Aging is a process that’s associated with a wide variety of changes to a person’s life and health. These changes encompass many processes, including the physiological, psychological, biological, behavioral, environmental, and social. A lot of age-related changes are harmless, such as a gradual graying of a person’s hair. Others, however, can negatively affect a person’s daily life, such as sensory loss, and an increased risk of frailty, disability, and disease. Aging is an important risk factor for a wide variety of chronic diseases.
While no single explanation for the whole process of “aging” exists, many ongoing studies are currently trying to figure out how to slow the process of aging and increase the person’s healthspan (the “good health” version of lifespan, where the number of years a person is healthy is counted instead of the total number of years lived.)
Treating age-related diseases and disorders requires an understanding of what causes them. We need this information to develop new interventions, focused on early detection, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Current research focuses on a variety of factors, such as the difference between those who age “well,” and those who suffer from age-related disability and disease. Researchers also want to know how various factors influence the start and progression of age-related diseases and degenerative disorders. These factors include the behavioral, genetic, environmental, social, and lifestyle.
Additional Information About Aging
Aging is not really a disease, per say. However, it’s a major risk factor for a whole lot of serious chronic diseases. In addition to that, many diseases seem to accelerate the aging process, at least in terms of declining functionality and a reduced quality of life.
An important subject for research is how to differentiate the biological changes of aging from normal biology relating to a particular disease. For example, inflammation is a vital part of the healing and recovery process for wounds or bacterial infections. However, age-related chronic inflammation without a recognizable cause is often related to the progression of various age-related illnesses and disorders. Chronic inflammation may also help cause further frailty in aging people.
Recent Research Findings
Treatment interventions that aim to extend an aging person’s lifespan can also extend their healthspan. This suggests that life extending interventions can also help reduce the burden of several diseases.
One encouraging research area works with cellular senescence. This process involves cells losing their functions, including their ability to replicate and divide. But, these cells will still secrete damaging molecules that can affect nearby neighboring cells. When scientists treated mice with senolytics (substances that destroy these senescent cells) they regained their physical function. These senolytics extended the healthspan and lifespan of aged mice. Researchers also found that clearing out senescent cells from the brain can help with cognition in mice with the mouse version of Alzheimer’s disease. With this information in mind, several modified senolytics have newly been moved into early-stage human trials.
Long lifespans may be inherited through generations of people due to epigenetic changes. These changes affect how the genes behave, but not their underlying DNA sequence. This information implies that the lifespan and even behavior of parents can influence the lifespans and healthspans of their children using mechanisms other than simple genetics.
Factors That Influence Aging
Psychological and behavioral factors are critically important to a person’s health and wellbeing across their lifespan. Examples of these factors include whether or not a person smokes, their level of physical activity, their social and cognitive engagement, their level of psychosocial stress, and their personality.
How social a person is and their socioeconomic status can have a sizable impact on their well-being and health. For example, chronic feelings of loneliness or social isolation are a known risk factor for a whole host of diseases in aging populations, and even premature death in some cases.
Various recommendations for healthy aging include dietary supplements, an optimal diet, quality sleep, adequate physical exercise, regular mental stimulation, social engagement, and stress reduction. These methods are recommend for people of all ages, and are meant to increase their chances of reaching a healthy old age.
Other Information About Aging
A recommended physical lifestyle to preserve good health for older adults can include:
- Eating generally healthy. As a person ages, their specific dietary needs can change. They may need fewer calories a day than they used to, but they need to be sure to get enough nutrients. Recommended foods include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean meats, nuts, and seeds.
- Exercising regularly. The amount of exercise a person needs depends on their personal health status and their age. They should be sure to consult a health care provider before beginning an exercise regimen.
- Quitting smoking. If a person is a current smoker, quitting is one of the best things they can do to improve their health. Not smoking can significantly lower a person’s risk of developing many different types of cancer, specific lung diseases, and heart disease.
- Avoiding empty calories as much as possible. Examples include foods like baked goods, candy, chips, alcohol, and soda.
- Eating foods low in fat and cholesterol as much as possible.
- Staying at a healthy weight for their height and build. A person who is either overweight or underweight is at risk for various health problems. Consult a health care provider to be sure what a healthy weight means for each individual person. Exercise and a healthy diet can help a person reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- Staying hydrated. Be sure to drink a proper amount of fluids every day.
- Making sure to prevent falls. Older adults are at a higher risk of falling, and are more likely to fracture (break) bones when they fall. Exercising regularly, keeping eye exams up to date, and fall-proofing the house can lower a person’s risk of falling.
Tips for Mental Well-Being In Aging Adults
- Keeping their mental health a priority. People should be aware of mental health warning signs, and should be comfortable and able to ask for help if they’re struggling.
- Playing an active role in their own health care. Be sure to have regular needed checkups and screenings. They should be aware of what medications they take, why they need them, and how to properly take them.
- Keeping their mind as active as possible. Many activities can keep the mind active and improve memory, such as reading, playing games, and learning new skills or hobbies.
- Continuing to participate in activities they enjoy. Those who are involved in social/leisure activities and hobbies may lower their risk for certain health problems. People doing things that they enjoy can help them feel happier and improve their cognitive abilities.
These tips can help with healthy aging, and can be started at any time in a person’s life. It’s never too early or too late to start improving health. If any questions arise about these tips, be sure to consult a health care provider.