Aging and Longevity – A Basic Overview
Aging is the effect of time passing on the human body after the body’s natural physical peak. Longevity is the length of time a human being gets to live. Human beings reach the peak of their growth and development during their mid 20s, after which the body slowly starts to decline. With proper care to slow aging, longevity can extend into the 90s or longer.
Aging makes some body systems slow down, which can lead to disease and loss of function. Aging ultimately decreases longevity, but most of the effects of aging are not life-threatening or disabling. How fast you age and how long you live are determined by your genes and your lifestyle.
What Speeds Aging? Longevity Decreasers
- Lifestyle: Studies have shown that drug abuse, smoking, stress, and excessive alcohol make the body age more quickly and therefore decrease longevity.
- Stress: Stress, both physical and emotional, taxes the body’s store of reserve nutrients and can cause cells and eventually organ systems to break down. Adequate mental and physical rest will help combat stress, and body/mind practices like yoga and meditation may help defend against excessive stress and improve longevity.
- Inflammation: Inflammation is often caused by poor nutrition, especially a lack of essential fatty acids. Get more fatty acids through supplements or by eating foods naturally high in “good fats” such as avocados and olive oil. Avoid trans fats, which add to inflammation.
- Blood sugar: Blood sugar is naturally balanced by hormones in the body, unless the diet contains too much sugar or a highly refined kind of sugar called high fructose corn syrup. If you get most of your carbohydrates from low-glycemic foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, your blood sugar is more likely to stay in balance. People with balanced blood sugar have greater longevity.
- Oxidation: Oxidation is the basic wearing down of body cells. Cell metabolism (the use by cells of energy) produces a byproduct called free radicals. Free radicals are chemically unbalanced and can cause damage to any cell they contact. Antioxidants find and destroy free radicals, keeping them from becoming dangerous.
What Happens to the Body During Aging?
Hearing. As we age, we lose some sensitivity to high-pitched tones.
Fat distribution. During aging, fat slowly increases as muscle mass slowly decreases, unless you use activity to counteract this effect. Fat also shifts from the extremities to the middle of the body. More fat may be present in the blood in the form of cholesterol and triglycerides. Eating a diet lower in fat may help prevent the damaging effects of higher blood lipids and increase longevity.
Dehydration. An aging body stores less water, which can make it harder to obtain nutrients. Eyes and saliva begin to dry out. Drinking more water may help.
Liver function. The aging liver is less efficient at eliminating toxins, so drugs stay in the body longer. Caffeine from a morning cup of coffee may keep you up at night if your liver can’t process out the caffeine efficiently. The fewer toxins you are exposed to, the more slowly your liver will age.
Digestion. The digestive system produces fewer digestive enzymes as it ages, which may lead to constipation or indigestion. Digestive enzymes supplements taken after meals can help. Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables or using a fiber supplement can make digestion more efficient.
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