A Better View On Aging
=========Part I: What Aging is?=========
Growing old, is one of the scariest concepts that can inflate as vine inside our mind when we grow older. Trapping our mind at a fixed knot and creating invisible chains around our wrists and ankles, the longer we let the fears expand the bigger these chains can dictate our lives. Stepping out from our own perspective, aging is only a natural process that any organism will have to go through its cycle of birth, growth, and death.
So aging is more of a phenomenon like the water cycle; rains drop from the sky and stay on the ground. Till the sun comes out and they evaporate back to the sky, forming clouds again. But unlike rain, aging is something we can control with ourselves more or less. Through our conscious decisions making, consistent efforts, and a good understanding, we can keep our mind, body and heart young in one alignment.
Let’s look at the psychological aspect of aging first. If aging is indifferent to any kind, why do we fear it then?
Many of us fear what comes with aging, not aging itself. For example, from the mental and physical decline, to the increased vulnerability to disease and chronic pain or memory loss as an adult, and getting wrinkle with loose skin, or not being competitive in the dating/job market as they used to, it’s what comes with the term “aging” makes people scared of getting old.
While aging is inevitable among all of us, as well as all of the living beings on earth, we can slow down or even reverse the process by our positive mindset and taking decisive actions. We don’t want to wait till we’re finally reaching the age of 75 and then start looking for ways to reverse our beauty and youth.
FIRST OF ALL, HOW AGING WORKS?
Simply put, we’re just the collections of cells, albeit magnificent and really complicated collections that exist as animated thick blobs for a while in a hope of living long enough to reproduce. And when it gets too tough for ourselves to keep these masses together, we die.
After decades of researching on aging, scientists believe that inside our cell divisions, there is something at the end of each chromosome getting shorten each time when dividing, which is associated with our aging.
The end of each chromosome that stores our genetic information inside our body has a protective cap around it, known as a telomere; A specific DNA sequence that is repeated thousands of times.
A telomere serves two purposes in its lifetime.
The first purpose is to protect the coding region of the chromosomes and preventing them from being damaged, as if a protective and sacrificial watcher.
As each telomere forming a cap at the ends of our chromosomes, much like the plastic tip on shoelaces, they protect chromosomes from sticking with one another and sacrifice their sequences during each DNA replication. The shortening telomere phenomenon is termed “End Replication Problem” and it basically suggests that the ends of linear DNA, like ours, cannot be replicated completely because a short stretch of DNA doesn’t get covered by a new strand when the copying process reaching the end of the chromosome.
The RNA primer, like a printing machine, would fall beyond the chromosome end due to its linear structure, leaving a single-stranded overhang. Imagine over multiple rounds of cell divisions, the shortening will be very significant and potentially damage our DNA. So here is where telomeres come in. They are being at the end of the chromosome to sacrifice their repeated sequences each time to complete the DNA replication cycle. So a new DNA gets copied thoroughly. This also explains why telomeres are repeated sequences in nature as they are born ready to be cut away for the completion of DNA replication.
As telomeres consist simply of repeated code, they are easy to lengthen after being shortened by cell division through an enzyme called Telomerase. ***This video explains “End Replication Problem” and uses Telomerase at the end to fix that problem. However, this only happens in eggs, sperm, and most stem cells; regular cells, such as nerve cells, or skin cells do not get extended for what was lost or having limited capacity for regeneration. DNA repair mechanism can be triggered but not always. This means that in normal cells, the telomeres become shorter and shorter with each subsequent cell division.
***Notice that telomerase’s job will lengthen telomere for some additions, meanwhile, RNA primer can come in and complete the replication process.
Once telomeres reach a critically short length, the cell ceases to divide and enters what we called cellular senescence or apoptosis, so it can either remain metabolically active and be eliminated by the immune system later or cell suicide.
Whereas DNA damaged can vary, from environmental toxins to radiation, to viruses and reactive oxygen species (ROS). There are more to come, but once a chromosome is damaged, discontinuity often results in death.
The second purpose of telomeres is to act as the limitation in controlling the number of replications a cell can make. This limit on the human cell is known as the Hayflick limit and is named after its discoverer Dr. Leonard Hayflick. The reason why cancer cells are so powerful is that they can lengthen telomeres indefinitely with telomerase; under the hooray of forever dividing with no loss, leaving the suffering to humans.
The limitation of replication is the direct result of aging.
Though all of us are born with a certain number of telomeres as based pairs, they dwindle as we age. Since many of them in the type of cells don’t get the lengthening treatment from telomerase, they die with no coming back. Naturally, the overall cell numbers will decline with time. At this point, we haven’t included the influences from the outside, such as excessive drinking.
I know. We probably don’t consider aging can be zoomed down to this very cellular level and yet, their livings are seriously impacting us tremendously.
Now, let’s take a look at how aging can impact our body before we talk about the cause of aging and in what ways we can slow down or reverse the aging process.
=====Part II: The Impacts Aging Could Bring=====
- Aging Organs
How well organs function depends on how well the cells within them function. Eventually, older cells function less well and some cells die with no replacement so the overall number of cells decreases with time. This explains why older people tend to have abnormal problems with their organs, kidney failure for example.
Notice that not all organs lose a large number of cells. Our brain for example, healthy older people don’t lose many brain cells. Substantial losses occur mainly in people who have had a stroke or disorder that causes the progressive loss of nerve cells, like neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
- Aging Skin
Being the largest body organ, our skin changes with age. Drier skin and having less supple, our skin becomes thinner and loses fat. The healing process in our skin from scratches and cuts also takes longer to complete. Not to mention the wrinkles that appear on the surface, that our skin transforms into less elastic due to the ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, while gravity can cause the skin to sag and wrinkle too. Certain habits, like smoking, are also a part of the contribution to skin wrinkling.
The amount of muscle tissue, known as muscle mass, and muscle strength tend to decrease in the early 30 and continuing throughout life. Although reasons are varied regarding the decrease, some are caused by physical inactivity and decreasing levels of growth hormone and testosterone, which stimulate muscle development. Besides that, when muscles can’t contract as quickly because more fast-contracting muscle fibers are lost than slow-contracting muscle fibers, muscle contraction also gets affected.
While we begin to lose muscle mass in a small percentage per decade when we enter the middle-age ground, we can rebuild the muscle mass by a plan, work, and dedication. In the absence of disease, loss in muscle mass is preventable with regular exercise to a higher extent. Usually, more severe muscle loss, like sarcopenia, results from disease or extreme inactivity, not from aging alone.
When it comes to excuses in preventing one from doing exercising, there are many. From environmental limitations to being too protective of themselves, afraid of getting hurt again physically, these are the mental blocks they being the protagonists in their lives have to go through. But after taking the initial action to start improving their physicality, they will as well develop the mental strength to endure bad excuses and many external negative circumstances.
4. Body Fat
Our total body weight fluctuates according to the calories we consume relative to how many we burn. For example, if we take in more than we burn off, we’ll gain weight over time. Our body can identify what is calories but it doesn’t just dispose of them. It stores extra calories as fat, rather than using it to fuel muscle. It’s a natural energy conversion in our body.
When this happens, the proportion of body weight we carry that is fat increases. One of the big misconceptions for many is that doing aerobic exercise, such as swimming, dancing, walking or cycling, doesn’t primarily have a major effect on our muscle mass, at least not compared to weight lifting. However, it’s very effective at burning calories. What scares people is too much fat stored in the cells and there isn’t a way for them to burn the fat off.
When we age, our loss of muscle mass shifts the dynamic of storing the intake of calories from muscle cells to now the fat cells. It’s because we now understand that our muscle cells will decrease with time, and our body still needs to handle the incoming calories. To prevent that? Keep yourself active!
*******A side note on: Fat Loss or Weight Loss?*******
Although it strays from our aging topic a bit, I would like to cover it here quickly with a paragraph to explain this commonly asked question.
If you simply reduce your calorie intake to lose weight, without exercising, you will probably lose muscle as well as fat. It’s because when we cut back on calories, our body is forced to find other sources of fuel. What else can be the idealistic fuel for our body to burn? Muscle protein. Even if you don’t see it that way, our body sees it that way, and that matters. So what is the solution? Cut down the calories as you would like but don’t skip meals, unless you’re really low at appetite, then there is something else to work on. Meanwhile, Do your favorite sport or exercise for improving muscle mass and strength. The bottom line is: think about fat loss, not weight loss.
- Aging Bone and Joints
Bone is densely packed with flexible fibers, known as collagen fibers, hardened by calcium and phosphorous. They are built to withstand great stress from activities like walking, running, and jumping. Since bone is a living tissue that constantly renews itself, our skeleton is completely new every 7~10 years.
Bones constantly change through a process of resorption and formation called “remodeling” throughout our lifetime; removing the mature bone tissue and allowing new bone tissue to form. Any following injuries like fractures can be resolved by reshaping or replacement thanks to this remodeling process. However, as we age the balance between bone resorption and bone formation changes, due to the cells lost, resulting in a loss of bone tissue.
For example, the mineral content of bones decreases, making the bones less dense and more fragile. If this continues without proper care, likely osteoporosis develops. This symptom is marked by progressive bone loss. Osteoporosis is also responsible for almost all hip fractures in older men and women. But the good news is, osteoporotic bones are structurally different than healthy bone. That means we can all avoid this phenomenon by exercising regularly.
*Osteoporosis can also be interpreted as “porous bone” in the simplest term for easy imagination.
The chemistry of cartilage, which provides cushioning between bones, changes. With less water content, the cartilage becomes more susceptible to stress. As the cartilage degenerates, arthritis can develop. Ligaments, connective tissues between bones, become less elastic, reducing flexibility.
And what about our joints?
Joint motion becomes more restricted and declines in flexibility with age because of changes in tendons and ligaments. Some people might experience inflaming joints during the aging process if they didn’t take care of them when they were younger.
To improve our bone strength and flexibility overall, stretching is a must-to-go exercise we need to integrate into our modern busy schedules. Not only it will benefit you in physicality that lasts for a lifetime but also the freedom in mentality that can be obtained through practicing stretching.
So you see, although aging and exercising, stretching and everything else in between is sort of important and they kinda exist independently like options that we can choose where to focus on, their interconnections are deeply rooted to our health at cellular levels and without taking some times to look back into ourselves and process what we learnt, we might still ponder why certain health problems happen to us, especially when we age.
It could be very depressed at times for some, because most of the money they earn they spend on medical care for healing. Their worries keep them in loops and they knew it was a rabbit hole, but they just didn’t know how to get out of it.
Although there are more phenomenal body changes we can talk about, the above examples are good enough to give you insights on how aging can change our body and why precaution and prevention should be taken more seriously, in a light-hearted manner of course!
==== Part III: How To Slow Down, Prevent, Or Reverse Aging?====
As we now know our cells’ armies will decrease when we grow older. To keep us in check, our mentality of believing we are always young is first and foremost. Playfulness and lightheartedness should always be inside our hearts and be ready to take the wheel in our life. And then, we can explore the best ways to keep our cells living in prospect and longevity.
The toxicities we know of, such as tobacco and air pollution, all commonly have free radicals within and realising this is one of the main sources that can cause us aging, we should better know what a free radical is.
Think of it like a hat-less kid who likes to steal other children’s hats. Whenever a kid doesn’t have a hat on his head, he is a free radical that exists on a molecular level. Other kids nearby who have hats will be taken by this kid. Any kid who’s lost their hat will now be another free radical. So the stealing process continues until everybody has a hat.
Free radicals are highly reactive and unstable atoms or molecules. They can be oxygen molecules but not always. The unstable nature is derived from an unpaired electron. As a result of this imbalance, free radicals seek out and take electron(s) from other molecules to put themselves back stability, which oftentimes causes damage to the second molecule.
When a free radical does this, it’s called “oxidation.” A molecule that has had its electron “stolen” from a free radical, has been “oxidized.” Oxidized molecules are now transformed into free radicals themselves and seek to steal from another healthy molecule. This creates a vicious chain reaction of electron stealing in the body. When the body has undergone excessive oxidation, or more oxidation that can be combated, It’s said to be undergoing “oxidative stress.”
DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD; Free Radicals
There isn’t a need for putting a bad image on free radicals though. As free radicals chain reaction is significantly helpful in converting foods to energy in our body, they also lead the contractions of heart cells to become stronger and beats with greater force, paving the way to a better understanding of various types of heart deficiency among older people.
Like many things that occur in nature, free radicals are not only impossible to avoid but necessary for life. Free radicals help us fight infection, begin the inflammation process that helps repair tissue injury, and short-term oxidative stress may inhibit aging. At the same time, excessive amounts are harmful to humans.
Free radicals can be formed in the body in a number of ways:
Stress – Chemicals, cortisone and catecholamines released by mental stress can create free radicals.
Environmental exposure – The radiation from the sun, cigarette smoke, air and water pollution, pesticides, and herbicides in the food we eat for example can cause free radical formation in our bodies.
Exercise – While consistent moderate exercise has many positive benefits and can reduce the risk of catching cancer or diseases, excessive exercise or inconsistent but vigorous exercise uses a high amount of the body’s oxygen store and as a result, generates excessive free radicals.
Alcohol – Any kind of amount in consuming alcohol produces free radicals in the body.
Eat – Polyunsaturated fat, which exists in vegetable oils, is easily oxidized in the body and can create free radicals. To learn more about it here.
Our bodies – free radicals are the natural byproducts of metabolic processes. While cells use oxygen to generate energy, free radicals are created as a consequence of ATP ( adenosine triphosphate) production by mitochondria. Overtimes, accumulated and being leftover free radicals will try to fulfill their only purpose, which to find unpaired electrons to make them stable. This often causes damage to cells, proteins, and DNA.
Essentially, the only job for free radicals is to cause large chain reactions in any process, and these reactions are called oxidation. Excessive free radicals will fulfill their only purpose – take on other electron(s) from another atom or molecule – by causing chain reactions and such result is directly oxidized other molecules.
In order to witness the power of free radicals that takes part in the aging process in real time, let’s visualise the impact of oxidation first.
The Oxidized Apple
Have you seen how an apple being oxidized?
When an apple is cut into pieces, the plant tissue is exposed to oxygen. The free radicals and all of the damage we have mentioned earlier in this article are demonstrating on this apple right now, with its color turning brown. This apple will naturally age, yes. But by exposing the tissue to the air, oxidation accelerates the aging process. That means oxidation can be the cause for speeding up aging. And imagine the same to our body.
But rest assured, our body is stronger than an apple and through our practical approach, we can combat aging according to our wills.
The Oxidative Damage During Replicating Process
Here is a closed-up mind-blowing video on how oxidative damage on telomeres can eventually kill the daughter cells during the replicating process.
Is there any way to smoothen free radicals then?
Nature has its way. There is a counteract molecule called “Antioxidant.” An antioxidant provides extra electrons to neutralise the aggressive behavior of free radicals, bringing balance to our body. So if we have an excessive amount of free radicals in our body, we need a counteract measure. Going to a supermarket and spending some time to read drink labels, you will notice some drinks would contain antioxidants, green tea for instance. But keep in mind that too many of antioxidants also isn’t a good thing.
life is meant to be daring and endearing for whatever we have to experience. So take a deep breath by opening your lung and nostrils at the same time. Take a break, drink some water and come back! I know this article is quite heavy, but also liberating.
Since aging is a natural process, it means anything can influence it.
Let’s link everything together for a complete picture, shall we?
We’ve learnt about telomere, aging changes in our body, free radicals, and oxidation.
With almost countless possible scenarios that can be taken place, I would pick the easy-to-follow, logical, both inside and outside situations for us to approach and contemplate. Keep in mind that we are excluded disease and other factors, so find your way to unlatch your health situation.
Internally speaking, as we can see there are several ways to trigger free radicals inside the body and the exceeded amounts will become oxidative stress. Uncontrolled oxidative stress tends to damage lipids, proteins, and DNA, eroding our vital tissues. Once oxidation has been made to the innocents, it takes time and more internal efforts to fix and repair. If it’s too severe, elimination of cells will be taken place. Over time, we might incidentally accelerate the natural aging process through our “Growth Path”.
And our self-created stress can also be a big contribution to aging too. Therefore, we need to maintain ourselves in better moods. If you don’t know how, please read others of my self-help articles or book a consultation with me.
Multiple external triggers induce oxidative stress that can negatively impact our body if we don’t take a better measure of balance. Air pollutants, tobacco smoke, or certain types of foods for example, all we need is to raise our awareness on these little details and develop ways to combat, avoid or replace the situations.
Honestly, it isn’t easy for many of us, due to the preconditions we have with our surroundings, and the circumstances we are facing. The difficulties lay under the maintenance on our health, while some of us are still trying to make an end meet, funding money for their kids to education, and many more. Whatever the hardships you have to go through, understand that step one to deal with all of the outside matters, is to recharge ourselves. Give yourself space and time to rest.
So, what are the solutions for aging?
Overall there are a few steps we can tackle aging:
- Learn the knowledge
- Develop a good healthy diet specifically for yourself
- Doing physical hobbies or exercising
- Rest up
- Share your health view with others
When you reach to step 5, and continuously going on your health path, it’s an indication that you fundamentally change yourself within and help spreading this health element to the rest of the world too. Congrats! And keep up the good work. We need to reduce human sufferings because they are just too painful to so many.
*The term “reversing aging” in this article means identifying our old habits or patterns that can harm telomeres or cells. Replace them with new interests, hobbies, or new patterns of thinking even. That’s how we break the karmic cycle and ensure we don’t repeat the old. Without some sophisticated tools like Crispr to alter our genes, which somehow unnatural, through our basic changes in our lives we can still reverse the once pessimistic outlook on aging and ally with our trillions of cells in fighting any harmful substances or cells.
Our health is really the only ticket that allows us to be on this earth and being able to experience whatever we can experience right here right now; like taking a hot shower, having a chat with your loved one, resting on the couch. We want to be happy, healthy individuals and don’t want to get any sickness or disease just because we did’t pay attention to our body earlier in life, as we might just be too busy to focus on the external things in the meantime. So take rest and reserve our energy and strength.
Take your time to think, reflect, plan and act. Life is short, and because it’s so short, you don’t want to rush anything and then messed up later like what it used to be. As long as you do your best, there is no regret.
Be Strong you’ve got this. Be prepared and flexible mentally and physically as always, so you can deal with the external problems with ease.
This article is a bit longer than my usual, but I wanted to cover several points in one go so that it can display a complete picture by the end of it. Thanks for sticking around and I hope it’s helpful for you and letting you gaining another perspective on aging! 🙂
Living a life certainly isn’t easy! But also it’s worthwhile. It’s somehow all of the tastes, sweet and bitter, sour and hot, sometimes with no taste, like every little moments in between the collections of our life album, that making us feeling alive. So trust your intuition and dive into it for the life that you’ve always been dreaming about!
I’m hoping to share more health-related concepts, information, opinion and so on. Anything you want me to cover? Please let me know what you think in the comments down below or private message me. And as always, have a good day!
Photos by Heather Ford, Ian Schneider, Olia Nayda, Marian Kroell, Ben White, Caleb Jones, Ella Olsson from Unsplash