The aging process
Human aging is the set of changes that occurs in the body leading to aging. Old age is considered the period of life that runs from the age of 65 on . Aging involves a number of changes, both physical and psychological, which worsen the physical and mental health of the ageing people.
Aging process starts from the so-called "period of growth" until 20 years of age. From 20 to 40, more or less, it is considered that the body is kept with the previously accumulated resources. At the age of 40 the body starts the period of aging, which can be extended more or less according to whether a person cares to a greater or lesser degree. Legally, it is considered that a person is "old" when reaching 65 years old, which generally coincides with the age of retirement.
However, these stages are rather theoretical and in practice it is believed that the aging process begins at 20 or 30 years of age and starts to manifest itself from the age of 30 or 40. For example, we know that athletes lose yield by 0.5 from the 30 or people begin to lose bone mass at 35. Many men lose their hair before they are 30 or it becomes gray much earlier.
During old age, also called "third age", the changes that have occurred previously will increase and give rise to a number of diseases that occur more frequently during this period.
How old can people be?
Ideally, it is estimated that the human body could live 120 years, yet the average life expectancy for women is 85.8 years, which is the average age of women living in Japan, the longest-living of all. Men who live a greater life expectancy are the Finns (79.4 years). In general, except in Nepal, women live longer than men. Russian women, for example, live an average of 10 years longer than men, and women on the Mediterranean, 5.
The reason for this seems to be heredity and female hormones (estrogens) that protect against cardiovascular disease. Other researchers point to the fact that men have been keeping far less healthy lifestyles, abusing more of the toxins such as tobacco and alcohol and eating less healthily. Other factors could be the most stressful way of life of men and less concern about their health status (fewer visits to the doctor and fewer revisions)
Increase of life expectancy
At the beginning of the XXth century the average life expectancy was of 49 years. Since then until now, it has increased in more than 25 years. This increase is due to four factors essentially:
- Prevention and treatment of the infectious diseases.
- Capacity to diagnose the diseases better.
- A more balanced diet
- Physical exercise
- Improved working conditions
In developed countries, the highest life expectancies lead to a progressive increase in the number of older people. If in 2000 there were about 600 million people over 65, it is predicted that by 2050 the number of people would be about 2000 million. It is anticipated that in 2100 the elderly will represent 17% of the total population of the most populous countries.
This increase supposes the necessity to provide these people with the necessary tools so that they have better health, preventing and improving the symptoms of those diseases that are more common during this period. (See "Diseases of old age" in the listing above)
Why don't most of us reach the age of 120?
The human body is subjected to a series of attacks of its own metabolism and the outside world and ends up with injured organs and shorten the ideal living conditions. It is believed that the Finns or the Japanese live longer because their diet contains foods that neutralize attacks. Finland's clean air could also explain part of the longevity of these people, as also does their kind of society that protects and cares for the elderly.
Causes of aging
There are different theories that try to explain why aging occurs, although it is believed that this process could be due to the sum of all of them. The main theories are:
- Theory of the free radicals: The free radicals take place as a result of the cellular oxidation. Free radicals alter the DNA of the cells, preventing the cellular renovation or altering their normal operation. In the aging process these particles are primarily responsible for the onset of degenerative diseases.
- Theory of the immune system: The immune system protects our body from microorganisms. The deterioration of this system leads to greater ease of transmission and the emergence of diseases that weaken the body and age. Moreover, as the body ages, the immune system has a harder difficulty distinguishing between microorganisms and their own cells, so that more reactions occur affecting autoimmune organism. Many diseases including cancer, rheumatism or diabetes may be more common in the elderly according to this theory.
- Theory of the genetic errors: According to this theory, called error theory, the accumulation of genetic errors in an individual determines the cellular malfunction. These errors are already in one's genetic inheritance or can be triggered later.
- Theory of the Hayflick effect: For the body to keep young, cells must reproduce so that young cells replace old ones. According to this theory, each species has scheduled a maximum number of cell divisions so that, when cells fail to act properly, the body does not function well. According to this theory, women carry in their genetic code the order of cell divisions longer than men, making them generally live longer.
- Theory of collagen: collagen or fibrous protein, forms most of the organs. Poor formation of collagen provides elasticity and lack of many bodily abnormalities, such as arthrosis, heart problems, wrinkles, poorly healed scars, weak bones, etc.
Consequences of aging
Aging brings a number of changes in the body of people who are becoming old. Older people eat less and take less profit of food. Skin, over the years, becomes thinner, less elastic and more fragile.
The layer of fat beneath the skin also decreases. Although not a direct consequence of aging, older people are more likely to have Alzheimer's or dementia.( More information in Consequences of aging in the listing above )
Prevention of aging
Aging is an inevitable process of all living organisms and Man is not exempt from it. Currently, a great importance is giving to staying young.
There is even an Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine in the United States that advocates to a type of treatment to maintain youth for longer. This is the Anti-aging Medicine, with which principles many doctors disagree either because they consider them ineffective or because they can even be dangerous.
Official medicine proposes a series of guidelines that are based on prevention to avoid degradation of the body (more than necessary) and to achieve optimal health for each individual age. Among the main guidelines proposed, the following stand out:
- To control the degenerative diseases very early, before they can cause a progressive deterioration of the body, manifesting more as people get older. Among these would be taken into account, for example, the following: control of hypertension, control of cholesterol, control of diabetes, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis or cancer.
- Control of the inflammatory or autoimmune processes like rheumatism, or asthma.
- Follow a varied diet rich in foods with antioxidant properties, in monounsaturated fatty acids and free of saturated fats or simple carbohydrates.
- Moderate daily physical activity, to stimulate the immune system and prevent diseases such as obesity, cholesterol or hypertension.
- Change of mentality and take a positive attitude towards life, reducing stress or anxiety and enjoying the contact with the world.
Natural treatment of aging
The natural treatment of a aging implies the use of a series of natural resources that help to delay the effects of time and provide better health conditions.
If you could take a pill to slow aging, would you?
“While the anti-aging ‘cures’ being marketed these days are largely snake oil, in the laboratory scientists have managed to extend the lives of laboratory animals. And they have a better understanding of the mechanisms of biological aging,” writes NPR’s Ina Jaffe.