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The Aging Process: How and Why Do We Do Age?

One moment, you’re scouring your phone’s camera roll for the infamous cake-in-the-hair photo of your kiddo on their first birthday. The next thing you know, you’ve spent an hour absorbed in eight years’ worth of photos, and you’re left wondering where those eight years went. 

As you watch time fly via photo slideshow, you may also notice a few extra fine lines or gray hairs where there were none a few years ago, which begs the question: Why do we age? 

Today, we’re exploring five factors that contribute to the aging process. 

#1 Genetics 

Our genes are one of the main components that impact how and why we age, with each individual’s unique genetic combinations playing a role in determining our overall lifespan. For example, some individuals are born with robust cellular repair mechanisms. This allows them to physically age at a slower rate than those that have less efficient DNA repair mechanisms. 

#2 Hormonal Changes 

Our bodies use hormones to help us complete a myriad of functions, from regulating our metabolism and reproduction to influencing our mood and sleep patterns. Over the years, our hormone production begins to decline.  

Below, we discuss how lower numbers of certain hormones can exacerbate aging. 

Estrogen and Testosterone 

These well-known sex hormones are responsible for more than their fundamental role in helping us reproduce. They also play a part in regulating our bone health and cognitive function. As women age, their estrogen levels lower. This makes them more likely to experience signs of aging in the form of bone loss. For aging men, however, the loss of testosterone can decrease muscle mass and libido, contributing to declines in overall physical function. 

Growth Hormone (GH) 

As you might expect, GH is crucial during our formative years, as it regulates our metabolism and body composition as we grow into our adult bodies. But like with most internal processes, GH declines with age. 

In turn, our metabolic rate may decrease, leading to an accumulation of fat. Depleted GH production can also impair our bodies’ ability to repair tissue, which can contribute to age-related declines in muscle mass, skin elasticity and bone density. 

#3 Inflammation 

When we get sick or scrape our knees, our bodies get straight to work to repair the damage by initiating an inflammation response. That’s because, as children, our cellular repair capabilities are in their prime. 

As adults, however, our bodies sometimes initiate low-level inflammation even when there’s no infection to fight against. That inflammation can last for days, months or even years at a time. This continuous low-grade inflammation causes what’s known as inflammaging, which makes some individuals more prone to certain age-related diseases and accelerated aging. 

#4 Environmental Factors 

It’s hard to pass up some of life’s simple pleasures, like soaking in the warm rays of the summer sun or treating yourself to an extra glass of wine. However, some of those indulgences contribute to the aging process. 

For instance, the sun’s ultraviolet rays introduce unstable molecules, called free radicals, into our skin. Over time, free radicals have the potential to damage your DNA, which can cause premature aging, wrinkles and cancer. 

Other environmental factors that can cause signs of aging include air pollution and exposure to carcinogens, such as cigarette smoke. 

#5 Lifestyle Choices 

We can’t control how our genes impact the aging process, but we can control some of the lifestyle choices that affect how we age. Below, we explore how some of these can impact you negatively if neglected:  

  • Diet 
    A diet that consists largely of processed foods, unhealthy fats and sugar can accelerate internal cellular damage. This increases the likelihood of developing diseases that speed the rate of aging, such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. 
  • Physical activity
    A sedentary lifestyle can prematurely contribute to muscle loss, decreased mobility and age-related diseases.  
  • Sleep
    Your body needs ample sleep (at least seven hours) to function at maximum capacity. Getting less than that for an extended period can disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythm, increasing the risk of accelerated brain aging, a condition that occurs when your brain ages faster than your chronological age. This can lead to cognitive decline and memory impairment. 

Fortunately, you can control the lifestyle aspect of aging. With an improved diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep each night, you’re doing your part to slow the inevitable process of aging. But if you want to dive deeper into other mysteries of the human body, why not turn your fascination into a career? 

Unravel the Body’s Many Medical Mysteries at the University of Florida 

UF’s College of Medicine is proud to offer several entirely online graduate programs that focus on medical physiology. Each program enables you to embrace your passion and gain the foundational knowledge and skills to begin a career in medicine, from becoming a physician to pursuing a role as a clinical scientist — and so much more. 

Below, you can browse our diverse range of online graduate degree and certificate programs: 

Our programs are asynchronous and affordable, and we offer year-round start dates. Choose the program that’s right for you, and apply today!