There are several changes that occur within the body as people age, including the cardiovascular system where atherosclerosis, a condition where the blood vessels narrow and stiffen may develop. To properly understand how the body changes with age, we must understand what happens at the cellular level.
Cellular aspect of aging
Connective tissues, which are responsible for supporting and binding tissues and organs, in the body change by becoming stiffer. As a result, the organs, blood vessels, and airways become more rigid. This can disrupt the delivery of oxygen and nutrients through the body and in the removal of cellular waste.
Muscle tissues also lose their mass over time, a process known as atrophy, which typically occurs when the tissues aren’t used as often.
Generally, the most important body changes that occur with aging involve the heart, the lungs, and the kidneys. These are typically related to the loss of their ability adapt to or reverse changes in the body. For example, the heart has a “reserve ability” to pump out more blood when necessary. But as patients develop atherosclerosis, the heart will have to work harder. As a result, it slowly losing its ability to compensate for changes in blood pressure.
How the body changes with age (by system)
The following sections will elaborate briefly on the changes to the body that occurs due to aging.
The heart and circulatory system
Blood vessels may narrow and stiffen over time, which can put people at risk for heart problems and stroke. The cardiovascular system’s health and functionality can be maintained with stress management, physical activity, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep.
The bones, joints, and muscles
As people age, there is a tendency for bones to shrink and become less dense, typically making them weaker and prone to fractures. This explains you lose height when you get older and why falls are dangerous when older. For this reason, increasing the intake of calcium and vitamin D is important in maintaining bone density. The muscles also tend to atrophy, however regular exercise can prevent or slow down this process.
The gut (digestive system)
The digestive tract is very resistant to the way the body changes with age. As a result, the changes that occur here are often related to a decreased in function and an increase in susceptibility to digestive disorders.
- The mouth produces less saliva and the jaw may have a harder time chewing or swallowing.
- The esophagus will be weaker while the esophageal sphincter will lose tension, making them prone to gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).
- The stomach’s connective tissue and inner lining lose elasticity, decreasing its ability to resist damage when overfilled. There is also an increase in the risk of ulcers, as protective functions against gastric acid decreases.
- The small intestine may develop an intolerance to lactose due to a lactase deficiency. There may also be an excessive growth of bacteria, decreasing the absorption of vital nutrients such as vitamin b12, iron, and calcium.
- The large intestine slows down the peristaltic movement, which contributes to constipation.
- The rectum may enlarge due to the constipation.
The kidneys and bladder
As people age, the elasticity of the bladder may decrease, which leads to the need to urinate more frequently. The bladder muscles may also weaken, causing loss of bladder control. Factors such as being overweight, nerve damage, certain drugs, and caffeine or alcohol consumption may also contribute to urinary incontinence.
In men, an enlarged prostate may also contribute to the loss of bladder control and difficulty emptying the bladder. Furthermore, the kidneys lose tissues, decreasing the number of nephrons available to filter waste material in the blood.
These changes in the bladder and kidneys may lead to urinary tract infections and chronic kidney disease. To counteract this, you can practice pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises), avoid substances that can irritate the bladder, and frequently go to the toilet on a regular basis.
Memory and Cognition
Memory functions change when neurons atrophy and the brain experiences a decrease in the number of neural connections. This can be due to a decrease in blood flow to the brain, leaving it less efficient at transmitting signals.
These changes in the brain can lead to changes in behavior as well. The areas of the brain that are most affected are the frontal cortex (verbal ability and executive functions like planning and organizing), parietal cortex (visual-motor performance), and the medial temporal area (long-term memory). Aerobic exercise, proper diet, and cognitive stimulation are essential to combating the changes caused by aging.
Other ways the body changes with age
- The eyes may find it difficult to focus on close objects (farsightedness). Older people may be more sensitive to light and experience difficulty to see in low lighting. The risk for cataracts increases.
- The ears may change with age and become less sensitive to high frequency sounds.
- The teeth are more susceptible to decay and infection due to the gums receding.
- The skin may lose elasticity and become looser, leaving it more fragile and prone to damage. As the level of fatty tissue under the skin decreases over time, while superficial blood vessels lose their cushion. As a result, small impacts may lead to bruising. Other benign changes include wrinkles and skin tags.
How the body changes with age will vary from person to person. By understanding the cellular aspect of aging, we can clearly see how each body part and organ is affected by aging.
Learn more about Healthy Aging here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.