Aging is the natural process of becoming older, something we can’t just escape from! Aging can be associated with various biological, physiological, environmental, psychological, behavioral, and social processes. The older we get, the more of a decline we may see in our senses and activities of everyday life. We also become a lot more susceptible to disease, frailty, and disability.
While some may be born with natural genetics to promote healthy aging, you have to make it a priority to take care of your health to the best of your ability as you age. Your physical, mental, and cognitive health are all factors that are most important for healthy aging.
In this article, I will cover main points related to aging that include:
- Some of the science behind the aging process.
- What you can do to protect your health and promote healthy aging.
What Happens to Our Bodies as We Age?
Our bodies are made up of various tissues, consisting of cells that may have to be replaced such as our skin cells. Over time, these cells are not replaced nearly as often which means that less are able to divide. In some organs, like the brain, cells may never divide. Not enough cell division causes the associated organ to not function as well as before. Those who have experienced health issues such as a stroke, or been diagnosed with diseases like Parkinsons are even more prone to the loss of nerve cells in particular.
It’s been estimated that our bodily functions peak around the age of 30, and we will then begin to see somewhat of a gradual “decline.” Even though our organs begin to not work as well as we age, it’s important to note that a lot of our vital functions are more than capable of being maintained. This is because our organs actually start with a lot more capacity than our body needs, which means that even if half of our liver was destroyed, the remaining tissue is still enough for everything to continue functioning properly.
What to Expect in the Initial Signs of Aging
Typically, the first signs of aging will involve the musculoskeletal system. Our eyes and ears are some of the first things that began to change around our mid-life point. Our hair color might begin to turn gray, and we still start to notice more wrinkles and age spots. Because our spinal discs shrink due to our bodies being able to store less fluid, you may even lose a couple inches of height too!
How to Promote Healthy Aging
As mentioned previously, there are some factors not in our control that can influence healthy aging which include genetics. However, we can be in control of other things such as our physical, mental, and cognitive health. Exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, visiting the doctor regularly, and taking care of mental health are all things we can do to help us stay as healthy for as long as possible. Continue reading to learn more!
Our physical health can be heavily impacted by the aging process, so it’s important to take the necessary steps to set us up for good health for as long as possible.
Not everyone enjoys exercise of course, but physical activity might just make you live a little bit longer! In a study done with adults over 40, it was found that those who took at least 8,000 steps per day had a 51% lower risk of death than those who were only taking 4,000 steps a day. Physical activity does not always mean playing a sport or engaging in a workout routine, but can also be done through more simple activities such as gardening, walking the dog, and maybe taking the stairs a little bit more often than the elevator!
While being thinner doesn’t always equate to being healthier, exercise can also help you maintain more of a healthy weight. Obese adults have a higher risk for issues like disability, diabetes, and even death! On the other hand, adults who are too thin may experience a weaker immune system, bone fracture, and symptoms that might mimic a disease.
Along with exercise, there are other factors that contribute to someone’s weight, which includes the food we are putting into our bodies. Diets can be difficult to maintain, and with so many out there you might feel overwhelmed with choosing what to eat. According to the Dietary Guidelines of 2020-2025, it’s suggested that we follow an eating pattern with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein.
Looking for a diet, but can’t seem to find one that incorporates everything you’re looking for? Recent research suggests that a Mediterranean style diet could just be the perfect fit. In 2021, a study was done to analyze people who had followed a Mediterranean eating pattern. With over 20,000 participants involved, it was found that people following a Mediterranean diet had a much lower risk of cardiac death.
In general, it’s been advised to follow a diet that’s primarily low-salt. A low-salt diet can offer health benefits that include lower blood pressure, weight loss, and even a lower risk for conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Getting Adequate Sleep
One of the main ways our bodies can remain healthy and alert is by getting enough sleep every night. Those who have poor sleep will usually have more of a difficult time with memory and concentration, and can even put you at a higher risk for developing dementia later on in life. Read more about understanding the signs of dementia in seniors. Along with physical effects, sleep can negatively affect our mental health as well. Evidence shows that those with depression may experience worsened symptoms with inadequate sleep.
How You Can Get Better Sleep at Night:
- Go to bed at the same time each night and stay consistent. Try and wake up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
- Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, dark, and relaxing bedroom, which is the perfect recipe for better sleep quality. Make sure your room is set at a comfortable temperature as well.
- Stay away from electronic devices right before you go to bed. These devices may include TVs, computers, and smartphones.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol a few hours before you go to bed.
- When you’re physically active during the day, it will be much easier to fall asleep at night and stay asleep, and can help you fall asleep more easily at night.
- Try sleep aid supplements such as melatonin, which helps with the body’s timing of our circadian rhythms.
- If you're suffering from insomnia and other sleep disorders, remedies such as biofeedback and red light therapy can help you get better sleeping routines.
For those who have been smoking for many years, it may not seem worthwhile to try and quit right away. However, those who quit smoking can expect to see improvements in their health very quickly. Some of these improvements may include:
- Lower risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke, and lung disease
- Improvement in blood circulation
- Improvement in sense of taste and smell
- Increased ability to exercise
- Set a healthy example for those around you who can be influenced
In a study done with almost 200,000 smoking adults, it was shown that those who quit between the ages of 45-54 lived almost six years longer than those who kept smoking.
Alcohol can have damaging effects on the organs within our bodies, with alcohol dependence and heavy drinking making the problem even worse. Studies have also shown premature aging in certain brain regions can occur due to alcohol use, especially in those who are more alcohol dependent overall.
While it’s alright to have some drinks every once in a while, it’s important to set boundaries with yourself and know when it’s too much. If you’re worried about yourself or someone else who might have more of a serious issue with alcohol, it’s best to contact your doctor or a mental health professional.
Visit Your Doctor Regularly
Depending on your own personal health, the amount of times you visit the doctor might vary. Regular check-ups could help catch a disease early, or even help someone maintain health issues like high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In recent years, there have been many improvements made by scientists when it comes to testing and looking for age-related health issues. Imaging and various biological tests can detect changes in the cells and molecules of our bodies that may lead to greater health issues later on down the road.
Healthy Aging + Mental Health
Just as good physical health is important to promote healthy aging, mental health is also included. Health is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being,” and mental health has played a larger role in the public health mission in recent years. Mental health issues have been prevalent among older adults, with older men in particular having the highest suicide rate of any age group.
Depression in Older Adults
Depression is one of the most common mental health problems we see, especially among older adults. Depression is a mental illness that is associated with distress and suffering, which can create impairments in a number of areas that include physical, mental, and social functioning. In most cases of depression, it is treatable. However, depressive symptoms can increase with age, which may cause some to relieve that pain in ways like drinking and smoking, which will only make the problem worse.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the major signs of depression can include:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness.
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over issues that are small.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most normal activities, like sex, hobbies and sports.
- Sleep disturbances, which can include insomnia and even sleeping too much.
- Feelings of constant fatigue and overall lack of energy. Small tasks can appear a lot more complicated than they really are.
- Decrease in appetite and weight loss. Some may also experience increased cravings for certain food and weight gain.
- Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness.
- Slowed thinking, speech or body movements.
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, dwelling on past failures or self-blame.
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering details.
If you feel like you might be struggling with depression, or you know of someone who could be, the best thing to do is act quickly and get evaluated by a healthcare professional. Call your doctor today, or 800-273-TALK if you’re worried about harming yourself.
Stress in Older Adults
Along with depression, higher levels of stress are prevalent among older adults. Research has shown that the stress hormone cortisol actually increases after middle-age, which can create a number of changes in the brain. Stress will lead to anxiety that can impact our memory, mood, and ability to make decisions over time. It can be difficult to manage stress, especially through various circumstances like death of a loved one, but there are ways you can work to relieve a bit of your stress overall. Enjoy writing and want a creative way to vent? Consider keeping a journal with you. You can also engage in meditation techniques, and physical activity is another great way to reduce stress as well.
Importance of Doing the Things you Love as You Get Older
Participating in things you enjoy, such as your favorite hobbies and leisure activities, could help you manage feelings of depression and stress. Activities like dance, creative writing, and music may help to improve cognitive function, memory, and even self-esteem.
Start the Journey to Healthy Aging
Even by making small changes in your daily life, you could be supporting your physical and mental health in ways that will make you live longer and even at a better quality. Aging can seem like a scary thing, but taking the proper steps in caring for your health overall will make the process much easier!