The Aging Human Body

"Youth is the most wonderful time of life; it's too bad it is wasted on the young." This has probably been the unexpressed sentiment of many older adults who wake up one morning to find grey hair, wrinkles, sagging cheeks, and a double chin in the mirror, hair in the wash basin, and aches, pains, and stiffness in places where they did not even know they had places. The physical changes that accompany aging appear gradually, not without warning, but nevertheless disturbing the eternal summer of young adulthood, when it seems as if one might very well live forever. In our more rational, reflective moments, we realize that we cannot remain perpetually young, but the mind rarely entertains the thought of personal mortality, and denial keeps us going during the endless round of days.

Whether we like it or not, all of us age — some more rapidly than others and not all organs and systems at the same rate. Most people reach a physical peak, "the prime of life," during their early twenties. This is when they are stronger, quicker, healthier, sexier, and their bodies are generally at a higher performance level than at any other age. The digestive, respiratory, neurological, genitourinary, and, in fact, almost all organs and systems are functioning optimally at this time. The heart and circulatory system, however, have reached their peak somewhat earlier-in late adolescence.

By the late twenties, most body functions have reached a plateau. As shown in Figure 2-1, many physical functions change significantly after early adulthood, some more slowly than others. Because of these changes, at the beginning of middle adulthood, the physical functioning of a typical person is 20% less efficient than it was at its peak.

Proper exercise and nutrition, and a lifestyle keyed to moderation and happiness, can slow down the rate of age-related decline. But regardless of how much we might wish it were otherwise, changes associated with genetically based primary aging or senescence are inevitable. More under one's personal control is the secondary aging produced by living conditions, trauma, disease, and other events not directly related to heredity. Still, it is important to emphasize that, even after middle adulthood, the age-related changes in body structure and functioning are gradual and less severe than one might expect.

Age (Years)

Figure 2-1 Age changes in five physical functions. (Based on data reported in Newsweek, March 5, 1990, pp. 44-47.)

Age (Years)

Figure 2-1 Age changes in five physical functions. (Based on data reported in Newsweek, March 5, 1990, pp. 44-47.)

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment