Getting Older Is Not a Disease

It happens to all of us - time passes and we grow older. Signs of aging are not welcomed in the same way as the milestones that mark the progress of a child towards adulthood, but they are just as much a part of the cycle of life. In fact, the subtle process of aging begins when we are in our thirties, though we do not recognize it until much later.

In women, menopause is defined when the ovaries no longer produce the hormones (estrogen and progesterone) necessary for reproduction, and the menstrual period has stopped for a period of 12 months. In the US, most women experience natural menopause between ages 40 and 58. Certain medical conditions can bring it on sooner. Women are likely to experience menopause around the same age as their mothers and sisters. 

The drop in hormones naturally causes changes in the body. The onset of menopause is often signaled by hot flashes, mood swings and depression, drier skin and hair, headaches, and urinary tract infections. Sleep patterns change, and you might be awakened by anxious thoughts early in the morning. These symptoms can last for several years, but eventually disappear in post-menopause. Some women are severely affected, while others experience very mild symptoms. 

If symptoms of menopause are making your life unpleasant, your doctor can help. Hormone replacement is sometimes an option, along with vitamin supplements, stress management, and alternative therapies. Menopausal women should have a bone density test and regular checkups.

For men, the transition to middle age is not as clearly defined. During andropause, or climacteric, the production of testosterone gradually decreases, while the production of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) increases and prevents testosterone from being used in the body. Signs of andropause include loss of muscle mass and energy, weight gain, osteoporosis, cardiovascular problems, erectile dysfunction, baldness, emotional and behavioral changes, and loss of interest in daily activities. These symptoms, and the age at which they occur, vary greatly among individuals. Obesity, diabetes, alcoholism, drug abuse, smoking, lack of exercise, and a sedentary life style contribute to earlier onset of andropause.

The changes that occur in your body as you get older are normal and inevitable: 

Metabolism - Your metabolism slows and you lose muscle mass.

Bones - The mineral content of your bones decreases throughout adulthood.

Vision - During your 40s, the lenses of your eyes become less flexible, and you might need reading glasses. 

Hearing - Your ability to hear high-frequency sounds and detect changes in tone decreases after age 55.

Skin - Your skin becomes less elastic and oil glands produce less oil.

Sleep - Your circadian rhythms change and you sleep less deeply.

Hair - Hair gradually thins and hair pigment cells decline.

Height -  By your 80s, you could lose as much as 2 inches off your height.

Circulatory system - Blood pressure goes up a little in people over 60, as the cardiovascular system ages.

Some symptoms that are often attributed to aging, such as aching joints, are not normal and could be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition. Vaginal spotting in a post-menopausal woman should not be ignored. Recurring pain in joints or muscles could be caused by any number of medical conditions and should be evaluated by a doctor.

The way in which your body ages is determined by genetics and lifestyle. While you cannot do much about your genes, you can make lifestyle choices that will keep you healthy and active for decades to come. 

Further reading:

Signs and Symptoms of Menopause, National Institute on Aging (https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-signs-and-symptoms-menopause) Your Guide to Menopause  

Understanding Menopause Symptoms, WebMD, (https://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/understanding-menopause-symptoms#1)

Expert Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Menopause (https://www.menopause.org/for-women/expert-answers-to-frequently-asked-questions-about-menopause)

Joint Pain Not Inevitable With Age, WebMD, (https://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/features/joint-pain-management-age#1)

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