Everyone has at some point or the other thought about what all is going to happen as you age. What is considered to be a normal part of aging? We already know that aging causes gray hair and wrinkles, but what about the other effects of aging, such as on our teeth, heart, bones, eyes, and sexuality? Let’s take a look at some of the biological effects in the body caused by aging.
The body undergoes a profound change as it ages because these changes occur in the smallest of cells and your organs. These changes will result in a difference in your appearance and, sometimes, even in the functioning of certain organs. Here are some of the biological effects that you will experience as part of the normal aging process.1
Effect of Aging On Your Cells
Let’s begin with the basic building blocks of your body – cells. As the cells start aging, they will start to lose their functioning ability over time. Eventually, the older cells die off as part of the normal body’s aging and functioning process. The old cells die because that is what they are programmed to do. The cells become larger, and eventually, they are no longer able to divide and multiply. At the same time, there is also an increase in the fatty substances and pigments present inside the cells. These waste products continue to build up in the cells, and they start to lose their ability to function, or even begin to function abnormally. The aging of a cell acts as the trigger for cell suicide, a condition known as apoptosis.2
In fact, many of the changes that go on in the body as it ages can be traced back to the changes in cells. For example, as you continue to age, the connective tissue cells start to become stiffer. The bones, ligaments, and cartilage are all made up of connective tissues, so they also start to lose mass. The cell membranes also begin to change, meaning many of the tissues in your body have a challenging time in soaking up oxygen and nutrients, and also in the process of detoxification. However, there is no need to become alarmed because these are all part of the natural process of aging and the body knows how to adapt itself to these changes.3
The old cells die because they become so large that they are no longer able to divide and multiply. This restriction is programmed into your genes. When a cell is no longer able to divide, it will get larger, live for a while, and die. There is a mechanism that restricts cell division in the body known as a telomere. Telomeres are used for moving a cell’s genetic material ad preparing it for cell division. However, in recent years, studies have shown that telomeres have a direct link to the body’s aging process.4 Telomeres can be thought of as being the ‘caps’ present at the end of each DNA strand that helps protect the chromosomes. Without this ‘cap,’ the chromosomes will get damaged, and our cells will no longer be able to do their job. Without the protection provided by the telomeres, our cells will age and die at a much faster rate.5
Telomere shortening is known to be involved in all the aspects of the aging process, at the very basic cellular level of our body. The telomere length is a representation of our biological age, but not out chronological age. Numerous scientific studies have found a strong connection between the shortening of telomeres and cellular aging.6
Because of the changes in cells and tissues, you experience changes in your organs as well as you age.
Effect of Aging on your Organs
Understandably, your organs will only be able to function, and the cells within them are working. As the cells become older, they stop functioning as well. Additionally, in some organs, the cells that die off are not replaced, causing a decrease in the overall number of cells. For example, the number of cells present in the ovaries, testes, kidneys, and liver starts to decrease significantly as the body ages. When the overall number of cells becomes too low, an organ can no longer function normally. This is why most organs start functioning less well as the body ages.
However, this does not mean that all the organs lose a massive number of cells. For example, healthy older adults do not lose much brain cells. Nevertheless, the substantial cell loses have been observed in people who have had a heart attack or stroke, or who have a disorder that causes progressive loss of nerve cells, such as Parkinson disease or Alzheimer’s disease.7
A decline in the functioning of any one organ, regardless of whether it is due to a disorder or natural aging, affects the functioning of another and kick start a chain reaction. For example, if atherosclerosis narrows the arteries that supply blood to the kidneys, the kidneys will not be able to function correctly since the blood flow decreases.
One of the first signs of aging is usually felt on the musculoskeletal system. The eyes, and then the ears start to experience change right from middle age itself. Many internal functions also start to decline as your age. Most of the tasks in the body peak just before the age of 30 and begin a gradual but continuous decline. Even with this decline in bodily functions, most functions continue properly since your organs typically have more functional capacity than your body needs.8
Despite the majority of functions remaining adequate, the decline in bodily functions means that for older people, handling even normal stresses of life, such as extreme temperature changes or strenuous physical activity, becomes challenging. This decline also makes it more likely for older adults to experience more side effects from medications. The heart, blood vessels, the urinary organs, and the brain are more likely to decline before other organs.9
Effect of Aging on your Heart
The heart works round the clock, pumping blood all day and night, regardless of whether you are asleep, awake, or working. The heart is known to pump out more than 2.5 billion heartbeats during your lifetime.10 As you start to age, your blood vessels begin to lose their elasticity, and fatty deposits known as plaques start building up against the artery walls. This causes the heart to work harder to circulate the blood throughout the body. This can cause high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
In order to adjust to this increased workload, the heart muscles will adapt themselves. While the heart rate at rest will remain more or less the same, it will also not increase during activities as it used to earlier. These are the changes that increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and other heart problems.
To promote heart health as you age, you should try to include regular physical activity in your daily routine. Walking, swimming or any other physical activity that you enjoy doing should help. Even exercising for ten minutes each day can help you maintain a healthy heart. Eating a healthy diet that includes a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, high-fiber foods, and healthy protein sources such as fish, will lower your risk of heart disease. At the same time, you should restrict the intake of foods that are high in salt and saturated fat. You should also quit smoking as smoking contributes further to the hardening of the arteries and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. You can ask your doctor to help you stop smoking.11
Effect of Aging on Bones, Muscles, and Joints
As we age, our bones start to shrink in size and density. It has been observed that some people actually become shorter as they age. Others become more prone to fractures due to bone loss. Tendons, muscles, and joints also start losing strength and flexibility.12
Again, regular exercise is a great way of preventing or slowing down these problems of aging with your bones, muscles, and joints. A healthy diet that includes calcium will also help keep your bones strong as you age.
Effect of Aging on the Eyes and Ears
There are many changes in your vision that will occur as you age. You may start needing help to see objects that are closer as the lens of the eyes stiffens. You may have a more difficult time seeing things in low light, and color might not seem the same anymore. Your eyes will also be less capable of producing tears as the lenses may be cloudier. You may be more sensitive to glare. Some of the common eye-related problems associated with aging include glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration.13,14
You may find that your hearing starts to diminish, and you will experience difficulty hearing high frequencies. It might also be challenging to follow a conversation in a crowded place.
To promote eye and ear health as you age, you should schedule regular checkups and take the necessary precautions. Wear sunglasses when you are outdoors and use earplugs whenever you are around loud noises or loud machinery.
Many other biological changes affect the human body as we continue to age. Over time, the manner in which you view the effects of aging on your body depends on your mindset and perspective. Instead of dwelling on what you are no longer able to do, it is better to focus on keeping yourself healthy so that you can continue to enjoy your life. It is necessary to take care of your body as you age otherwise, you will have to deal with many diseases. Aging often gets a bad reputation, but it is a normal part of life that you should celebrate. Knowing the effects of aging on your body can help you deal with these changes in a better and more positive manner.
- Barnes, C.A., 1994. Normal aging: regionally specific changes in hippocampal synaptic transmission. Trends in neurosciences, 17(1), pp.13-18. Sastre, J., Borrás, C., GARCÍA‐SALA, D.A.V.I.D., Lloret, A., Pallardó, F.V. and Viña, J., 2002. Mitochondrial damage in aging and apoptosis. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 959(1), pp.448-451.
- Signer, R.A. and Morrison, S.J., 2013. Mechanisms that regulate stem cell aging and life span. Cell stem cell, 12(2), pp.152-165.
- Hodes, R.J., 1999. Telomere length, aging, and somatic cell turnover. The Journal of experimental medicine, 190(2), pp.153-156.
- Jaskelioff, M., Muller, F.L., Paik, J.H., Thomas, E., Jiang, S., Adams, A.C., Sahin, E., Kost-Alimova, M., Protopopov, A., Cadinanos, J. and Horner, J.W., 2011.
- Telomerase reactivation reverses tissue degeneration in aged telomerase-deficient mice. Nature, 469(7328), pp.102-106. Armanios, M. and Blackburn, E.H., 2013. Erratum: The telomere syndromes (Nature Reviews Genetics (2012) 13 (693-704). Nature Reviews Genetics, 14(3), p.235.
- Baker, D.J. and Petersen, R.C., 2018. Cellular senescence in brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases: evidence and perspectives. The Journal of clinical investigation, 128(4), pp.1208-1216.
- Evers, B.M., Townsend Jr, C.M. and Thompson, J.C., 1994. Organ physiology of aging. Surgical Clinics of North America, 74(1), pp.23-39.
- Park, D.C. and Reuter-Lorenz, P., 2009. The adaptive brain: aging and neurocognitive scaffolding. Annual review of psychology, 60, pp.173-196.
Levine, H.J., 1997. Rest heart rate and life expectancy. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 30(4), pp.1104-1106.
- Murli, S., 2020. Useful Tips for a Healthy Heart. Reading Time.
- Lambert, J.K., Zaidi, M. and Mechanick, J.I., 2011. Male osteoporosis: epidemiology and the pathogenesis of aging bones. Current osteoporosis reports, 9(4), p.229.
- Martini, A., Castiglione, A., Bovo, R., Vallesi, A. and Gabelli, C., 2014. Aging, cognitive load, dementia and hearing loss. Audiology and Neurotology, 19(Suppl. 1), pp.2-5.
- Lau, J.T.F., Lee, V., Fan, D., Lau, M. and Michon, J., 2002. Knowledge about cataract, glaucoma, and age related macular degeneration in the Hong Kong Chinese population. British journal of ophthalmology, 86(10), pp.1080-1084.