May 27, 2023
Maybe you know someone who just does not look their age. Their skin is still vibrant, their jawline is firm, and they move like someone twenty years younger. Then there are those unfortunate folks who look older than they actually are, who move slowly about and have weathered skin, and dark circles under their eyes. Even though these two individuals could be the very same chronological age, their biological ages are likely to be completely different!
Chronological age is the way we usually define aging, meaning the number of years that have elapsed since a person was born. But there is another way to measure aging, one that longevity researchers would argue is more important, and that is a measure of the amount of damage that has occurred in your cells and tissues over time as a result of the biological processes of living.
Let’s take a bit of a deeper dive into what happens to your cells as you age and what you can do to slow this natural process down. Plus, we’ll look at some cutting-edge research that suggests biological aging could even be reversed.
Aging affects all cells. Since cells are the building blocks of all tissues, including your brain, muscles, nerves, skin, organs and other bodily structures, all the tissues of your body are subject to aging’s effects. As your cells age, many become larger due to an increase in certain proteins building up inside the cell, and they lose the ability to easily divide and multiply. Certain pigments and fats start to accumulate inside these cells. Many cells begin to function abnormally, or even lose their ability to properly function at all.
Other cells atrophy, meaning they get smaller. Cells that make up your body’s connective tissue stiffens, meaning your blood vessels and airways, and even your organs become more rigid. The cellular membranes change as well, impairing the ability of many tissues to efficiently get oxygen and nutrients, and to dispose of carbon dioxide and other wastes that are by-products of metabolism. This means your organs also age. Fortunately, most people don’t really notice an immediate loss because organs have a built-in reserve function, meaning you rarely, if ever, need to use your organs to their fullest capacity.
But this reserve function slowly declines as well, with the largest changes occurring in the lungs, heart and kidneys. Just as no two people will age at the same rate, the amount of function left in reserve will vary, not only between individuals, but between different organs in the same person.
There are biomarkers of aging, which when measured, can give you some idea of how well you are doing. These biomarkers include IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), insulin, glucose, C-reactive protein (which is a measure of systemic inflammation), triglycerides, and blood pressure. There are companies that specialize in these measurements and purport to give you your biological age as compared with your chronological age, but the science on this is still very young.
So when you consider the best ways to maintain good health for as long as possible, remember: get optimum sleep, eat a well-balanced nutritious diet, exercise regularly including aerobic as well as weight training to preserve muscle mass, embrace practices to keep the effects of stress under control, maintain strong social ties to family and friends, keep your mind involved in learning new things and cultivate positive emotions.
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