The Three Misconceptions About Aging
Dr. Anant Vinjamoori, MD | Apr 21, 2022
Take a moment, close your eyes, and bring to mind an image of an aging person. Chances are, you did not think of a 30-year-old woman with decades of life ahead. But the reality is, we’re all aging — and the effects of this show up earlier than you may think. Beginning in our late twenties, we see changes in our skin; in our thirties, we reach peak bone mass; by our forties, about forty percent of women have had noticeable hair loss; and all the while, hormonal changes are happening that punctuate these shifts.
Now revisit that image you originally had in your head. Is it aligned with the idea that aging is a continual process, or does it rely on outdated stereotypes of someone who is “old”? At Modern Age, we believe that we need a cultural shift in how we think about aging — one that rids us of stigmas about getting older and one that gives us the agency to take control of how we age.
Humans are living longer now than at any other point in history: Over the course of the past century, life expectancy has more than doubled, and from 1990 to 2015 alone, modern medicine led to a 35% increase in life expectancy. These extra years are an incredible gift. To make the most of them, we need to change the way we think about what it means to age.
Here, we share three misconceptions about aging that keep people from aging the way that they want to. Needless to say, we’re ready for them to go by the wayside.
1. How We Age Is Entirely Dependent Upon Genetics
When many of us think about getting older, we feel as though our genes will dictate how we age, and we can’t do anything about it. Yet, researchers from Boston University and the Boston University School of Medicine found that genetics were responsible for only 20 to 30 percent of an individual’s chance of living to 85.
What’s more, we can impact how we age through fairly simple lifestyle changes. A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that by simply walking 10 extra minutes each day, Americans could prevent roughly 111,000 deaths per year. Another from Massachusetts General Hospital found that cutting sugar intake can result in preventing millions of cardiovascular events like strokes and heart attacks, as well as hundreds of thousands of fewer diabetes cases. Another found that simply by having a sense of purpose, you can prevent illness and death.
By actively taking control of our lifestyles — what we eat, how we move, and where we devote our time — we can add years to our healthspans.
2. Aging Happens After You Hit Middle Age
There’s a perception that we don’t need to think about aging until we’re past middle age, but we begin to see the impact of aging as early as our twenties. In our late twenties, the amount of collagen (the skin’s support system) and hyaluronic acid (a humectant that holds onto water to keep skin plump) in our bodies decreases by 1 percent every single year.
In our thirties, our bones reach peak bone mass. While our bones are constantly remodeling themselves over the course of our lifetimes, a cellular shift happens following this peak. Our bodies begin to favor a process called “resorption,” in which minerals such as calcium are moved from the bone to the bloodstream, over a process called “ossification” which lays down new stem cells to help strengthen and build ones. As this happens, our bodies aren’t as well prepared to repair themselves after a fracture, which makes late-in-life fractures particularly dangerous.
The bottom line? Biological aging processes are happening all the time and occur naturally and over the span of many years. To best support our bodies, we should continually work with our systems to ensure that we’re giving them what they need over time.
3. ‘Age Gracefully’ Means Not Intervening
The symptoms that come with getting older, such as loss of libido, hair loss, and sleepless nights don’t have to be the “new normal”. You can take control of both how you look and how you feel — aging gracefully doesn’t have to mean aging without intervention.
Studies have shown that women overwhelmingly feel pressure to age gracefully, but we’ve extended the natural lifespan by decades. For someone in 1900, with a life expectancy of 46, skin would begin to lose collagen around the mid-point of life. Now, skin starts to lose collagen around the quarter-point of life. We have the right tools at our disposal to live longer, and we shouldn’t shy away from using tools to live better.
As science and technology have optimized our well-being and allowed us to live longer, healthier lives, we should feel empowered to take advantage of all of the options we have available. After all, research suggests that the younger we feel, the longer we live, and by taking control of our aging approach, the extra years can be healthy and joyful ones.