Factors which influence ageing

Gender differences

Women are less likely to suffer from heart disease due to oestrogen levels. Ageing is different for men and women. Not only do the male and female body respond differently to ageing, the male and female psychology does too. Taken together, ageing for men and women can be an entirely different experience.

Biological factors; Genes, biochemistry and body systems

There has been some research into genes and their influence on ageing. Scientists have called it the ‘Peter Pan’ gene. How well we age, or how long we live, could be due to the genes we inherit. Generally, people with parents who have lived long lives are more likely to live long themselves. Skin elasticity and skin type is something you inherit and that can have an impact on the way you age by showing or not showing wrinkles.

No matter what genes you have inherited, your body is continually undergoing complex biochemical reactions. Some of these reactions cause damage and, ultimately, ageing in the body. Studying these complex reactions is helping researchers understand how the body changes as it ages. Important concepts in the biochemistry of ageing include:

  • Free Radicals: Unstable oxygen molecules which can damage cells.

  • Protein Cross-Linking: Excess sugars in the bloodstream can cause protein molecules to literally stick together.

  • DNA Repair: For an unknown reason, the systems in the body to repair DNA seem to become less effective in older people.

  • Heat Shock Proteins: These proteins help cells survive stress and are present in fewer numbers in older people.

  • Hormones: The body's hormones change as we age, causing many shifts in organ systems and other functions. (testosterone and oestrogen)

As we age, our body's organs and other systems make changes. These changes alter our susceptibility to various diseases. Researchers are just beginning to understand the processes that cause changes over time in our body systems. Understanding these processes is important because many of the effects of ageing are first noticed in our body systems such as our heart, lungs, immune system, vision and hearing, brain (memory), kidneys and bladder, bone, fat and muscles.

Behavioural factors

Many of the biological causes of ageing can be modified through behaviours:

  • By eating foods loaded with antioxidants, you can minimize damage caused by free radicals.

  • By exercising, you can limit bone and muscle loss.

  • By keeping your cholesterol low, you can slow the hardening of your arteries and protect your heart.

  • By practising mental fitness, you can keep your brain sharp.

Lifestyle factors have also been shown to extend life. Rats and mice on a calorie restricted diet (30 percent fewer daily calories) live up to 40 percent longer.

Positive thinking has also been shown to extend life in people by up to 7.5 years as it improves mental/psychological health and well-being.