What are considered normal signs of aging?
There are many normal signs of aging but not everyone ages in the same way. For instance, in general people tend to experience a deterioration in vision as a normal part of aging, eventually requiring reading glasses, magnifiers, bifocals or other vision aids. However, some maintain very good vision throughout their entire lives. So to speak of “normal” signs of aging requires generalizations that may not apply to everyone.
Declining muscle mass generally begins to occur in our 40s and 50s from both preventable and inevitable forces. Lower activity levels and poor nutrition contribute to declining muscle mass but studies show that even conditioned athletes have fewer skeletal muscle fibers as they age. With good nutrition and daily exercise, even simple walks around the neighborhood, we can maintain enough muscle mass and strength to maintain our independence. This would be considered normal aging. Without proper nutrition and daily activity, we may eventually lose so much muscle mass that it will be difficult to get up from a chair, walk, shop, prepare meals and perform all the other tasks that keep us independent. This frailty also creates a greater risk for falls and injury. This would not be considered normal aging.
Thinning of cortical bone is another part of normal aging. It is common to experience a certain level of bone loss which is why it is important to have bone mineral density screenings after the age of 65. Based on your risk factors and screening results, you and your doctor can decide whether you will need treatment to prevent bone loss and how often you will need to be tested.
By the age of 35 to 45, most of us have reached our physical peak and will begin to notice a gradual decline in exercise tolerance. Former marathon runners might become content with jogging a 10K and years later a simple walk with the dog around the neighborhood constitutes a good level of activity. This is normal aging. Slowing metabolism, reduced muscle mass, lower maximum heart rate and oxygen intake all contribute to lower exercise tolerance. As long as you maintain some level of activity to keep you happy and healthy, it’s okay to slow down. But of course there are the mighty few who maintain their vigorous workout schedules well into their senior years. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those whose exercise intolerance becomes extreme, limiting their mobility and independence. We can try to avoid this outcome with daily activities like walking, stretching and strength exercises.
Rising blood pressure is another common attribute in aging; we are at greater risk of hypertension the older we get. This is yet another good reason to exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight. Uncontrolled hypertension can lead to stroke, heart failure, aneurysm and many other life-threatening conditions. Your doctor may recommend regular blood pressure monitoring and, if lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control your blood pressure, he or she may prescribe medications to lower your blood pressure.
Prostate enlargement in men is extremely common. The prostate is a male gland which is located beneath the bladder and surrounds the urethra. The prostate grows throughout most of a man’s life and many wind up with symptoms as the gland presses on the urethra. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than half of men in their 60s and as many as 90 percent in their 70s and 80s have some problems with urination due to an enlarged prostate such as frequent urination, urgency and leaking, or a hesitant, interrupted, weak stream.
Aging is inevitable but there are many steps we can take to make the most of our senior years. Regular preventative medical care is important to catch medical conditions early when they can be more easily treated. This includes blood pressure checks, colonoscopies, mammograms, prostate screening and bone density screening. Dental and ophthalmologic check-ups are also important. A healthy diet, regular exercise, avoiding smoking, moderating alcohol consumption, participating in healthy family and social interactions, goal-oriented purposeful living, faith and spirituality can all help us live proactively to maintain the lifestyles we want.