Why We Age: A Look at the Process of Aging

Regardless of how well you manage your personal health, every person eventually experiences the ravages of Father Time. While is common to hear complaints about the aging process, very few people know the reasons as to why we get old.

Internal Problems

Over the last several decades, scientists have devoted much time and effort to answering this very question. Essentially, the reasons for aging can be assigned into one of two groupings programmed and damage related. The “programmed” category refers to aging that occurs when our cells lose their ability to divide and self-replicate. In contrast, the body sustains damage-related aging from outside attackers or simple wear and tear.

So why do are cells lose their dividing ability over time? Part of the reason stems from a section of our chromosomes called telomeres, which consist of unused DNA. During the cell division process, the telomeres shield the chromosome
from damage. However, each division sees lops off a piece of this crucial cushioning; eventually, the telomere erodes completely, leaving our DNA in a highly vulnerable position.

Programming-related damage can also occur due to autoimmunity. In short, “autoimmunity” describes a phenomenon in which immune system cells mistakenly attack healthy cells and tissues, adversely affecting the body’s overall health.

External Threats

A good example of damage-related aging comes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. In fact, it is believed that 80 percent of skin wrinkling can be attributed to UV ray exposure. Cells are also damaged due to marauding atoms known as free radicals. Free radicals emerge after oxygen collides with molecules inside the body, leaving atoms with one electron instead of two. The affected atoms will frantically seek to rectify this imbalance, leading them to poach electrons from healthy cells. As you might expect, this theft leaves the victimized cells worse for the wear.

Cheer Up!

If this article has you feeling down, consider this: in the early 15th century, the average person struggled to live past the age of thirty. In 2015, the average life expectancy in the United States was 78.74 years. Father time might be unbeatable, but we’ve gotten much better at keeping him at bay.

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