Other than birth and death, aging is one of the only experiences that every human shares! No one fully understands it and everyone ages in different ways. Scientific studies in gerontology have produced different theories for aging and they fall into three main categories: genetics, damage and imbalance.
Genetic theories indicate that our cells’ genes dictate cellular aging. Damage theories say that naturally occurring chemical reactions in our bodies start to produce irreversible defects. And gradual imbalance theories claim that the body’s brain, endocrine glands and immune system slowly begin to malfunction and therefore produce an imbalance in the body’s systems.
Even though our life span has nearly doubled since the 1800s, most of that is due to the decline in death from infectious diseases. However, this has now been replaced by the number of deaths from degenerative or ‘lifestyle’ disease. So now it’s more a matter of quality of life than quantity!
By 2030, it’s estimated that there will be approximately 70 million Americans over the age of 65; 88% of these people will have at least one chronic health condition that in most cases could be improved or managed through physical activity. Once an adult passes his/her physical prime years (teens and 20s), an average of 10 ounces of lean body mass per year is lost in the form of muscle tissue and overall body weight tends to increase by about 1 pound per year. If not held in check, gradual decrease in muscle strength is the primary reason older Americans have difficulty performing their tasks of daily living and ultimately lose their independence - a condition called sarcopenia. This is not an inevitable aging consequence – it’s an inevitable consequence of disuse. Morbidity is a term that means living with the absence of health; many frail elderly people can live for a long time before death. Many chronic diseases contribute to morbidity including arteriosclerosis, cancer, osteoarthritis, diabetes and emphysema. As sickly people become more unproductive, they become a burden both on family and ultimately a huge financial burden on society overall.
Because everyone is unique, many factors (the aging process, life experiences) can change the consistency of performance within each person and increase the differences between them during a life span. Differences between older adults can be amazing – some people are frail and live in nursing homes while others live on their own and run marathons! “She doesn’t look her age at all! Time hasn’t left a mark on him!” We’ve all made these observations. Some people don’t seem as ‘old’ as others. It’s the difference between chronological vs. biological age – calendar years vs. real years, determined by your lifestyle choices and health. Science and research haven’t fully reached definite agreement on this phenomenon or how to accurately measure an individual’s aging. But there are many tests you can find that help to measure the difference for you. One such test is on the website www.realage.com. The test is administered by Dr. Mehment Oz, M.D., a well-known health professional. Try it if you’re curious!
The moral? Get exercising, get your body moving, and start living! Change the way your body ages for the better. The choices you make now will affect your future.