.
A significant percentage of young people have a negative perspective on aging. These expectations can end up affecting an individual’s well-being to such an extent that their physical health is directly impacted.
Beliefs that folks have regarding how well they will maintain their physical and cognitive health as they are commonly referred to as expectations regarding aging (ERA). These ERA tell us quite a bit regarding the perspective someone holds towards aging and what changes they expect will take place as they age.
Even older adults themselves may continue to abide by these preconceived notions and let them continue to negatively influence their quality of life. What this means is the persistence of negative stereotypes may cause older individuals to feel powerless in terms of taking charge of their health, which can result in the neglect of serious health issues. In order to combat this unfortunate self-sabotage, it can be advantageous to set realistic milestones and take those first steps towards seizing control of your future
The Negative Aspects of Getting Old
There’s no beating around the fact that aging does come with its handful of burdens. Many older adults report experiencing different age-related challenges like memory loss, chronic illness, sexual inactivity, depression, feelings of loneliness, financial hardship, and not being able to drive.
While all that may sound grim, don’t assume everyone will deal with the same problems as they age. Older adults do not experience everything equally, and there are many issues that may only end up developing much later on for folks in their eighties and beyond. With all that in mind, the fact is most of the very old demographic has made peace with their circumstances and accept things as they are.
The Positive Aspects of Getting Old
More than half of older adults have expressed positive attributes that getting older has brought for them. Some upsides of aging that have positively impacted their quality of life include increased time for hobbies and family, more travel, financial security, retirement, a second career, and generally earning more respect.
Younger folks tend to spend time fantasizing over the liberation that comes alongside getting older. There is definitely some truth to that, but it must be acknowledged that many older adults aren’t enjoying the upsides to aging quite as much as their younger counterparts predicted. Still, there are tangible benefits to getting older and the freedom it can yield.
Healthy Aging and Physical Activity
One of the most surefire ways to boost your health and increase longevity is through physical intervention. Exercise can do a lot of good for you, such as helping you get fit, lose weight, and lower your risk for certain diseases.
Reducing your susceptibility to illnesses usually brought about through getting older will immediately do fantastic things for your health by reducing the odds of you dying from such diseases. There are also reported changes in cellular structure associated with exercise such as longer end caps on chromosomes in active individuals.
Regular physical activity can result in a multitude of physiological changes that have the potential to slow the aging process.
Benefits of Exercise
- Improved cognitive function
- Improved immune system
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Boosted mood
- Improved digestive system
- Better sleep
You Can Always Trust Us to Have Your Back
With all that in mind, there’s no doubt you feel a lot more confident about growing older. Aging is no simple process that can be prevented with the ingestion of a pill or some other medical treatment, but it isn’t something to fear either. All living creatures experience the phenomenon of growing older, and it is up to the scientific community to continue collecting research on aging in humans to better understand the full picture.
Still, it’s a lot of information to take in. And without doing the research yourself, how can you be reassured of its accuracy? Don’t worry – the Dr. Emil Nutrition team strives to deliver nothing but the facts from reputable health organizations, such as the National Institute of Health and certified professionals.
Feel free to continue down this avenue of thought by further exploring the trusted medical sources that are linked throughout this article. Outside of additional research, the most you can do to be proactive and make a notable difference is to implement healthy behaviors and look after your well-being.