By: Eddie Buchanan
Michael Rose, professor of evolutionary biology, defines aging as a “persistent decline in the age specific fitness components of an organism due to the internal physiological degeneration.” In other words, as we grow older, changes occur in all of the body’s cells, tissues and organs that affect the functioning of all body systems in a declining fashion.
This may come as a shock to many, but the aging process (decline of the body) starts in the mid 30’s and progresses until death. This is a natural process and everyone will go through it unless someone happens to find the mythical Fountain of Youth along life’s journey. Youth has a way of blocking out one’s thought process about the effects of aging because it’s hard to imagine getting old. Over time however, the thought process sinks in, and your body’s physiology starts to send you notification such as aches and pains when you first rise out of bed in the morning. The goal of this piece, therefore, is to define the aging process and offer suggestions for living an active and joyful life into one’s golden years.
What are the physiological effects of aging?
* All cardiovascular structures become more rigid with age and the heart fills and empties with blood at a slower rate. The elastic tissue within the walls of the arteries is lost. The ability to sustain a high level of exercise for a prolonged period decreases. There’s a greater risk of heart disease, especially when the body experiences obesity, diabetes and/or lack of physical exercise.
* All vital organs begin to lose some function as you age. Changes occur in the body’s cells, tissues, and organs, and these changes affect the functioning of all body systems.
*A slow decline in muscle mass and strength begins. Muscles become more rigid and lose tone even with regular exercise. (A physically inactive aging adult can lose 5% to 8% of muscle mass per decade.)
*Joint motion becomes more restricted and flexibility decreases due to changes in tendons and ligaments. Bones become more brittle and the cushioning cartilage in joints begins to break down from years of wear. Joints become more inflamed and arthritic. Knee, hip, shoulder, foot and spinal issues develop because of these deteriorations.
So how does one cope with aging? Why is it that some people are active, vivacious and happy as they reach their golden years while others are the exact opposite? What’s the magic? Well, the magic is, there is no magic. It’s a matter of making the right choices. There are preventative measures and attitudes that can be taken to slow the effects of aging and in many cases avoid the above issues.
What can you do to live longer, heathier and productive as the years go by?
Here are a few tips:
People that remain in motion as they age live longer, healthier and happier lives. It’s incredible to believe how many adults live sedentary lifestyles; more than 50%, according to the World Health Organization’s Study of Physical Inactivity. A sedentary lifestyle is the kiss of death. Active people live an average of 7 years longer and avoid many age related diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity and diabetes as a result of staying in motion.
Maintaining a heart healthy lifestyle is the key. “The ultimate goal is to maintain long term cardiovascular health over decades, staying on a weekly schedule of exercise is the number one priority” according to cardiologist, Matt Janik, MD, FACC. Aging slows the body’s metabolism and physical exertion becomes more difficult, but regular exercise that increases the heart rate for extended periods is healthy and beneficial no matter what age. Maintaining a body weight with a BMI less than 25 is another important factor.
Flexibility and the importance of Stretching
Ever wondered why your coaches are always reminding (and begging) you to stretch? Well, there’s good reason and you should listen to them! Stretching is the deliberate lengthening of muscles in order to increase flexibility and joint range of motion. Stretching activities are an important part of any type of
exercise (before and after). They help warm the body up prior to activity thus reducing the risk of injury as well as muscle soreness.
“Stretching is the key to maintaining flexibility as you age. Being flexible as you grow older can slow down the aging process by increasing your range of motion and helps prevent your risk of muscle and joint injury,” according to physical therapist, Jeremy Snodgrass, DPT. Stretching also boosts energy levels by increasing blood flow and helping maintain strength. There are two types of stretching techniques, static and dynamic. Static stretching is a holding stretch devoid of motion. Dynamic stretching is a low intensity form of stretching utilizing motion and movement. Both techniques should be incorporated in your daily routine. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
We’ve all heard the expression “you are what you eat.” Good eating habits and practices are essential to living healthy as we age. Older adults do not need the same number of calories as they did when they were young, but they do need just as high or higher levels of nutrients. A diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats should be the focus for eating the nutrients that are needed at increased levels as we age. Older adults should try to incorporate more of the following nutrients into their healthy eating plans: Fiber, Water, Beta Carotene, Vitamin D, Calcium, Vitamin B12, Folate, VitaminB6, Iron and Zinc.
According to registered dietitian Dianna Davis, these nutrients serve the body most effectively when coming from food sources. Because many older Americans don’t eat enough of the foods that contain them, they can be taken through supplementary means, such as vitamins, if necessary.
Seniors are at a greater risk for dehydration because the thirst trigger diminishes with age. Since an older adult has less water in their bodies than when they were younger, dehydration comes quicker. Even after a hard workout, the thirst sensation is not present at the same degree as in a younger body. The “8 glasses of water a day” rule is a good start. When exercising, you need even more than that. It’s a conscious effort to stay hydrated and should be a part of your daily routine.
Keeping a positive mental attitude
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing” – George Bernard Shaw.
According to Mark Stibich, PhD, “Research shows how you perceive aging affects how long you will live. People that look forward to aging while they are young rather than dreading growing old have a greater chance of living longer. That’s because adjusting your perception of aging while you are still young improves your positive outlook and can have a tremendous effect on your life expectancy. Older people are more in touch with spirituality and prioritize depth in their life. By following a simple healthy lifestyle, you can preserve your health and energy your whole life.”
Here’s an example of what a positive attitude can do.
When CTS Ultra Running Coach, Andy Jones-Wilkins turned 50 he said he felt like an old man instantly. While he knew it was just a number, there was something about the big 5-0 and he felt he was on the downhill side of life. So after a short depression he began thinking about what gave him the most pleasure and how to maintain and enhance them in his life. Running was his passion and pleasure so he came up with 5 key things aging runners need to do in their 50s, 60s and beyond to keep running happily.
- Start Runs Slowly
- Take More Easy Days
- Build up Over Months, Not Weeks
- Stop Comparing Yourself to Your Younger Self
- Revel in the Fact that You Are Still Running
Aging is a process and everyone has choices. It’s a wonderful opportunity to enjoy life’s journey, so why not make the right choices that will affect you and your well-being the rest of your life.
Get More from Your Score Matt Janik, MD FACC
https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders/biology-of-the-heart-and-blood-vessels/effects-of-aging-on-the-heart-and-blood-vessels “ Effects of Aging on the Heart and Blood Vessels”, Jessica Gupa,MD. Michael Shea, MD
https://www.verywellmind.com/positive-thinking-and-aging-2224134 “How Positive Thinking Can Help You Live Longer” Mark Stibich, PhD
https://trainright.com/tips-for-aging-runner-ultramarathoner-50-60-70/ “5 Things Aging Runners Need to do in Your 50’s 60’s and Beyond” Andy Jones-Wilkins, CTS Ultra Running Coach .