How our Bodies Age
Do you know what to expect as you age? Read this WebMD article to find out how your body changes and to prepare for what’s ahead.
After age 40, most of us have a hard time seeing things less than 2 feet away
You may first notice it while trying to read a menu. Almost all adults get a vision problem called presbyopia, which means you have trouble seeing close up. It often starts in your early 40s.
Non-prescription reading glasses usually help. Their lenses magnify things, and you can find an inexpensive pair at your local drugstore. If you already wear glasses or contacts for distance, consider getting bifocals or “no-line” progressive lenses.
You may take more antacid as you get older
This fiery feeling that starts in your upper chest and moves up into your throat could come on more often as you age. Heartburn is more common in older people and pregnant women. Over-the-counter antacids can usually help for mild symptoms. But tell your doctor if heartburn keeps coming back, you have it more than twice a week, or it’s severe.
Achy joints are not part of getting older
Not everyone will have stiff, sore joints, but your chance of getting arthritis does go up as you age. Half of people 65 and older have it, and most of them have osteoarthritis. It happens when the tissue that protects bones in your joints starts to wear away. When there’s none left, the bones rub against each other. You’re most likely to have pain or stiffness in your hands, neck, back, knees, or hips.
You may have a harder time hearing, especially women’s and kids’ voices
Women and children naturally have higher-pitched voices. These types of sounds are often the first to go. Over time, the hair cells inside your ear that send sound waves to the brain become less sensitive. That makes it hard, for example, to distinguish “P” from “T.” The condition, called presbycusis, is sometimes passed down in families, but it can also be caused by loud noise, smoking, or illness. Sometimes it’s a side effect of antibiotics or aspirin.
Aging does not means the end of sex
Many older people are still sexually active. But half of people 75 to 85 who still get their groove on say they notice a few problems. Some men have erectile dysfunction, but there are treatments for that. A woman’s clitoris stays vital with age — she may just need lubrication and extra foreplay to get the blood moving faster.
You’ll get shorter
Between ages 30 and 70, men can lose an inch of height. Women sometimes lose as much as 2 inches. After age 80, both groups might shrink even more. Why? The cartilage between your joints wears out and pushes your spine together. Your muscles get weaker and don’t hold you up as well. Thinning bones are often a culprit, too.
Your ears might get bigger
As the old song asks, “Do your ears hang low?” The cartilage in ears keeps growing, and that may make them get a little longer. Your nose may only seem larger as tissues around it weaken and it starts to droop.
Older people are more likely to get constipated
Anyone can have trouble going to the bathroom, but it’s a pretty common problem as you age. Lack of exercise, changes in diet, medicines, and health problems all play a role. If you use laxatives too often, your body can forget how to go on its own. What can you do to get regular? Keep active. Eat more fruits, veggies, and whole grains. And drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day.
Loss of proteins that firm skin causes wrinkles
Skin begins to age when you hit your 20s. Your body doesn’t make as much collagen and elastin, proteins that help your flesh stay plump and firm. Your skin becomes thinner and doesn’t spring back into place as well after you smile, frown, or squint.
Doing exercises to “strengthen” facial muscles can make things worse. Instead, reach for the sunscreen before you go outside, and if you smoke, quit.
Both men and women may end up growing unwanted hair
Women: After menopause, you may lose some hair on your head and grow it on your chin or upper lip. This happens in part because you have less estrogen to counter the effects of testosterone. It’s just part of the aging process.
Men: Aging may change your hair, too. You might lose it on your head and gain some in your ears and nose.
You will need as much sleep
Your shut-eye needs stay the same throughout adulthood. Even so, older folks take longer to fall asleep, spend more time in lighter stages of sleep, and wake up more often in the night. Some of these issues relate to other health problems or medications. Also, the body’s internal clock, which controls when you sleep and wake, has many seniors going to bed and getting up extra early.
Older people are more optimistic than younger ones
Older folks are more likely to look on the sunny side of life. They generally get less negative and remember events more positively than younger people do. Thinking about the past puts many of them in a good mood.
Losing control of your bladder isn’t an unavoidable part of aging
Bladder problems become more common with age. But they don’t happen to everyone. And if you do have troubles, you don’t have to live with them. There are many ways to treat them, from changing what you eat or drink (less caffeine!) to medicine or surgery.
Your thinking abilities don’t decline after your early 20s
Your brain reaches its maximum size in your early 20s, and then it starts to shrink slowly. Blood flow also decreases over time. But some types of memory can improve throughout life, like your ability to recall concepts and facts. Talk to your doctor if you have memory lapses that interfere with your day-to-day life. Losing your keys once in a while is normal. Forgetting what they’re for is not.