It would be fantastic if we could stay young and youthful-looking forever, but most of us who have lived a few years know that with time comes some inevitable changes in our bodies. Everything from your skin to your hair and your body to your mind changes as you age, and although it’s strange seeing yourself go through a metamorphosis, it doesn’t have to be a process you fear. Becoming aware of what to expect as you age can make growing older seem a little bit easier, and you might even find that you embrace some of these changes.
We’ve consulted with some medical professionals to help give you an idea of what to expect during the aging process, as well as how you can prevent these changes or even just work to slow them down.
Your skin goes through many changes throughout the decades, namely a loss in elasticity as well as diminished fat. In your 20s and 30s, you’ll start to notice that your skin is no longer as resilient. “After a night of partying, your skin won’t look as vibrant and youthful in the morning,” says plastic surgeon Anthony Youn, MD, FACS. Fine lines and sunspots also begin to develop.
In your 40s, the skin begins to feel looser. “Although most people in their 40s don’t have drooping skin, it starts to lose elasticity and tightness,” says Youn. In your 50s, the skin starts to sag. “Virtually everyone has some loose, hanging skin of their neck by their mid-50s,” he says. “Eyelids and eyebrows also start to droop.” This continues on as you get into your 60s, 70s and beyond, with the skin thinning and underlying veins becoming more visible.
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“Graying hair is the most obvious sign of aging, and this occurs because we make less melanin, the part of the hair follicle responsible for hair color,” says Dr. Christopher Calapai, DO. “Hair thinning and a lack of shine also comes with age,” he says. Since the hair is less thick and the hair follicles eventually stop producing new hairs, hair loss is also common.
Related Reading: Is There a Permanent Solution for Gray Hair?
As you age, nails tend to be more dull brittle and grow slower. “Some can develop longitudinal rushing, which are vertical ridges in the nail,” says dermatologist Dr. Margarita Lolis. You might experience discoloration, abnormal growth and frequent breakage. You might also find that your hands tend to be drier. “The more we have our hands in water, the drier they become,” says Calapai.
Related Reading: Discolorations, Cracks or Lines on Nails: What Do They Mean?
“As we age we often concern ourselves with our appearance, but our minds age too,” says Calapai. “According to psychologists, the mental lifestyle, chronic disease and mental flexibility all impact how our mind functions as we age.” Unfortunately, as we get older, we experience more cognitive decline, poorer quality sleep and worsened memory. However, it’s not all that bad: There are also some benefits that come with age. Research shows that middle-aged brains are better at managing emotions, and that your brain responds less to negative things. You might also find that you have better spatial orientation skills and inductive reasoning. Your memory may not feel as strong, but you might find it easier to navigate through everyday troubles.
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Someone at age 40 isn’t going to have the same natural energy as someone at age 20. “Even healthy people notice aches, pains and even for some, a drop in stamina and coordination,” says Calapai. “People may notice they need to hold onto a railing when climbing stairs or getting in and out of the car. Putting on clothes or lifting things may seem to become more of a challenge.”
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Our metabolism slows down after age 25, which is when we stop growing bone, and every decade our metabolism slows at least two percent. “This is why it’s common for a slender person to see their weight increase by 10–12 pounds every decade,” says Calapai. At first, this change is slow and steady, which is why so many people don’t notice it happening when they’re younger. But around 50, this decline begins to accelerate.
Sex hormones, primarily estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, begin their decline typically in the late 40s to early 50s. “When these hormones decline, women experience menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes, thinning skin and vaginal dryness,” says functional medicine naturopathic doctor Jolene Brighten. Another hormone called DHEA also begins to decline and continue to drop each year. “DHEA is considered an anti-aging hormone because it diminishes wrinkles, increases energy, enhances memory, reduces body fat and improves libido,” she says.
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Now that you know what to expect, you might be in a panic thinking, “How can I make all of this stop?” Although some of these changes are inevitable, there are ways in which you can help slow aging down. “It boils down to sleeping well, exercising, eating a healthy diet and staying active,” says Lolis. Exercise can, of course, help with changes in the body, but it can also prevent cognitive decline in the mind as well as help with your skin’s appearance.
It’s also particularly important to steer clear of processed foods, salty foods and sweet foods, not only to lessen your chance of diseases like diabetes and obesity but to help improve your skin, hair and nails. “Exercising and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish also helps regulate the metabolism,” says Calapai.
Reducing stress is also important, so activities like meditation can help keep your cortisol levels down, which can prevent aging all around.
You can also take action to make sure you’re avoiding habits that can make you age more quickly. “The more stressed we are the more we speed up aging and trigger hormonal imbalances,” says Calapai. Sun exposure can thin the skin, staying inactive can hurt your mental cognition and cause issues like osteoporosis, and smoking cannot only lead to lung cancer, but it can cause more wrinkles and other skin issues.
As much as we wish we could stop the clock, aging is an inevitable part of life, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. Making sure you’re living the healthiest life possible is the best way to prevent or slow down those unwelcome signs of aging.