Internal Organs And Systems

The vital signs of a person consist of pulse rate, body temperature, blood pressure, and respiration rate. Of all bodily systems, functioning of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems is considered most indicative of the general condition of a person. As long as the heart is pumping blood at the correct pressure and breathing is regular, the person is viewed as being in no immediate mortal danger.

In this section I discuss some of the details of age-related changes in physical functioning. To some extent, the majority of these changes are the inevitable consequences of aging. Rather than occurring suddenly at age 30, 40, 50, 60, or later, most of them are quite gradual. In fact, rather than beginning in middle- or late life, aging actually begins before early adulthood. For example, vital capacity— the amount of air that can be moved in and out of the lungs in a deep breath—peaks at around age 18 to 20. Furthermore, the range of individual differences in the structure and functioning of the human body is greater among older adults than among younger ones. Most people begin taking it easier in their sixties, but others continue to exercise vigorously well into their seventies, and still others engage in gainful employment during their eighties and nineties.

It has sometimes been said that if you wish to live a long life, you should choose your own grandparents. Certainly, the rate of aging is influenced by heredity, but the severity of age-related changes in the body is also affected by disease, injury, exercise, nutrition, smoking, environmental pollution, and other lifestyle factors. Even in old age, changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration can be moderated by regular physical exercise. And though their bodies may not function as efficiently as they did in earlier years, people can learn to compensate for disabilities by exercising good judgment with regard to their health and capabilities, and pace themselves accordingly. Like the person who bounces back and recuperates quickly after a serious illness or accident, one can learn to cope with the physical changes that accompany the aging process and make the most of what he or she has. This does not mean that concerns about age-related changes in abilities and feelings are necessarily counterproductive or abnormal. Such concerns are quite reasonable, and if they do not lead to obsessive preoccupation with appearance and physical well-being, they can contribute to the reduction of pain and disability, and the enhancement of daily living.

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