Understanding Aging

Understanding Aging

Aging is natural, but typically misunderstood. It begins in early adulthood and there are many misconceptions about it.

People don’t become elderly at any certain age. Physical and cognitive health play a big part of when someone enters the “elderly” stage.

Traditionally, 65 has been considered the beginning of old age, but as life expectancies continue to expand, this may no longer be based on biology.

So how do you know when you’re entering the elderly stage? There are three different answers:

  • Chronological age: Chronological age is measured by the passage of time and tells a person’s age in years. This is the least significant measurement of aging in terms of health since everyone will have a different experience based on their biology and overall health and wellness.
  • Biological age: Biological age relates to the changes in the body associated with aging. The biological changes that occur as people age are affected by lifestyle, genetics, disease, etc.
  • Psychological age: Psychological age refers to how someone feels at any age. If they are still working, exercising, planning for future events, and enjoying life, they may be considered psychologically younger than their peers.

Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.”

~Oliver Wendell Holmes

What is “Normal” Aging

As people begin to age, they may start to wonder whether the signs of aging that they’re experiencing are normal. As we said, everyone ages differently, so “normal” has a broad spectrum. Changes in eyesight, wrinkles, skin discoloration, and graying hair are all considered part of the process of aging.

There are some changes that occur that can be slowed or reversed with proper care. Tooth decay and loss, for example, can be combated with regular trips to the dentist, eating healthy foods, and brushing the teeth twice per day.

Cognitive function deterioration is another aspect of aging that is considered normal across the board. A mild decline is normal and can bring along symptoms like forgetfulness and decreased attention span.

It can sometimes be difficult to know if the changes we go through as we age are normal or part of a more serious health condition, such as diabetes or dementia. If you have concerns, speak with your doctor.

Aging Healthfully

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “aging gracefully.” It’s a common phrase, but it’s becoming less common in the United States due to unhealthy lifestyles. As many people age, they want to be active and independent while keeping their physical and mental health.

It’s difficult to do with a harmful lifestyle, though. Here are some steps to take to promote aging healthfully:

  • Eat nutrient-dense foods
  • Exercise regularly. Move your body every day.
  • Workout your brain daily
  • Socialize often
  • Stay on top of your health by visiting your doctor and dentist regularly

The sooner this type of lifestyle is adopted, the better, but it’s never too late to start. It’s a great way to give yourself a form of control over what happens as you age.

Life Expectancy Expanding

In the United States, studies have shown that life expectancy and quality of life is increasing for citizens:

  • People over age 65 and over age 85 has increased in the general population while the percentage of this age group living in nursing homes has drastically decreased
  • A decrease in reported impairments in people aged 65 – 74
  • A decrease in debilitating disorders in people over the age of 65

A man born in 1900 could expect to live 46 years and a woman, 48 years. Today, men can expect to live more than 76 years and women, 81 years. Women live an average of 5 years longer than men in most cases, which hasn’t changed much despite the changes in women’s lifestyles and stress levels in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Although there have been increases in life expectancy, maximum life span has changed very little since the beginning of recording lifespans. Even with the best genetics and the healthiest lifestyle, the chances of celebrating your 120th birthday are slim to none. The oldest recorded lifespan was that of Madame Jeanne Calment, who lived for 122 years (1875-1997).

Several factors play a role in calculating life expectancy:

  • Genetics: If certain things run in your family, such as diabetes, heart failure, and other conditions, you’re more at risk of developing the same issues and thus, your lifespan may be shorter. It’s also known that living very long lives (to 100+) runs in families.
  • Lifestyle: Smoking, drinking, drugs, unhealthy eating choices, and sedentary activity levels all contribute hugely to a decreased life expectancy.
  • Exposure to harmful toxins in the environment: Even with all the cards stacked in your favor between genetics and lifestyle choices, you may experience a decreased life expectancy due to exposure to harmful toxins from a variety of sources.
  • Health care: Prevention is key in catching disorders early so that they can be managed. Visiting your doctor on a regular basis and screening for any diseases that you may be at risk for is important.

Aging doesn’t have to be negative. There are many misconceptions about it, but once it’s well-understood, it can be thoroughly enjoyed.

Studies have shown that people over age 65 are happier and more fulfilled than they were when they were younger. Many enjoy their retirement by volunteering, spending time with their children and grandchildren, and participating in leisure and hobbies they didn’t always have the time to enjoy.

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