No One Theory Explains How and Why We Age Vijai P. Sharma, Ph. D

Aging conjures up many images: wrinkles appear; skin loses its freshness and elasticity; bones thin down and become brittle; the normal fat-muscle ratio of 1 to 3 goes down due to muscle wasting; diminished eyesight and hearing, stiffening of joints and decreased range of motion, etc..

There are no universal rules that apply except that aging begins from the time an embryo is formed and that finally death happens to everyone who is born. We don't age the same way and we don't get "old" at the same age. The difference between when Tom gets old and dies and when Dick does may be equal to Harry's "life- time," that is, all the years Harry has on this planet. The fact is that we all have some say in how and when we get old. For example, staying active, creative, and adaptive may slow down the process of aging.

Let's look at a few theories of aging. Genetic theory doesn't entirely explain how long one is going to live . Aging is only partially determined by the genes. For instance, twins are the most genetically close to each other but twins don't always die at the same age unless the surviving twin gets too depressed to live, or believes that since they, as twins were born together, it is also the time for him or her to go.

According to another theory, high blood pressure and cholesterol are the two main culprits; they accelerate aging and finally kill us. But these two conditions are not the cause, they become a problem because of the faulty lifestyle, excessive stress, and negative emotions. Moreover, a lot of people who do not have a problem with high blood pressure and cholesterol still age faster than the ones who have the problem. In many societies, high blood pressure and cholesterol are not a major problem even in old age.

Let us look at the "wear and tear" theory of aging. In the olden days the wear and tear of the body was due to the onslaught of harsh climate, hard work, diseases, poor nutrition, etc.. The adverse conditions of those days extracted a high toll on people. A 40 year old person of the olden days was of the same physical and mental status as that a 70 or 80-year old person today. Comfortable living doesn't always increase the life-span. Many people living in comfortable conditions age faster than some living in uncomfortable condition.

Women on average live 4 to 5 years longer then men. Even in India, women live longer than men. This is in spite of the poorer nutrition and unhealthier living condition women experience compared to men, even in the same family. The tradition in India is that men eat first and have the first claim to the .living comforts. Women ate last whatever was left over and enjoyed the living amenities always second to men, but they still live longer than men. On this globe, eighty percent of all centenarians are women. In the U. S. seventy-five percent of the women survive their husbands in old age. They remain independent relatively for a longer age; only fifty percent live in nursing homes.

According to one theory, if we could preserve the immune system we had as babies, we could live up to 200 years of age. The immune system in the early years is ideal as nothing has yet taken place to distort the perfect harmony in which the body and its organs function and coordinate with one another. It is like a condor in flight or a tiger sprinting in the plains--their bodies moving in perfect balance. As the harmony in disrupted between the various organs, the aging process speeds up. In many ways, the body has a miraculous system to defy the aging process. 

The body keeps renewing itself continuously. Bones keep taking fresh calcium and keep rebuilding themselves. The stomach lining renews itself every five days (if it didn't change that often we would have to contend with big holes in our stomach). The skin is replaced every month, the liver every six weeks, and the skeleton every three months. In one year from today, 98 percent of the atoms in our body will be exchanged for new ones. In one year, excepting the two percent, we become new bodies. How do we ever get old? 

After 30 years of age, all the changes in body amount to one percent each year. In other words, the decay is one percent for each year of life. By the time one reaches eightieth birthday, there is 50% loss of what one had at age thirty. But "long-lifers" know what to do to slow down that process, otherwise, the lady who turned 120 this year, would have had only 10% of her muscles and skeleton left. The one percent decay can perhaps be reduced by one's expectations from oneself, the intention to stay young and healthy, and to be creative and adaptive.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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