Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.
Harriet is in her 70s, and she's noticed that things are different from the way they used to be. Her skin is wrinkled, her eyesight isn't as good as it once was, and her joints ache more now than they did when she was younger. She's also just not as fit; things she used to do, like climb a flight of stairs or run down the street, seem harder to accomplish now.
Harriet is in late adulthood, or the time of life after age 65. There are many exciting things about aging, including the fact that most older adults have more free time to pursue their passions and that they often have more wisdom than they did when they were younger. But there are also some problems with aging, as Harriet is discovering. Let's look closer at the biological aspects of aging, called senescence, and what environmental factors can affect them.
As we've seen, Harriet is experiencing differences in her body due to aging. As she moves on in life, her age is impacting her physical being. For example, her eyesight isn't as good as it once was, and her skin is very wrinkled.
Senescence, which is also called biological aging, is the breakdown of the physical body. Think about Harriet's skin: When she was young, the cells in her skin were healthy and kept the skin smooth and wrinkle-free. But as she's aged, her skin cells have deteriorated and wrinkles have formed. The older she gets, the more this senescence occurs and the more wrinkles she'll have.
There are some common examples of senescence that most people experience as they age. For example, wrinkles are a very normal part of getting older, as is worsening eyesight and hearing. These are a part of the normal senescence that is happening in a person's body. At the same time, though, senescence doesn't happen exactly the same way in everyone. Harriet's friend Greta doesn't have the same symptoms as Harriet. For example, though Harriet struggles with joint pain, Greta is just as spry and pain-free as she was when she was younger.
But Greta has issues with her digestive tract that she's never had before. She used to be able to eat all sorts of spicy food, but now it really gives her indigestion. Harriet, though, almost never has a problem with indigestion. So, even though there are some common aspects of senescence that they are both experiencing, they are also different in the way that they are aging.
What can account for the differences in the way people age? Some of it is genetic. For example, Harriet's parents both had arthritis, and it's likely that Harriet's joint pain is arthritis-related. But environmental factors can also play a role in senescence. There are many, many things in the world around us that can affect how we age. Some of the more common ones are:
1. Nutrition: What a person eats can really affect how they age! Fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants, for example, help slow the process of aging. Other foods, especially highly processed junk food, can speed up senescence. To get the best out of her food, Harriet should eat a well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.
2. Stress: Both emotional and physical stress can speed up the process of aging that happens in the body. For example, when Harriet gets upset about something, her body goes into 'fight or flight' mode. This causes a breakdown of cells, which speeds up senescence. Harriet and Greta are both trying to work on their stress levels. They've started taking a meditation class to help them fight off stress and aging.
3. Exercise: Moderate exercise can slow senescence and make a person feel and look better. Harriet doesn't exercise much, which is why she struggles with joint pain and also with feeling out of shape. On the other hand, Greta exercises daily, which helps keep her pain-free and fit.
4. Substance Abuse: Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs cause the aging process to speed up. Someone like Harriet, who drinks only a glass of wine every couple of days, will probably not see much of a difference in their aging process due to the alcohol. However, a person who drinks heavily or smokes or does other drugs is likely to age more quickly.
Late adulthood is the time of life after age 65. During this time, many people notice changes in their bodies as they age. Senescence, or biological aging, is the breakdown of the physical body as people grow older. Some elements of biological aging are common in most or all of the population, but people also age differently. In addition to genetics, environmental factors can also affect senescence, including nutrition, stress, exercise, and substance abuse.
When this lesson is over, you should be able to:
- Define senescence as it applies to aging
- Describe the environmental factors that can affect how people age
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