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Updated 21 May 2013

How your body will age

Yes, your body will deteriorate with age. Here are the basics of what to look out for, and some hints on how to slow the process.

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Yes, your body will deteriorate with age. But while biological processes do play a role, our lifestyle and attitude can greatly impact on the extent of that wear and tear.

Here are the basics of what to look out for, and some hints on how to slow the process.

Skin

Yip, there goes the skin texture. It’s payback time now for those years of sun damage, pollution, smoking, alcohol and caffeine.

As you age, cell renewal in the epidermis slows down, causing the skin to become rougher. The loss of collagen results in lack of elasticity and that lovely plumpness (test: pull up the skin on the back of your hand. If it springs back you are still doing well. If not, glug a glass of water – it can only help.)

Then those ‘character lines’ move in for good where the skin is under constant stress, whether it be from smiling or frowning. Pigmentation, such as ‘sun’ or ‘liver’ spots may occur and, as the sebaceous gland function decreases skin dryness increases.

Action plan: You know what to do. Stop smoking, slather on sunblock with at least SPF 15, cut down on the alcohol and those cappuccinos and drink water - lots of it.

Turn to good moisturisers that are beneficial for your skin type – and remember, if the promises sound too good to be true, they probably are. Cosmetic anti-ageing ingredients that have beauty editors raving right now are peptides, white tea extract, pomegranate, marine collagen and Retinol.

There are loads of other treatments available, from lasers to botox to peels to injections. Should you consider this route, do your homework: consult with an experienced plastic surgeon or practitioner and weigh up all the risks, side effects and long-term benefits before you start.

Eyes

So you have short-arm syndrome? Many people, once they hit 40, suddenly discover they battle to focus on objects nearby. That’s because presbyopia (age-related long-sightedness) has set in, caused by the lens of the eye gradually hardening and the ciliary muscle, the one involved in changing the shape of the eye for focusing, weakening. While natural deterioration is the underlying cause, it is helped along by us constantly being up close and personal with TV screens, computer monitors and tiny cellphone screens. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is something completely different, but also a condition that is related to the ageing process.

Action plan: Do eye exercises to stretch those focusing muscles: look up, look down, left and right. Ignore stares from your colleagues. To help stave off AMD, stop smoking and watch cholesterol levels. Zinc and antioxidants are said to be beneficial. Go for regular eye check-ups.

Contact: South African National Council for the Blind 

Hair

You are not alone with your grey hairs: approximately half the world’s population has evidence of grey hairs by the time they are 40. Basically you have run out of pigment, and this happens at different ages for different people.

The rate at which you go grey is determined by your genes, but it can be accelerated by stress and poor diet. More good news for women is hair loss generally affects men far more than women.

Action plan: The truth is women get away with dyeing their hair. Men don’t. Whatever your gender, know what you are doing when you hit the hair colourants and rather go to a salon. If you are going bald, then embrace it with dignity. Do not do that drape-the-remaining-locks-over-the-pate thing: winter winds and summer swims will shred that disguise very quickly.

Bones

Ah, the creak of age. Normally bone mass (the density of the bones as measured by the amount of calcium they contain) starts to decline by 1% a year after the age of 35 until the age of 65, after which the loss slows by about two-thirds.

“Osteoporosis (loss of bone mass) occurs in all women to a certain degree,” says Dr Miriam Stoppard, expert on women’s health issues and author of A Woman’s Body – A Manual for Life (Dorling Kindersley). Depending on the extent of the reduced bone mass there is an increased risk of fractures even during a minor fall.

Action plan: As with so many health issues you can do yourself a massive favour by quitting smoking and increasing your calcium intake. Calcium plays a major role in bone strength. Find it naturally in fish, nuts, dairy products, green, leafy vegetables and fortified cereals. Ask your doctor about a calcium supplement. Also, go easy on the salt as this can inhibit calcium absorption. If you do have osteoporosis already your doctor may prescribe medication to stop bone loss.

Contact: The Arthritis Foundation of South Africa and the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa.

Ears

Say what? Our ears were not created to deal with the daily aural assault of boom boxes, industrial machines, rock concerts, washing machines and televisions. All of these, over a period of time, lead to the erosion of our hearing.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States reports that, for the average person, ageing does not cause impaired hearing before at least the age of 60: “People who are not exposed to noise and are otherwise healthy, keep their hearing for many years. People who are exposed to noise and do not protect their hearing begin to lose their hearing at an early age. For example, by age 25 the average carpenter has "50-year old" ears!”

Action plan: Take what action you can to protect yourself from unnecessary noise. If you cannot remove yourself from the situation (such as the builders next door), get earplugs.

If your hearing has diminished then protect what is left by getting hearing aids. And remember, give your ears a rest. You can choose to switch off the radio, the TV, the cellphone…

Contact: Deaf Federation of South Africa.

Brain

Can’t remember where you put your keys? That’s not a problem. Can’t remember what to do with them when you find them? That’s a problem.

However, while brain cells begin to be lost from the age of 35 onwards, the dreaded Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia, is not an inevitable consequence of getting older. Alzheimer’s South Africa reports that while the risk of developing this type of dementia dramatically increases with age most older people do not develop the condition. In fact, only one in five people in their eighties are affected by it.

Action plan: The New England Journal of Medicine reports that studies showed leisure activities, such as dancing, reading, playing board games and musical instruments were linked to a decreased risk of dementia. The bottom line is keep active, mentally and physically for as long as possible.

Contact: Alzheimer’s South Africa.

 
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