What is normal aging?
Scientists continue to study this very question. It is known that some of our functionality declines over time such as hearing, vision, muscle mass, metabolism, even some loss of brain function.
You have probably noticed these changes and taken them in stride. You may have the TV louder than in the past or may ask people to repeat what they say. It has been proven that men tend to have hearing loss at an earlier age and at a faster rate than women.
If you didn't wear glasses at a younger age you probably started wearing them around 40. Even with dedicated exercise you can't lift weight or run at the same rate you did at 20. Eating the same way you always have will lead to weight gain.
The loss that seems to bother us the most is the decline in brain function, because we may worry that we have Alzheimer's. It is part of normal aging to forget a casual acquaintance's name, but remember it later. It is not normal to not recognize your family.
Contrary to popular belief, an adult's personality generally doesn't change much after age 30. People who are cheerful and assertive when they are 30 will likely be the same when they are 80. Marked changes in personality are not due to normal aging, but instead may be related to disease, dementia or depression.
It is well established that the risk of developing many diseases increases with age. Scientists looking at the aging heart found that age-related changes in the arteries, like arterial stiffening, do increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases. They also found that cardiovascular diseases, in turn, accelerate arterial aging. Given this correlation, scientists realized that they could not study the normal aging heart without considering heart disease. And, by studying the two together, they would be better equipped to identify strategies to prevent or slow arterial aging before cardiovascular disease occurred.
There is no "fountain of youth" pill or regimen that will stop us from aging altogether. But, continuing (or starting) good eating habits which include a low fat, vegetable and fruit rich diet, as well as an exercise program has been proven to have a positive effect on aging.
NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to email@example.com or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.