As your body ages, you can expect gradual changes, at your body's own pace. How your body ages depends in part on your family (genetic) patterns of aging. But your lifestyle choices have a more powerful impact on how well your body ages. Fortunately, you can control your lifestyle choices.
Some of the following changes may apply to you. Others may not. A healthy lifestyle may slow many of these normal effects of aging.
Skin. With age, the skin becomes less elastic and more lined and wrinkled. Fingernail growth also slows. The oil glands gradually produce less oil, making the skin drier than before. You can slow skin aging by using moisturizer and protecting the skin from the sun with sunscreen and sun-protective clothing, such as a hat or cap.
Height. By age 80, it's common to have lost as much as 2 in. (5 cm) in height. This is often related to normal changes in posture and compression of joints, spinal bones, and spinal discs.
Hearing. Over time, changes in the ear make high-frequency sounds harder to hear and changes in tone and speech less clear. These changes tend to speed up after age 55.
Vision. Most people in their 40s develop a need for reading glasses as the lenses in the eyes become less flexible (presbyopia). It's also normal for night vision and visual sharpness to decline. Also in the later years, glare increasingly interferes with clear vision. Vision changes can affect your ability to drive safely. For more information, see:
Sleep. Changes in sleep and circadian rhythm occur as you age. You will probably sleep less at night, and you may not sleep as deeply as you did when you were younger. And it's more likely that you'll wake up during the night and/or wake up earlier in the morning. For more information, see the topic Coping With Changing Sleep Patterns as You Get Older.
Bones. Throughout adulthood, men and women gradually lose some of the mineral content in their bones. The bones get less dense and strong. You can slow natural bone loss and reduce your risk of osteoporosis by getting regular, weight-bearing exercise (such as walking), getting enough calcium and vitamin D, and avoiding lifestyle choices that weaken bones (such as smoking). Your doctor may also recommend a bone-protecting medicine. For more information, see the topic Osteoporosis.
Metabolism and body composition. Over time, the body typically needs less energy, and your metabolism slows. Hormone changes in the aging body result in a shift to more body fat and less muscle mass. The best approach to managing these changes is to take in fewer calories while keeping up or increasing your physical activity. Strength training is an especially good way to build or keep your muscle mass. When your muscle mass is reduced, your metabolism slows down. Building or keeping your muscle mass allows your metabolism to remain the same or increase.
Brain and nervous system. Starting in the third decade of life, the brain's weight, the size of its nerve network, and its blood flow decrease. But the brain adapts to these changes, growing new patterns of nerve endings. Memory changes are a normal part of the aging process-it's common to have less recall of recent memories and to be slower remembering names and details. You can help keep your brain sharp. Engage in regular social activity. Challenge yourself to learn and do new things. And be physically active, to increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain.
Heart and blood circulation. The heart naturally becomes less efficient as it ages, and your heart has to work a little harder during activity than it did in the past. This makes the heart muscle a little larger. You'll notice a gradual decline in your energy or endurance from one decade to the next.
Kidneys. With advancing age, the kidneys decline in size and function. They don't clear wastes and some medicines from the blood as quickly and don't help the body handle dehydration as well as in the past. This makes it increasingly important that you minimize the toxins, alcohol, and unnecessary medicine that you take in, and that you drink plenty of water.
Urinary incontinence. Age-related changes in the urinary system, decreased mobility, and some medicine side effects can all lead to urinary incontinence. This does not have to be part of normal aging, so talk to your doctor if urinary incontinence is affecting you.
Sexual function. Men and women produce lower levels of hormones starting in their 50s. Men produce less sperm, and their sexual response time slows. Women stop ovulating and have a number of menopausal changes linked to lower estrogen production. For more information, see the topic Menopause and Perimenopause.