You’ve most likely heard the saying, “age is nothing but a number,” right? Well, we may not always feel this way, especially as our bodies inevitably begin to show signs of aging, so many of us look for ways to maintain our youth, both physically and mentally. We are huge fans of doing all we can to stay happy, healthy, and capable as we get older.
Aging is a natural process, of course, and understanding that many of our physical abilities usually peak in our 20’s and early 30’s, when our bodies are the fastest, strongest, and have the most energy, can help put things into perspective. After this time, the rate at which we experience physical decline varies drastically from one person to the next, but there are things we can do to age well.
Regardless of where you are in the process, it’s important to know what might lie ahead of you. This becomes especially important if you’re hoping to figure out how to age gracefully. To understand this, we’ll go through some of the normal expectations for aging and ways to make aging well a possibility.
What Changes Should I Expect As I Get Older?
Like we mentioned above, the rate at which we experience age-related changes to our bodies tends to be highly individualized and based upon lifestyle choices, genetics, and environmental factors. It’s important to know that most physical changes discussed here will have very little, if any, effect on our quality of life or ability to enjoy our favorite activities. On the other hand, physical changes that result from health conditions or poor lifestyle choices may have the opposite effect and are not considered to be part of the normal aging process.
Follow along to see what happens to 6 different parts of our bodies during the normal aging process.
What happens to my bones?
Were you aware that our bones are constantly changing throughout our life cycle? They go through a process known as remodeling, which gradually begins to taper off in the mid-to-late 30’s. As a result, our bone structure changes and becomes more susceptible to fractures, breaks, and arthritis.
These problems directly result from a reduction in the bone marrow, which is the soft, sponge-like center of each bone. As the bone marrow begins to change, the integrity and strength of the bones decreases. Unfortunately, this process leads to osteopenia and osteoporosis, which is the number one culprit behind hip fractures in older men and women.
Additionally, the cartilage between your bones can also undergo age-related changes. Cartilage, which provides cushioning and shock absorption, starts to lose water and, therefore, becomes more susceptible to stress. This also leads to faster formation of arthritis or bone spurs.
Changes like these are of particular concern in older people who are at risk of falls. As you may know, falls can lead to serious injuries, a loss of independence, and even disability. While many resources exist to avoid this, it’s important to talk to a qualified healthcare professional to receive individualized services tailored to benefit you.
What happens to my hair?
Losing hair, especially around the hairline, is commonly associated with age. You may also notice that your hair is beginning to thin around the age of 50, especially in men. Changes to hair color are also common. However, gray hair is not solely associated with age and may be affected by genetics.
What happens to my height?
The average person loses about 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) in height beginning at age 40. This loss is associated with changes in the spine as the intervertebral discs begin to shrink and lose their water. While this may affect your ability to reach the top shelf in the kitchen cabinets, rest assured that there are no significant health concerns associated with a loss of height.
What happens to my skin?
Inconsistent use, or a complete non-use, of sunscreen will bring on premature age spots and wrinkles, especially as your skin becomes less elastic. Wrinkles, changes to your skin, and dryness are most commonly seen in the face, neck, skin, and hands.
What happens to my muscles?
Changes to muscle strength and mass (the size of your muscles) begins in middle age with the most rapid loss occurring after the age of 50. Although this is a natural process, a sedentary and inactive lifestyle can actually accelerate such changes.
Your first question may be, “how do I know if this is starting to happen?” You may notice that it takes you longer to pack on strength and size if you’re in your 50’s as opposed to when you were 25 years old. You may also notice that you’re quicker to fatigue and take longer to recover between strenuous workouts.
But don’t let this deter you from exercising, especially once you reach your 30’s and 40’s. Without regular exercise, your heart becomes less efficient, your metabolism slows, and you may even see a rise in your cholesterol levels.
What happens to my weight?
If you’re not careful, the weight can start to creep up on you in your 30’s and 40’s. On the other hand, many people notice a gradual decline in weight after their 50’s. Remember, eating a healthy and balanced diet can help you maintain a desirable and consistent weight, regardless of your age. Related: Take a glance at our article on forming positive relationships with fitness and nutrition and how to sustain healthy habits.
What You Can Do to Make Aging Well a Reality
It’s a proven fact that many changes to our bodies result more from disuse than from simple aging. Fight to make aging well a reality by taking some of the following steps.
1. Exercise! Even a moderate amount of exercise can help you reap physical and mental benefits. 30 minutes per day can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. Vary your exercise by including strength training, balance exercises, and stretching. Know that long-term, consistent exercise will delay age-related changes to your muscles and prevent excessive fluctuations in weight. It can also improve your response time and overall cardiovascular efficiency.
2. Focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle while eliminating bad habits, like smoking, chewing tobacco, poor sleep, and excessive alcohol use.
3. Continue to get routine, preventive check-ups with doctors, including your primary care provider, optometrist, dentist, gynecologist, and mental health practitioners.
4. Do not be afraid to advocate for yourself when it comes to matters of your health and wellness. Likewise, any changes to your mood or emotions should be discussed with a qualified professional. Untreated mental health problems are associated with poor health outcomes, disability, and chronic illness.
5. Do interesting things and remain active in activities that stimulate your senses and intellect. Engage in something that matters to you and that you care passionately about.
6. Nutrition is also very important, of course. Check out 4 Ways Your Nutritional Needs Change As You Age.
Is aging well a priority for you? What types of things do you routinely do to prevent early aging? Share your tips and tricks with us in the comments below. And we're always listening, so if you have questions, send them our way.
Written for Fitness Blender by Kayla C, PT, DPT
Board-Certified Neurological Clinical Specialist