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How your body changes after 50

04 February 2015, 15:34 Susan Erasmus

Lagos - As we age, we gain wisdom and experience. Or we hope we do. But unfortunately our bodies eventually start showing signs of ageing as muscle function, healing ability and blood flow start slowing down. Then there’s also the inevitable “wear-and-tear” that takes its toll on everyone at a certain age.

How we lived when we were younger (and how we choose to live now) as well as our genetic inheritance both have a major effect on how healthy we are when we cross the line into our fifties.

But it isn’t all bad news: medical research is making major strides in the treatment of age-related conditions. And good self-care and preventative measures go a long way to reducing the effects of ageing.

Here’s more about some of the bodily changes most people can expect when they turn 50:

Changes in your skin and hair. Your skin will start to become thinner and lose fat and also produce less oil, which will cause it to become drier and less elastic. Few people escape the wrinkles of middle and old age, but good skin care, and avoiding the sun, can certainly arrest this process.

Hair-pigment cells will become fewer and your hair will start to turn grey. Hair will become thinner on the scalp (much more so in men than in women).

Changes in sight and hearing. Declining sight and hearing often also comes with ageing. Many middle-aged people need reading glasses, as it becomes more and more difficult for the eyes to focus on objects that are close up. One often sees older people holding a text or object at arm’s length in order to see it better. Some older people get cataracts or can develop increased pressure in the fluid inside the eye (glaucoma). Night vision and visual sharpness also tend to decline.

Hearing problems are common in older people. It often happens gradually, so isn’t always noticed. With age, high-frequency sound become harder to hear and it also becomes difficult to follow a conversation when there’s a lot of background noise.

Changes in sleep patterns. One bit of good news: older people need less sleep than younger folks do. As you age, you’ll also tend to wake up more frequently and you will not sleep as deeply as you used to when you were younger.

Changes in your weight. As you age, your body will need less energy. If you carry on eating the same amount you did when you were younger, you will gain weight. Regular exercise can help to prevent weight gain. Muscle mass is reduced with age and this slows down your metabolism as well, which in turn can make you pick up a few kilos.

Changes in heart function. Your heart rate slows down with age, and your arteries could become stiffer. These two things can put pressure on your heart, and your heart muscle may become enlarged. Many older people develop heart disease because of these factors.

Changes in your bones and joints. As with all mechanical things, long-term use causes wear and tear. Older people can develop osteoporosis, which causes bone density to be reduced. This could lead to bone fractures. Many older people also lose a bit of height. Osteoarthritis (when the cartilage in a joint wears away) is also common in people over 65. Being overweight increases your risk.

Changes in bladder control. As muscle function declines, so does bladder control. Urinary incontinence (from slight “leaks” to serious bladder-control problems) affect many older people, especially women. This can be socially inhibiting. There are treatments and exercises to remedy this, so all is not lost.

Changes in brain function. The brain has the amazing ability to adapt to changing circumstances (such as decreased blood flow to the brain) and many people remain razor sharp till the end of their lives. But many others also experience memory loss as they grow older. This can vary from slight to severe, and is sometimes a sign of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Exercising regularly and taking part in activities that challenge your brain can enhance your cognitive function.

Sources: NIH MedlinePlus; WebMD.com; Mayoclinic.com

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- Health24


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