Fundamentals of Healthy Aging – What Causes “Aging”?

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each week, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Fundamentals of Healthy Aging – What Causes “Aging”?

Aging is a process of gradual change that results in the accumulation of small incremental decreases in the normal functional capacities of the body and mind. Effects on outward appearance also become noticeable as changes occur in the skin, hair and nails. Other functional changes involve the regulation of metabolism and of physiological systems, affecting such things as immune function, vision, sexual performance, energy levels and sleep. Some of the changes that affect the body’s structural elements – muscles, bones, joints, tendons and ligaments – occur gradually over many years. As these changes take place, movement, flexibility, strength, endurance and recovery from overuse or injury may be compromised. Also, because aging-associated changes can affect the body’s control centers – the brain, spinal cord and nerves – cognitive functions, including memory formation and retrieval, quickness of thought, ability to concentrate and make decisions, attention span, emotional balance and mood – can become less reliable. Scientists have yet to agree upon a clear definition of aging, other than simply “getting older,” but, like the rest of us, most know it when they see it.

Many theories abound for the causes of the signs of aging on the human body. A number of them make a certain amount of sense from a strictly empirical (that is, evidence-based) scientific point of view that focuses on the individual. A major theory is the “free radical theory of aging” that suggests that eventually the accumulation of the inevitable chemical imperfections in body biochemistry will cause enough damage to result in functional declines and failures in various body systems. The evidence for this is increasing, as we now know a number of physiological changes occur in cells throughout the body secondary to the ravages of oxidative stress. We also know that cells exposed to overwhelming oxidative damage eventually will succumb to it and die. It is also well-established that cells capable of defending themselves through the production or availability of antioxidant defenses can stay stronger, longer. Thus, according to this theory, the health of every cell, and thus organ, system and likely the human individual, is dependent on maintaining a balance that favors a higher amount of antioxidants to free radicals. Further evidence for this comes from studies showing that individuals consuming foods that are high in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, generally are healthier overall than those individuals consuming diets low in antioxidant-rich foods. Based on these findings, it is easy to see how this theoretical perspective on the causes of aging has merit.

On the other hand, other theories attempt to explain the issue from larger perspectives, such as a sort of combination of environmental influences and genetic predetermination that lead to a determination of how cells, organs, systems and the body age. Studies of population groups comprising different ethnicities have shown that certain cultures certainly have varying genetic makeup and tendencies towards differing health concerns.

People in South Asia tend to have a greater incidence of heart disease than many other cultural groups throughout the world. Recently, genetic factors have been identified that likely explain this greater risk, at least in part. Several other such examples exist in cultures spanning the globe. In the end, all possibilities exert some influence on the process of “aging” and together combine to produce the changes in normal physiology associated with age.

The preceding can appear to describe an overwhelming situation – what some may describe as the “inevitability” of age. It’s not surprising that so many people seem to surrender to these changes and choose to embrace “the inevitable.” Please don’t follow their example. They are not aware of and, therefore, cannot understand the key to “healthy aging” – for every dart that “growing older” seems to throw at you, Mother Nature offers you a shield. These shields, or principles, describe the foundations of healthy aging practices. Your job is to determine what those principles are, which principles apply to your individual case, and how to implement them in your daily life. Of course, if you’ve read through the book (or blog posts) this far you know the answers. Now, the challenge is to actualize the principles that have been outlined here and incorporate them into your diet, your lifestyle practices, and your foundational nutritional regimen, adding to this foundation based on your own needs.

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
Fundamentals of Healthy Aging – Is “Aging” Truly Inevitable?