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Changes in Physical and Mental Health Due to Aging

Updated: Jul 6, 2023


It’s no secret that aging is inevitable, no matter how hard some people may try to avoid it. Aging isn’t inherently bad, even though our society makes it seem so, but there are some health complications that do come with aging. Aging isn’t just about getting crow's feet around your eyes or not keeping up with all the new trends. There are many other changes to your physical and mental health that come from aging. Changes in physical and mental health from aging are natural, but it does help to know what changes you may experience in the future, or changes you may even be experiencing now.

 

Physical changes and what you can do to promote better health

There’s a reason why a lot of doctors emphasize how important it is to include at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity into your daily routine, and why many people want to get in a certain amount of steps every day. When we age, our cardiovascular system is affected, and doing things like aerobic exercises helps keep that system healthier for longer. “The most common change in the cardiovascular system is stiffening of the blood vessels and arteries, causing your heart to work harder to pump blood through them” [1]. This is not only a stand alone issue, but it also leads to other changes that can further affect your heart. These changes include: “heart muscles [changing] [...] to adjust to the increased workload [and] your heart rate at rest will stay about the same, but it won't increase during activities as much as it used to” [1]. Now, a low heart rate when doing physical activity isn’t always cause for concern, but if you notice a low heart rate and you feel lightheaded or dizzy, it definitely should be something you talk to your doctor about. Not only that, but “these changes increase the risk of high blood pressure” [1]. High blood pressure includes hypertension stage 1 and hypertension stage 2, and if left untreated, these stages can both lead to someone experiencing a hypertensive crisis which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. These are both life-threatening circumstances, so doing what you can to avoid high blood pressure will definitely decrease your risk of experiencing this.

 

So, besides the regular physical activity we talked about, what else can we do to promote better heart health? Eating a healthy diet is important not just for heart health, but for your overall health. A healthy diet can look different for different individuals, but for heart health, specifically, it is recommended to eat your fruits and veggies, eat high fiber foods, and limit your intake of saturated fats and salt [1]. Not smoking is also important for heart health because “smoking contributes to the hardening of your arteries and increases your blood pressure and heart rate” [1]. If you don’t smoke, keep it that way; if you do smoke, try to find a way to quit that works for you. Managing your stress and getting the right amount of sleep are also very important for heart health. “Quality sleep plays an important role in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels” [1]. We all have our bad sleeping nights, but try to shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep most nights. If you find yourself struggling to fall or stay asleep, doing light physical activity or meditation before bed can help you get better sleep and reduce stress.

 

Two other physical changes that come with aging are our bones shrinking and other muscles growing weaker. “With age, bones tend to shrink in size and density, weakening them and making them more susceptible to fracture. [...] Muscles generally lose strength, endurance and flexibility — factors that can affect your coordination, stability and balance” [1]. There are, of course, things you can do to promote better bone, joint, and muscle health to help yourself.

 

Getting the right amount of calcium and vitamin D is extremely important. Calcium is good for healthy bones and teeth, which can “become slightly more vulnerable to decay and infection” in older individuals, and muscle contraction [1]. You can get a good amount of calcium from your diet by eating things like dairy products, but taking a supplement is always an option, too. Vitamin D is necessary because it actually helps your body absorb calcium. Again, you can find vitamin D in foods, but it is also available as a supplement, and, for people who are able to get a lot of sunshine, that’s a great source of vitamin D, too.

 

Mental changes and what you can do to promote better health

A big mental change that many people experience as they age is a change to their memory and thinking skills. As you age, you may notice some things slipping your mind, such as forgetting names of family members from time to time. While this can be concerning because these can be signs of dementia or Alzheimer's, there are some things you can do to promote better brain health.

 

Eating healthy and exercising regularly can actually help brain function, and they are both important for all the above changes we’ve already been through so far. Another thing you can do to promote better brain health is to stay mentally active. “Staying mentally active may help sustain your memory and thinking skills” [1]. In order to stay mentally active, you could: “read, play word games, take up a new hobby, take classes, or learn to play an instrument” [1]. Try to find something you enjoy doing so it feels less like work and more like a fun way to pass some time. One other thing you could do to promote better brain health is to be social. “Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, which can contribute to memory loss” [1]. Some ways to stay social include: seeing your family and friends, joining a social club with people you have things in common with, or volunteering your time at a local shelter or nonprofit. Again, whatever you choose to do, make sure you enjoy it.

 

So, as we can see, there are a lot of changes that come with aging, and this wasn’t even everything that could happen. Even though there are all these changes, it’s important to remember that change is a part of life. Change is quite honestly inevitable, especially when it comes to things like aging, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have any control over your health. Incorporating regular physical activity, healthy eating, and healthy habits into your daily routine and participating in activities you enjoy can all help you promote better health for your body and mind. Remember, you can always talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have about what you may experience while aging, and you can also talk to your friends and family so they know what you’re going through and can be there to support you and empathize with you when you need them to. Everyone ages, even though some people may get procedures done to seem like they don’t, so it is extremely important to know that you are not alone in this very human experience.

 

References:

 

 

Contributors:

Author: Lauryn Agron

Editor: Kayjah Taylor

Health scientist: Chantelle Moore

 

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