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An inside look at how the body ages (and how to slow the process!)

September 10, 2020
Published in: Primary Care

Senior couple playing jenga

When we think of aging, changes in appearance are usually the first thing that comes to mind. Beyond wrinkles and graying hair, the entire body goes through remarkable evolutions as we get older. While modern culture inundates us with anti-aging products and strategies for remaining youthful, aging doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Let’s take a look at how the body ages and what you can do to slow the process!

The Inner Workings of Aging

Aging is a result of certain biological changes within the body. These biological changes can be categorized into nine processes:

  • Telomere shortening: Telomeres are found at the end of chromosomes and are the protective covers at the end of our DNA. As they shorten, it shows up as aging in the body. Shortened telomeres also make the body more prone to disease.
  • DNA damage: A common form of DNA damage occurs when DNA replication doesn’t go as planned. This results in errors and cell break down that lead to aging.
  • Gene expression errors: Genes are part of the DNA that give instructions to your cells and molecules. As we age, the genes have a hard time doing this accurately. This makes us more susceptible to a variety of diseases.
  • Less functional proteins: Proteins are the superstars of our cells. They carry signals, control processes, and provide structure for our cells. Proteins have to be continually created for maximum effectiveness. As we age, our ability to get rid of old proteins decreases. In some instances, the proteins can even become toxic.
  • Senescent Cells: Cells have a natural life cycle. As we age, cells can become resistant to death. These cells are called senescent cells. Senescent cells can infect other cells and cause inflammation in the body.
  • Energy production malfunction: Mitochondria are the powerhouses that produce energy in the cells. This process becomes less functional as we age, which can damage DNA and our proteins. This not only impacts our energy levels and disease risk but causes physical signs of aging like wrinkles.
  • Disrupted cell communication: Our cells are constantly communicating with one another to get things done within the body. The primary channels of communication are through the blood and the immune system. As we age, our cells get worse at communication. This can cause inflammation, along with disrupting the immune system’s ability to clear out infections.
  • An unbalanced metabolism: It’s no mystery that our metabolism changes as we age. This happens because our cells have a harder time identifying and processing sugar and fat in the body.
  • Stem cell fatigue: Stem cells are miraculous cells in the body that can morph into a variety of cells. They also have the vital job of repairing damaged cells. However, as we age, stem cells become less active and have a harder time keeping up with all the cell repairs that are needed.

Proactive Measures to Slow the Aging Process

While we often get distracted by the physical indications of getting older, it’s our entire body that’s involved with the aging process. To slow the aging process, we need to take a holistic approach. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several effective habits that can help you slow the aging process. Here’s what you should focus on:

  • Get moving: Maintaining a healthy weight is key for good health at any age. Find an activity you enjoy, like walking, swimming, or hiking, and make a goal of doing it for 30 minutes at least three times a week.
  • Eat smart: Foods high in saturated fat and salt accelerate aging. Instead, choose whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. If you’re having trouble switching to a healthier diet, kick up the taste with herbs and seasonings.
  • Say no to smoking: Smoking is a definite aging accelerator, not to mention the precursor to numerous diseases. It’s worth the effort to quit your smoking or tobacco habit once and for all. For resources, visit smokefree.gov.
  • Find the zen within: Stress can kick the aging process into high gear. While we can’t always control what happens, we can control how we react to what happens. Developing a consistent self-care routine can help you deal with stress when it occurs.
  • Savor your sleep: Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Sleep is a restorative process that’s essential for good health and graceful aging.

    Aging is a natural part of life. While many people have negative associations with aging, there are ways to do it gracefully and enjoy a healthy life at any age!