No one looks forward to old age, but are the problems we dread inevitable? Why do they happen? And can we do anything to avoid them?
A widely-held theory is that our cells are under constant attack from harmful molecules. Some are a byproduct of normal metabolism such as free radicals
, while others arise from our environment. These damage the DNA, fats and proteins in our cells, which over time become less able to repair themselves.
Other research suggests internal processes cause our cells to age. This may be part of the same process that triggers our development from children to adults. Our cells constantly multiply to replace damaged cells, but they can only reproduce a certain number of times. At each reproduction, the telomeres at the ends of our chromosomes get shorter, which is also a marker for aging.
But, why do some people age “better” than others?Normal Aging
Not surprisingly, genetic inheritance plays a big part in how we age and how long we can expect to live. Gender plays a major role too
, with women living an average of 5 percent longer. However, our environment and individual lifestyles and behaviors are important too.
What can we do about it?
The good news is that “normal” aging is not the same as disease. Yes, certain diseases such as diabetes and dementia are more common among the old, but they are not caused by aging, according to the National Institute of Aging
.Healthy, Balanced Lifestyle
There is some fascinating research into genetic interventions, manipulation of the telomeres, and the effects of age on the immune system, although research on this is at a very early stage. More usefully, the benefits of a calorie restricted diet are becoming clearer, not only in terms of maintaining a healthy weight but also in decreasing the risks of diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
We can all improve our prospects for a healthy old age by making the right choices in terms of diet, exercise and harmful substances such as tobacco and alcohol.Quality Not Quantity
The average American’s life expectancy has risen from 49 in 1900 to 79 in 2013… a fantastic improvement, if those extra years are happy and healthy.
To look at it another way, the ocean quahog is a clam which lives for more than 500 years. Which would you rather be?