The Bright Ending: What Science Has to Say About Aging?
Thanks to science and medicine, as well as technical advances, we have started to live longer. From the year 1950 until 2002, the likelihood to live up to 80-90 years for men and women has almost doubled. In the year 1950, only 16% of women and 12% of men could expect to light 90 candles on their birthday cake, while in the year 2002, it became a reality for 37% of women and 25% of men all over the world. Meanwhile, scientists predict that each year the average longevity will grow. Thus, the research by the experts of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle named “How healthy will we be in 2040?” has demonstrated that by the year 2040, people will live longer in all countries around the world. It is worth noting that while the residents of the developed countries will be granted from two to five additional years of life, the residents of the developing countries can expect a whole extra decade.
Over time, the average longevity was affected by successfully combating contagious diseases, decreasing infant and maternal mortality, improving labor conditions and ecology, and decreasing the number of wars. It can be said that most of the time, we were saving young lives from death, and improving general statistics, and only fifty years ago, started to work to prolong the period granted to human beings.
When we review the achievements of gerontology during the last years, we can make a conservative assumption that sometime (the earlier, the better), scientists will learn not only to give us some extra years but also to prolong youth. Thus, in January of this year, the scientists from Buck Institute have succeeded in increasing the longevity of nematode worms (whose genome partly resembles that of human beings) five times, actually changing the mechanism of aging worm’s cells as evidenced in the report, Translational Regulation of Non-autonomous Mitochondrial Stress Response Promotes Longevity. Hopefully, we will have a chance to live in times when the same or similar methodology will be available only to humans, and we all will have not only a long life but practically endless youth.
But for the moment, most of us will have to live into old age and live as older persons for many years and even decades. In light of the very small representation of older people (especially women), in the informational space, with society focusing on the desire to keep young forever, we have a hard time recognizing that one day we will also become old.
Why will we become old in a different way from our parents?
Aging and aged people are not well represented in the information space. We still prefer to see pictures and read about the lives of young and active people. Besides, most of the experiences we know tell us about negative and difficult aging. When we start to think about the final decades of our life, we can’t keep ourselves from worrying that we will be as bad as our parents, grandmothers, and grandfathers as well as millions of other people who have grown old before us.
But modern research gives us hope that our aging will become more comfortable not only because of medical advances but also due to new social standards and way of life. Here is why.
We have a different attitude to aging
The old adage saying that age is just a number is not just popular wisdom. According to the research by the experts of Yale University named “Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging,“ the older people who were positive about aging postpone getting old on average by twenty-three years. The more people in society view old age as a time of opportunities instead of limitations and consider older people as equals in life and society, the longer we experience both social and physiological changes in the life of every aged individual.
- We eat better
The research “The Association Between Dietary Patterns at Midlife and Health in Aging” by Harvard scientists has demonstrated that women who were eating more fish, vegetables, and wholegrain products and were cutting down on red meat during 40-60 years of age, were decreasing their chances to develop chronic age-related diseases by 40%. Now we have access to a much better and more varied diet, and if we use this chance to the full, we have a good chance to remain healthy in old age.
- We exercise more
Despite the higher level of hypodynamia in our generation than with our parents, we have opportunities not only to exercise regularly but to select those types of physical activities that are most suitable for our age and can decrease or mitigate the age-related changes to our health. Thus, after we become 40, we should do power exercises to slow down the process of losing our muscles. After the age of 50, we should take care of the state of our bones and joints (stretching exercises are very useful) and are advised to take some yoga classes, which can help us to manage daily stress and even keep certain parts of our brain active. Even a simple stroll is a great way to keep your muscles toned and prevent cardiovascular diseases.
- We smoke less
The good news is that during the last fifteen years, the number of adult smokers has dropped by 20.9%, as evidenced by the research “Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States” and in all likelihood, this figure will drop even more. Smoking is one of the reasons for practically all diseases influencing longevity, as well as the quality of life in older age. So quitting smoking and a decrease in the number of smokers around us (and, consequently, having less harm from passive smoking) will definitely influence the quality of life in older age.
- We are more knowledgeable about our brain
Over the last few years, we have learned many important things about the structure and functioning of our brain. One of the most important discoveries is the fact that regular brain exercise can decrease or even revert aging of the brain and deterioration of cognitive function. Thus the research titled “Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden, and cognitive aging” confirms that aging people who were not exercising their brain regularly were losing up to 50% of cognitive function while those who were practicing relevant exercises lost no more than 23%.
- We can track our health with apps
Tracking the state of health is an important prerequisite for well-being. It is especially true in older age as the opportunity to detect a deviation in some essential parameters (heart rate, blood pressure, the level of blood sugar). We can seek medical help immediately, it helps enable us to prevent or mitigate serious negative consequences.
- We are more social in older age
One of the prerequisite conditions for active and happy aging is keeping social ties. According to the results of the research run by the experts of the University of Chicago, titled “The Social Connectedness of Older Adults,” people aged over 75 years are now much more active and social than before. Thus, 75% of all participants of the research, aged between 75 and 85 years old, were participating in some social and community activities at least once per week, including neighbors parties and religious service.
- We can communicate online
Social networks and apps for remote communication help us to stay connected with the community even when the state of health hinders our activity. Access to the internet, skills, and the opportunity to navigate in the global network can help to solve one of the most critical problems of aging, which is loneliness and the feeling that our life is getting away from us.
Don’t be afraid of it!
Most of the modern gerontology research suggests that our generation and the generation of our children will be aging differently from our ancestors and from how it is described in most of the world’s literature. Their older years will be more active, be accompanied by fewer diseases (and most likely, those diseases will have less impact on the quality of life), and they will be less lonely and more independent. Finally, there is a hope that the final and full victory over our body’s aging process is not only possible, but inevitable. Older age can become a special period of life, a journey in the new unknown world, which is no the less interesting and fascinating than the one we live in today.
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