Ageing: what to expect

The body undergoes many changes as the years go by – here is a quick guide to what happens as you age.

03 February 2014
by Kassabaine Petersen

Your cardiovascular system

The heart undergoes several significant changes as you age: heart rate slows and your heart may enlarge, while blood vessels and arteries become stiffer. As a result of these changes, the ageing heart has to work harder to pump blood through the body. Until recently the theory on what caused heart disease was clear: we believed high cholesterol and a high-fat diet were sure indicators of a heart attack waiting to happen. Then the tide turned and we were warned that a diet too low in fat is actually bad for our health. With all this conflicting advice you might be wondering what exactly is in your heart’s best interest.

“We do need some fat in our diet, but the real issue is the quality of fat. There is solid proof that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats will improve cholesterol levels, reduce heart disease risk and prevent insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes,” says Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA (HSFSA).

Act today

  • For a healthy heart eat a balanced diet, including plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, says HSFSA.
  • Incorporate healthy fats in your diet – nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, avocados and omega-3 rich fish such as salmon and sardines are all good sources of heart-healthy fats.
  • Incorporate exercise into your daily routine: try walking, swimming or yoga.
  • Smoking contributes to the hardening of the arteries, so if you want your heart to go the distance it’s vital that you make a plan to quit.

Your bones, joints and muscles

As you age, your bones tend to shrink, making you more susceptible to fractures and falls, muscles lose strength, and you become less coordinated.

Act today

  • Get up and get moving. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking, jogging, tennis and climbing stairs, together with strength training, can help you build strong bones and slow bone loss. It's important that you don't let fear of pain keep you from trying gentle activity.
  • Increase your calcium intake. Include diary products, almonds, broccoli, canned salmon with the bones and sardines. Alternatively ask your Clicks pharmacist to recommend a calcium supplement.
  • Get adequate vitamin D. Sunlight activates the D vitamin in our bodies, but it can also be found in the following food sources: oily fish (such as salmon and sardines), egg yolks, fortified milk, and vitamin D supplements. Ask a Clicks pharmacist to recommend a vitamin D supplement to suit your needs.

Your eyes and ears

With age, we lose the ability to focus, become more sensitive to glare, and have trouble adapting to different levels of light. Ageing also affects the lens of the eye, causing cataracts.

Your hearing may also go as you age, and you may have trouble following conversations in a crowd.

Act today

  • Starting at age 40, it’s important to get annual eye exams to avoid picking up on real problems too late, such as glaucoma or retinal damage.
  • Eat for your eyes: a healthy diet including colourful veggies brimming with vitamins such as beta carotene – found in broccoli, butternut, mangoes and carrots – converts into vitamin A.
  • Smoking can lead to eye diseases because of reduced blood flow to the eyes, which also absorb toxic substances from cigarette smoke. Quit today!
  • Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat outdoors, and use earplugs when near loud machinery.

Your digestive system

Constipation is also common as you age, primarily due to certain medications, a low-fibre diet and not drinking enough water. When you’re over 45, the likelihood of increased weight around the waist means you’re prone to indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – a condition in which the esophagus becomes inflamed because of acid backing up from the stomach. Heartburn – the telltale burning sensation in the chest that can extend to the neck and throat – is the primary symptom of GERD.

Act today

  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, fatty and spicy foods, chocolate, peppermint, and nicotine.
  • Ask a Clicks pharmacist about an effective acid suppressant that won’t interfere with any medication you may be taking.
  • Go with your gut: don’t suppress the need to have a bowel movement.

Your sexuality

Sexual needs and performance might change, while certain medications may affect sexual enjoyment.

Act today

  • Communicate with your partner and discuss your concerns with your doctor, who may suggest oestrogen cream for vaginal dryness or oral medication for erectile dysfunction.

Let go of stress

Stress is a silent killer. Almost every disease known to man can be traced back to stress. Manage your stress: keep balance in your life, let go of the things that have gone.

Act today

  • Everyone needs nurturing and support, make sure you have adequate support or speak to a professional if you need to.