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The science of aging in Women Dr. Havya Polarapur May 16, 2022

The science of aging in Women

A quick look around and we come to know that being old brings with it new challenges every day. Aging is the biological process of degeneration that occurs over some time. There are different types of aging. Current research and scientific breakthrough suggest that aging is inevitable but it can be slowed down. 

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The process of getting old is referred to as senescence. Aging refers to the incremental and continual process of decay that living organisms undergo making them susceptible to illness and eventual death. 

Types of Aging

  1. Chronological Aging (The Greek meaning for the word Chronos is time) is the age you determine by the years you have lived. Simply put, it is the age you give when celebrating your birthday or the number you share when asked about your age. Chronological age progresses linearly, meaning you cannot age in reverse or do much to stop your chronological aging. 
  2. Biological Aging refers to the age you are depending on the many factors of your internal processes. Biological aging, unlike chronological age, is subject to change.  

Researchers have further subcategorized biological age into, what they call, Ageotypes which refers to the different biological markers that indicate aging and decline in specific organs or their functioning.  

So far four Ageotypes have been classified,  

  1. Immune,  
  2. Liver,  
  3. Kidney, and  
  4. Metabolic 

Immune agers are the ones who have a decreased immune response, whereas other organs and systems might be functioning well. Similarly, a liver ager will have declined liver function; a kidney ager will experience more symptoms and wear and tear on their kidneys than other organs. Some people might not perfectly fit only one marker and may have more than one area of decline based on their age and other factors.  

Your biological and chronological age can be different depending on various factors such as lifestyle, chronic illness, stress levels, food, diet, the place you live, and other lifestyle factors. 

The Actual Science behind aging

Scientists have for long theorized about aging and the maladies it brings along with it. The study of aging is called gerontology. Now you have one cool term to share with others!  

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There are close to three hundred theories on aging. Some of those theories are divided into:  

  1. Genetic Theories 
  2. Evolutionary Theories 
  3. Error theories of Aging 

Genetic theories of Aging emphasize the role of genes in the process of senescence. It suggests that aging is a result of the impaired or decreased functioning of the genes we inherit. Some important gene theories are: 

  • Telomere theory: Chromosomes are reservoirs of genetic material or information. Telomeres are small caps enclosing the chromosomes. Chromosomes replicate every time the process of cell division occurs. Telomeres act as laces that prevent chromosomes from attaching to other chromosomes. After each division telomeres shorten in size. This shortening has been linked with aging and mortality. 
  • Longevity Genes: Certain genes have been associated with longevity in humans. Siertuin 6 is a gene known for effective DNA repair in species with longer life spans such as humans. Mice with Sirt6 genes were shown to have longer lifespans than mice without these genes.  

Evolutionary theories of Aging view the process of aging from the lens of natural selection and genetic drift. Natural selection refers to the process by which the fittest organisms survive and evolve.  

  • Mutation Accumulation theory is one of the oldest theories of aging. Natural selection occurs on a cellular level too. It suggests that the process of natural selection declines with age which results in the inability to weed out harmful mutations. This results in the accumulation of these mutations leading to eventual senescence. 
  • Disposable Soma Theory suggests that bodies have limited allowances and more of it is directed towards growth and reproduction early in life. Cell maintenance and DNA repair require more resources but due to this evolutionary bargain, fewer resources are allocated to this process. 

Error theories of aging proclaim that aging is a result of internal and external damage accumulated over time. Some error theories include: 

  • Wear And tear theory suggests that cells and organs simply wear out and accumulate damage over time leading to aging and death. 
  • Cross-Linked theory of aging refers to the deleterious bonds developed between DNA, proteins, and structural molecules. These cross-links or bonds form over a long course of time and occur in the presence of oxygen.  

Signs of Aging:  

As we grow old our bodies become replete with physical manifestations of aging. We know the obvious and more pronounced signs of aging such as grey hair, wrinkles, and fine lines.  

  Some other lesser visible signs of aging are: 

  • Lowered immunity 
  • slower digestion 
  • decrease in energy 
  • changes in posture 
  • Bone and joint pains and conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis 
  • difficulty maintaining balance 
  • impaired vision  
  • loss of hearing to varying degrees 
  • loss of muscle tissue resulting in weight loss 
  • metabolic changes 
  • Changes in urination and bowel movements 
  • Changes in quality of sleep 

These signs of aging are common to all. Here are some effects that are specific to women: 

  • Menopause: The end of your menstrual cycle is called menopause. With the onset of menopause come symptoms such as irritability, mood swings, and headaches. But the good news is you can still be fit even after the onset of menopause.  
  • More prone to yeast infections 
  • Decreased libido 
  • Changes in breast tissue 
  • Higher risk of osteoporosis
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Oops, these symptoms may sound scary but, aging doesn’t have to be grim and full of debilitating conditions.  

Here is what you can do for happy and healthy aging:

  • Avoid substances like Nicotine and alcoholic beverages that can cause premature aging. 
  • Quit smoking as it increases the risk of cancer as you grow older.  
  • Avoid alcohol as it causes immense strain on the liver and leads to the production of harmful byproducts.  
  • A healthy weight is imperative for overall health. Higher BMI or obesity can decrease quality of life and cause chronic diseases. A healthy heart and immunity can be maintained with a balanced diet and exercise. 
  • A healthy diet with all food groups is important for good health and immune functions. Fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and carbs all play a role in maintaining a healthy body. 
  • Physical activity helps maintain heart health, reduce stress, improve mood, control weight, and BP, and promote better immune response and wellness. 

Let us see some more specific tips to age gracefully, 

Regular check-ups 

 A full body check-up with your doctor is important to rule out, diagnose and treat conditions that you become more susceptible to as you age.            

  •  Ensure that you visit your primary health care provider for a general check-up.  
  • Testing your vision and hearing are also advised if you experience any difficulty seeing or hearing. 
  • Women are more prone to breast cancer than men. A yearly checkup can help detect cancer cells in breast tissue early on, leading to timely treatment.  
  • Bones weaken with age and women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis. It is best to get yourself checked every once in a while. 

Health Supplements

To minimize the damage caused by aging, check with your doctor for a nutrient supplement and only take prescribed medicines. 

  • Calcium intake is important to make for deteriorating bone density. it is necessary to ensure that you get optimal amounts of calcium from your diet and other trusted supplements. 
  • Vitamin D works along with calcium. Only getting sun may not quench your body’s need for vitamin D. Vitamin D is also found in plenty of food sources. In case you wish to take a supplement, ask your doctor to prescribe a trusted supplement based on your unique requirement. 

Cognitive functions and Mental health

 The mental health and brain functions of the elderly are less talked about.

  • While aging can make mobility challenging, going out, and meeting family and friends can help you alleviate stress and find support for your physical and mental wellbeing.  
  • Engaging in a quiz, puzzles, reading or other stimulating activities can help keep your memory power at par, and brain activity, thus promoting healthy aging. It could also help prevent neurodegenerative disorders. 
  • Decreased sleep has been associated with loss of memory and disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Adopt a good sleep and rest routine in your day for better mood, energy, and brain health. 
  • Stress management involves meditation and exercises. 

Skin Health

With age, your skin loses its elasticity and luster. Skin gets more prone to bruising. Insufficient oil production leads to drier skin. Spots, darkening, wrinkles, and tags are common.

meryl streep wrinkles GIF
  • Do not subject yourself to harsh massages. Be gentle with exfoliation. Use warm water for showers. Hot water can cause faster damage due to thin skin. 
  • Wear sunscreen, and protective clothing when going out. Limit exposure to heat and sun.  
  • Water Just might be the elixir of life! Drinking enough water helps the skin and overall bodily functions. 

Research has time and again shown that women live longer than men! 

Everyone will wear it down to different degrees. We need to learn to embrace aging and understand that again is a normal process that happens to all living beings. Normalizing grey hair, stooped back, hearing aids, and wobbly gait will help us embrace the process of aging. 

The old saying, aging gracefully is more about being healthy and happy than keeping wrinkles at bay. 

It’s normal and we must own aging by implementing these steps for optimal functioning. 

Aging is inevitable but it doesn’t have to be as daunting as we may know it! 

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