Many people consider aging a natural process that everyone goes through if they are fortunate enough to live a long time. But is it really? Or is aging a disease that can be treated and prevented?
Some scientists believe that aging is not something we are born with but rather something we acquire over time. And if this is true, it means that aging is a disease that we can fight.
However, the official scientific stance from the National Institute on Aging notes that there's a complex, two-way relationship between aging and illness. They state that aging isn't in itself a disease but is a significant risk factor for developing other serious chronic diseases.
Additionally, these diseases may accelerate the aging process, which reduces a person's functionality and quality of life. So, while aging may not be a disease in and of itself, it is closely linked to the development of other diseases.
Although aging cannot be prevented, certain lifestyle choices can slow its progression.
What is aging?
Aging is arguably a natural process that happens to everyone. It's the process of becoming older and is characterized by physical, mental, and emotional health changes.
As people age, they may lose muscle mass and bone density, experience changes in their skin and hair, and experience a decrease in the ability to think clearly and remember things. While some of these changes are normal and expected, others may result from disease or injury.
There are many theories about what causes aging. One popular school of thought is that the body's cells simply wear out over time and can no longer repair themselves as efficiently.
Another theory suggests that aging results from damage that accumulates in our cells over time—factors like inflammation and oxidative stress cause this deterioration.
Although aging may not be classified as a disease, many diseases can occur as people age. These diseases can cause further aging and make it difficult for people to live healthy, active lives.
What are the diseases associated with aging?
Various diseases are associated with aging. They result from a combination of genetic factors, lifestyle choices, and the environment. The most common diseases associated with aging are:
Cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control and begin to invade and damage healthy tissue. There are many different types of cancer, and they can affect almost any part of the body.
- Alzheimer's disease
This form of dementia affects a person's ability to think, remember, and communicate. It's caused by the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain and has no known cure. It's more common in people over 65.
- Heart disease
Heart disease is an umbrella term for various conditions that affect the heart and circulatory system, such as coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure. It's the leading cause of death globally, causing around 18 million deaths annually.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted. For example, if a blood vessel ruptures or becomes blocked by a clot. Strokes can lead to paralysis, problems with speech and language, and other disabilities. They are most common in people over the age of 65.
When the cartilage that cushions the joints breaks down, osteoarthritis can develop. This common type of arthritis causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints. Osteoarthritis affects more than 525 million people worldwide, and cases are increasing rapidly.
- Macular degeneration
The macula is the part of the eye responsible for central vision. When it degenerates, it can cause vision loss and blindness. Macular degeneration is most common in people over the age of 50.
Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that affects a person's ability to walk, talk, and move normally. It is caused by the loss of nerve cells in the brain. Parkinson's disease affects more than 10 million people around the world.
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia
Men over the age of 50 are prone to developing this condition. It occurs when the prostate gland enlarges, causing problems with urination, such as difficulty starting or stopping the urine stream.
What can be done to prevent or slow the aging process?
There is no sure or proven way to prevent or slow the aging process. However, some lifestyle choices can reduce the risk of developing age-related diseases by promoting cell health and reducing inflammation.
- Eating a healthy diet: A nutrient-dense diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in saturated fats can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other diseases.
- Exercising regularly: Exercise can help maintain muscle mass and bone density, improve balance and coordination, and reduce the risk of falls. It can also help to reduce the risk of developing dementia and other conditions that affect cognitive function.
- Getting adequate sleep: Sleep is essential for good health. It helps repair the body and mind and reduces stress levels.
- Avoiding tobacco use: Tobacco use is a major risk factor for many diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
- Managing stress: Stress can contribute to the development of many diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Learning how to manage stress can help reduce the risk of developing these conditions.
- Taking supplements: Some natural supplements such as collagen, curcumin, and antioxidants like vitamin C and E may help protect cells from damage and support the repair and regeneration process.
- Getting regular check-ups: Your doctor can identify health problems early when they're most treatable. Routine physical exams, screenings, and immunizations help support your overall wellbeing and prevent serious health conditions.
- Aging is an inevitable process that happens to everyone.
- Most experts do not classify it as a disease, but the aging process can lead to the development of certain diseases. Age-related diseases include heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, macular degeneration, Parkinson's disease, and prostate problems.
- Various lifestyle changes can help prevent or slow the progression of these health conditions. These include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, avoiding tobacco use, managing stress, taking supplements, and getting regular health check-ups.