The Normal Aging Process
Society has taught us all kinds of “things” regarding aging, including the process of aging and “normal” changes that occur. Most of what we hear from others comes in the form of “myths” of normal aging. Knowledge of these myths makes aging a fearful, unhappy approaching event for many of us. However, it should be the sight of a new beginning. Understanding the aging process; what, why, and how changes occur; and strategies to prepare ourselves for these changes gives new life and appeal to a very special time in all our lives.
There is a growing appreciation that everyone does not age in the same way or at the same rate. Many of the changes that occur from aging result from a gradual loss. These losses often begin in early adulthood, but thanks to the ability of our organs to adjust and maintain health, the actual loss is not experienced until it is fairly extensive. Most organs seem to lose function at about one percent a year, beginning around age 30. Interestingly enough, the majority of these changes are not seen until after age 70. The biggest difference in the rate of aging and organ efficiency lies in the presence of disease and/or the ability of the body to adapt to external stress.
Changes that occur with aging fall into three categories: physical, psychological, and social. As changes begin to happen in one area of a person’s life, most likely the other two will be affected as well. There is a wide variation among individuals in the rate of aging and, within the same person, different organ systems age at different rates. However, we all experience common changes to some degree.
How we age can be a result of our diet, exercise, personal habits, and psychosocial factors. An important fact to remember is that biological age does not equal chronological age.
Decrease in Physical Strength, Endurance, and Flexibility
Muscle strength and flexibility decrease with age. A major reason muscles tend to become weaker is that there is less lean muscle mass and they shrink from lack of use. It happens whether a person is young or old. As muscles are not used, they don’t work as well. The capacity to assure strenuous effort gradually declines.
You eventually become less able to walk as far or lift as much as you used to. This is because skeletal muscles atrophy (shrink with age). Conditioning is the most dominant factor influencing this rate of decline.
Decline in Efficiency of Body Organs
Functioning of all body organs is not as efficient as before. Examples include:
♥ The heart becomes a less efficient pump. It requires more oxygen to do the same work it used to do with less oxygen.
When you reach your fifties, there also is an increased thickness and hardening of the arteries causing blood pressure to rise slightly and then level off.
♥ Other problems associated with heart disease can cause blood pressure to continue to rise to a point of needing medication. Taking medication as ordered is very important when you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, even if you “feel fine.” Generally, high blood pressure affects the organs inside without giving us any physical warning signs. This is the danger of not being treated and maintaining proper medical care which could result in a stroke and/or heart attack. ♥ Lungs become less elastic, and do not expand as well; thus, less oxygen gets into them. Smoking makes this problem worse at a much earlier age in people that smoke versus those who do not.
♥ As you age, it takes longer for your kidneys to get rid of waste products. These substances tend to remain in the body for a longer period of time. This is particularly the case with medications.
♥ Urinary incontinence is not a normal change with aging. Not being able to
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