Aging: The Inside Story

Featured Article, Healthy Aging, Healthy Living, Senior Health
on May 1, 2012

The Brain

What’s happening: Plaque build-up can disrupt the normal functioning of nerve cells, and neurotransmitters may not fire as well as they used to. Plus, your brain shrinks and blood flow to it declines, notes Dr. Gary Small, co-author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. The result? Memory problems and trouble learning new information, especially if it’s complex.

Anti-aging fixes: Improve information recall by challenging your brain with games, conversations and intellectual challenges; exercise regularly to prevent plaques and boost blood flow, and eat antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds.

The Skin

What’s happening: Oil glands become less active, and collagen and elastic tissue are less adept at repairing themselves, says dermatologist Dr. Doris Day, author of Forget the Facelift. These changes can cause drier, sagging skin, wrinkles and uneven pigmentation.

Anti-aging fixes: “Only about 20 percent of how your skin ages is genetic, so you have a lot of control,” Day says. Protect skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 year-round. Get plenty of sleep and cut back on sugar and red meat, which promote inflammation. Use a retinol night cream to stimulate skin cell turnover and collagen production.

The Eyes

What’s happening: Tear ducts produce fewer tears, leaving eyes dry, says Dr. Marguerite McDonald, ophthalmology professor at New York University Langone Medical Center.  Oxidative stress and sun damage can lead to cataracts. Other age-related eye disorders, such as macular degeneration, tend to cluster in families.

Anti-aging fixes: If you’re using artificial tears regularly, consider prescription eye drops. Try a lubricating ointment (like Fresh Kote) inside the lower lid at night. Wear UV-blocking wraparound sunglasses and a hat to reduce cataract formation, and eat foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin like greens, corn and eggs to protect against macular degeneration.

The Heart

What’s happening: Poor lifestyle habits and genetic factors can trigger inflammation, contributing to blood vessel constriction, elevated cortisol levels and plaque formation and rupture, all of which can up your risk of heart attack or stroke. Plus, after menopause, women lose estrogen from the heart muscle, which can lead to rhythm problems or fluid buildup, says cardiologist Dr. Tracy Stevens of St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo.

Anti-aging fixes: Healthy habits go a long way toward protecting your heart health—especially exercise, which improves body weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels and inflammation. Also, brush and floss twice a day, as research increasingly links gum and heart disease.

The Bones

What’s happening:  Starting in your 40s, you lose up to 1 percent of bone mass per year at the hip, accelerating to up to 3 percent per year for women after menopause, says Dr. Felicia Cosman of the National Osteoporosis Foundation. That increases the risk of fracture.

Anti-aging fixes: Weight-bearing exercise like walking for 30 minutes at least three times a week and strength-training two to three times a week can stall bone loss. Get plenty of calcium (1,200mg per day for women over 50) and vitamin D (600 IU per day) and eat a rainbow of produce—the alkali in fruits and vegetables may reduce acids that spur bone breakdown.