You can’t stop it but you can slow it down

You can’t stop it but you can slow it down

We are all aging – every day, little by little. We may not be aware of it, we may ignore it, we may deny it, but one day we look in the mirror and we are greyer, wrinklier, slower.

I have been reading an interesting series of articles on aging, by Professor Stephen C. Schimpff. He states that most organ functions decline on average by one percent per year. This decline begins at around age forty and continues throughout life. Thankfully, most organs have a massive redundancy, so this decline goes unnoticed for many years. But at some point, the threshold is crossed and the deficit becomes apparent – resulting in some kind of functional impairment. People who have enjoyed excellent vision discover they need “Clicks readers”. Hearing diminishes (or wives start to mumble!), and hearing aids may become necessary. Balance is affected. Heart, lung, kidney and brain function deteriorate.

The normal aging process is universal, progressive and irreversible.

This normal aging process is universal, progressive and irreversible. It is inevitable; it happens to all of us and there is no turning back the clock. But it is possible to slow this 1% annual decline, and the onset or severity, of the resultant functional impairments.

To give you an example: Bones reach their peak density at around twenty years of age (a man aged twenty has a greater bone mineral density than a woman aged twenty). Bone mineral density then plateaus until around age 40 and then declines at around 1% per year. When women enter menopause, this rate increases to 3% per year for a few years, before returning to 1% – explaining why older women are diagnosed with more often with osteoporosis. Chronic stress and tobacco use can speed up the loss. Physical activity and good diet (and stopping smoking) can slow this loss down.

Brain Function: We reach our cognitive peak at around age 20. It plateaus for around ten years – and then declines. Factors that speed up the process of cognitive aging include vascular conditions, chronic stress, elevated blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels. Protective factors include being physically active, good nutrition, intellectual challenges and social engagement.

Sarcopenia – or muscle wasting also progresses at a rate of around 1% of muscle loss per year. This is one of the factors implicated in decreased strength, diminished mobility – and the increased number of falls experienced by older people.

This illustration shows a cross section of the thigh of a 40 year old triathlete, a 74 year old sedentary man and a 70 year old triathlete. Note the difference in muscle mass! Physical activity certainly slows down the process of aging.

Of course, slowing down the aging process does not mean stopping it. My message is that it is never too late to begin a preventive programme, because, as Dr Schimpff states – slower aging and fewer chronic illnesses beats the alternative.

Author: Sr. Erika Janutsch : Nursing Manager at The Somerset.

Sister Erika Janutsch

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