Human Aging Process

Life may begin at 40, but our bodies have started to age when we reach 50. This is not a disease, but a natural part of the development of our bodies that started the day we were born. The study of gerontology focuses on human aging and how and why we age. Some say that since getting older didn't serve our caveman ancestors well, that gene has been bred out of us, which is one of the reasons that our bodies start to age. Others blame it on stress. Whatever the reasons, the fact is that after 50, parts of our bodies start to wear out. These changes are both internal and external, and may affect men and women differently.

Visible Changes
When looking at how your body ages, some of the most obvious changes are on the outside. Your skin is a huge sensory organ that helps you feel, keeps you warm and protects you from injury and illness. Yet, once you reach your 50s, things are not quite the same under the skin. The fat under the skin begins to decrease and oil glands and sweat glands are less efficient, making skin thinner and drier. Collagen and elastin, which keep the skin firm and plump, become less connected. As a result, your skin wrinkles and sags.

Growth of pigment cells is irregular, leading to spots on the skin. Skin may also look greyer because it takes longer to shed dead skin cells and new cells don't grow as quickly as they did before. These changes also result in reduced feeling in the skin. Since skin is less elastic, this also changes the way you move, as your range of motion is limited.

Hair and Nails
Other external changes include changes in hair texture and color, as the sebaceous glands that produce thick, vibrant hair work less efficiently as you age. Depending on your genes, you may have started to go grey or white as early as your 30s and 40s, but it will almost certainly happen in your 50s. Men may start to go bald or have thinner hair, and many women suffer hair loss during menopause. Your nails may also change in texture, developing ridges, changing to a yellowish color and becoming more brittle.

Internal Changes
It's the same story inside your body. Your muscles shrink as you age, having much less mass in your 50s than in your 20s. That means that your muscles don't respond as well, and you may start to slow down. You may not be able to grip things as well, either. Tendons and ligaments become less flexible, while the cartilage that cushions your bones starts to break down. That's partly the reason for arthritis and inflammation.

For both men and women, the mineral content of bones starts to decline. Your bones lose density and become more fragile, making falls more dangerous and becoming prone to osteoporosis. The loss of bone density also makes you shrink, losing almost half an inch every ten years after the age of 40.  Meanwhile, your sight is less sharp from the age of 40 as muscles start to weaken. You start to lose taste buds in your 40s and 50s, while your hearing may start to decline in your 50s. Your sense of smell is the last to go, declining in your 70s.

Other changes take place in your major organs. The heart may function less efficiently, slowing the rate at which it pumps blood around your body. A decrease in stomach acid after the age of 50 may hamper your ability to absorb certain nutrients such as B12. You lose some of the nerves in your brain and spinal cord, and some nerves degenerate. This means that it takes longer for messages to travel from your nervous system to the rest of your body. Lungs become less elastic and the loss of bone and muscle tissue may also make it more difficult to expand the lungs fully, causing difficulty in breathing.

Specific Changes in Men and Women
There are also specific changes which affect women. In their 50s, many women experience menopause, when they stop menstruating and are no longer fertile. This may lead to changes in breast tissue, the bladder and the urethra. Because of the decline in estrogen levels, women are at greater risk of osteoporosis than men are. During this period, women may gain weight before their weight starts to level out in their 70s. Men may experience aging male syndrome from their mid-30s to mid-60s as their testosterone level drops. They may gain weight and will experience some of the other signs of aging.

Although these are the common signs of aging, not everyone experiences them equally. Your genetic heritage and the way you live your life will determine how many of these changes will affect you.

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