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The fact is we’re all getting older – and it shows. So in ‘How We Grow Old, Part 1’, I have focussed on how our bodies change over time, whether we like it or not. In Part 2, I look at how we can slow down the ageing process on the inside, even if we look old on the outside.
I watched a programme recently which I found fascinating. So I thought I’d write about growing old…
We all show signs of ageing. Some of these are obvious – our hair turns grey – and then white and our skin looks more weathered. Why? Why indeed. Especially as our older skin cells are very like those of a baby. The good news is that our skin is forever young as it actually renews itself every few weeks.
But it’s the collagen that calls time on our skin cells. Collagen is the elastic that keeps our skin together. But it gets broken down over our lifetime by the sun – so our skin is looser: when we pinch it, it doesn’t snap back into place, but can take its time and reacts slowly… a bit like memory foam.
Ageing is in the genes: some people have better protection than others. Black skin has more melanin – it’s our skin’s pigment that’s nature’s sunscreen helping to fight off wrinkles for another day. Asian skin has less melanin, but enough to fend off wrinkles until around 50. White skin has five times less melanin protection than black skin, so we’ll end up with more wrinkles.
Some ageing signs are more subtle. In middle age, we start to lose a little height. We shrink a bit as gravity helps to compress the spine’s vertebrae. That’s why we’re taller in the morning than we are at night – by up to half an inch – because our spine has had a chance to stretch out and relax.
RAF fighter pilots are allowed to eject out of a plane a maximum of three times – as it compresses the spine each time by half an inch.
Ironically it’s shooting off into the air that actually increases your height: astronauts gain 3 ins in height as their spines relax and spread out due to the lack of gravity. But flying into outer space is beyond even the most diligent collector of Air Miles.
As we get older, we need less sleep. But we make up for it by sleeping more often. We find it easier to have a sneaky 40 winks when we think no-one’s looking. Having a little siesta after lunch just means that we’ve caught up with our continental cousins. Maybe that’s why I’m starting to need my beauty sleep.
Some signs of ageing we just can’t control. Our nose grows. Our ears enlarge by 15% after the age of 50 as gravity starts to tug them down. Out feet flatten out – so most of us gain half a shoe size every decade after the age of 40.
Yes, here’s something you always suspected: middle age spread is a fact of life: our pelvic bones are the only ones in our bodies that continue to grow throughout our lives, increasing our waistline by around 3 inches.
Why do we look increasingly like our other halves? We’re not morphing into them. The answer is much simpler than that. The more time we spend with them, means we’re exposed to the same environmental factors… we eat the same food, have the same amount of sun so we may then even have similar looking laughter lines on our faces.
So although we’re growing older, only 20% of how we age is down to our genes. In part 2 of How To Grow Old, we’ll see that 80% of ageing is due to how we live our lives – and I’ll reveal how we can do something about it to hold back the tide of time.