When we were little kids we had a notion that we would always stay that way, play with our friends under the heat of the summer sun, or run around the green meadows showered by cool dewy drops of rain. We thought, like Peter Pan, we would never have to grow up. We would never have to deal with the problems of the world only the problems of what game to play next or what adventure to have next. Everything seemed perfect until of course, we realize that Peter Pan doesn’t exist and that eventually we all had to grow up and with growing up we also had to grow old.
Some of you might remember your childhood days and wonder why do we even have to grow up and age? Why can’t we stay like little kids for the rest of our lives? The thought actually amuses me, imagine a world run by kids in adult corporate attires and suitcases going about there business in the metro talking about stocks and what not. Wouldn’t that be a site?
However, like everything that there is and there was on this planet, there is a reason why we age biologically. Like technically we age because it’s the natural process of life. A life process predetermined by some unforeseen force that has also predetermined much like everything in this universe. But biologically speaking there is more to aging than a predetermined course of nature.
The Science of Aging
There is a branch of science that deals with the study of the aspects of aging, it is called Gerontology. It is a multifaceted study that deals with not just physical aspects of aging but mental, social and societal implications of aging as well. It has its cousin in the form of Geriatrics which only deals with the medical aspect of aging such as health and diseases and the care that older people need as well as the well-being of their caregivers. But as gerontology is multifaceted there are some areas of concentration that must be addressed like: changes within certain individuals because of age, differences within generations and varied experiences of individuals even if they are of the same generation.
Theories About Why We Age
Relatively speaking there are two predominant theories accepted in the medical and scientific field as to why humans age as cited by some sources. We have the programmed theories and error theories.
These theories’ main point is that the human body is bound to undergo changes that are biologically predesigned for it. There are a few sub-theories listed under the programmed theories such as:
- Programmed Longevity: states that there are genes that come and go through the course of existence
- Endocrine Theory: talks about certain hormones that control the process of aging
- Immunological Theory: over time the immune system declines as it was a predestined course of action
Contrary to Programmed theories, Error theories stand by the ideology that the human body is exposed to several environmental damages that can accumulate and cause the aging process over the course of time. Sub-theories under it are:
- Wear and tear: generally speaking, cells and tissues undergo wear and tear every day and causes aging
- Rates of living: simply the pace at which an organism uses oxygen determines how long that organism will probably live
- Cross-linking: accumulation of cross-linked proteins that slow down bodily processes
- Free radicals: are harmful reactive atoms that may alter the chemical structure of DNA, damage cells and proteins
- Somatic DNA Damage: mutations in the genes sometimes cause cells to malfunction
In hindsight, these two main theories talk about why we biologically age and drive a lifelong debate as to why organisms and human beings alike grow old, deteriorate and eventually die.
When Body Organs Age
Perhaps the most noticeable changes we might see in ourselves as we grow to old age are the changes in our body more or less in the way some organ functions change drastically. For one, the single most involuntary muscle in our body, the heart begins to slow down. The thickening of the walls of the heart and eventually the thickening of the arteries affect the rate at which the heart can pump blood to the various systems of the body and with thickened arteries, the blood being pumped just doesn’t run as smooth as they did before.
Lung capacity is also reduced by 40% starting from the age of 20-70 due to aging. The immune system is also steadily compromised as T cells are no longer replenished as fast as they would be in younger people. The brain is also not an exemption to the effects of aging as some neurons die out and cause cognitive degeneration. Kidneys no longer process waste as fast as they do in younger people so it’s just natural to be more careful in the food you consume. Muscle tone diminishes by 22% as one grows old but muscle definition can still be maintained with proper exercise. Just like the muscles in the body, the bones also deteriorate, they become brittle and lose their rigidity as old age kicks in.
But what we often notice in people who are already aging is the massive decline in their capacity to see clearly or vision loss and hear clearly or hearing loss. The above listed are just some of the changes in our body organs that are more noticeable.
It’s All in the Genes
History books would tell you that the obsession to prolong life has been as old as history itself. To preserve a beloved leader sometimes devout followers would dedicate an entire lifespan to look for that fountain of youth. In some myths and legends of old, they believed that they have found that elixir and that it is liquid Mercury and opted prominent figures in society to be buried alongside a manmade river of liquid Mercury. Others also believed that it is the preservation of bodies for the afterlife like mummification from Egypt to Asia. Oddly enough these afterlife practices have not really proved that they prolong the lifespan of an individual, well they already are dead, to begin with. However a few centuries later, science has seen a glimpse of the possibility of succeeding where history has failed, longevity.
Cells are the building blocks of life and sometimes it’s all in the genes, there are a select few individuals that just have won the gene pool lottery ticket. No, I’m not talking about those with pretty faces and physiques to die for. Scientists have just been able to scratch the surface of the mysteries surrounding the human body. Theories suggest that there are some individuals that have a certain genetic make-up that give them a better chance at fighting the process of aging and some who also have the genetic make-up where they tend to age more prominently than others, of course putting aside environmental factors and their lifestyle.
A few experiments way back, scientists have discovered that by altering the genetic make-up of some organisms they can extend or almost double the lifespan of these organisms. They have opened the door to the possibility of prolonging lives. A window to that is now the widely promoted use of stem cells wherein stem cells are cultured for their property and ability to become any specific cell needed which in most cases repairing damaged cells. An example is when a patient needs a new organ but has difficulty finding a donor match, stem cells can be used to repair the tear in the said organ and it’ll all be just like brand new.
Stem cells have also now been incorporated in beauty regimens by injecting them into areas that warrant a desirable younger change. Apart from stem cell therapy, there is also a newly discovered gene, when altered may help a person live longer though none has been proven yet because scientists just can’t conduct experiments on humans since the world’s taciturn view of the human experiment.
Can We Slow Down the Aging Process?
It is inevitable that all of us are going to grow up and grow old, but nobody said we can’t at least cause a delay to this speeding train called aging. There are some helpful tips as to how we can at least delay the aging process but we have to start as early as now in order to reap the rewards later on in life.
Tips on How to Age Slowly
- Start the fight with free radicals by adding foods rich in antioxidants to your diet.
- Keep calm and stay away from stress and any stressors in your environment since stress is a huge propagator of premature aging.
- Have a healthy habit of exercising to minimize bone and muscle deterioration.
- Exercise your brain as well by engaging in a fun yet intellectually stimulating activities like reading a novel or answering crossword puzzles on the daily newsprint.
- Low sodium and cholesterol diets are a plus if you want to keep your heart steadily pumping and your arteries unclogged.
- Drink plenty of water, as much as 2 litters a day to help replenish the cells and keep that vital glow on your skin.
- If you can, go on and add more protein to your diet as protein helps maintain the elasticity of the skin and promote more collagen in the body.
There is just no easy way to put it, rich or poor, pretty or ugly, man or woman eventually we all undergo the same process that life has dealt us. We all grow old and age. We don’t find neverland unlike Peter Pan but by living smart and choosing wisely on how we live our lives then we might just delay the clock a little bit and hold on to those precious moments when we were young as Adele would sing.