It’s been said that age is “only a number.” The fact that many senior citizens are living active, healthy lives and living longer than ever before certainly supports that notion. In 1920, the average American lived 54.1 years. By 2020 that number had climbed to 77 years — a 42% longer lifespan. Ideally, modern seniors can spend these additional years maintaining a high quality of life. To achieve this, however, it’s important we do not prematurely age ourselves.
Though some conditions have genetic origins beyond our control, they provide additional motivation to take control over the health factors we can influence to slow the aging process. Let’s discuss some factors that can prematurely age us and how we can maintain a healthy lifestyle, outlook and appearance as we grow older.
Consuming excessive amounts of fatty, high-cholesterol, salty, sugary and/or processed foods increases our chances for developing diabetes and complications with our hearts, kidneys, hearing, vision and mobility — all closely connected with aging. As Dr. Stephen Anton, professor at the University of Florida’s Department of Physiology and Aging and Institute on Aging, explains: “It’s clear that dietary intake plays a role in terms of obesity. How much we eat is certainly a major factor. But also, what we eat and when we eat are all major factors contributing to obesity and metabolic syndrome.”
“Most people end up eating for over 12 or even 14 hours out of the day, which means their body is constantly in a state of metabolizing food, which can promote fat storage rather than metabolizing fat and using it for energy. This eating pattern can promote unhealthy weight gain over time,” Anton noted. “In terms of lifestyle factors, there’s a million other things we can talk about related to diet, but broadly, it’s when you eat, what you eat and how much.”
Studies have shown that regular exercise can have positive effects on many important aging processes. It allows older people to maintain strong immune systems and muscle mass and cholesterol levels. Researchers also found that exercise can improve memory and other vital brain functions. Inadequate exercise can increase our likelihood of obesity, diabetes, and heart and lung issues, as well as weaken our muscles and bones, potentially leading to osteoporosis, decreased mobility and other conditions.
“With chronic diseases, one risk is not exercising sufficiently,” Anton said. “Current health recommendations for exercise minimally involve 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week, plus strength training twice a week. Unfortunately, most people don’t even meet the minimum recommendation. Time spent engaged in sedentary activities has dramatically increased [in recent years]. More and more research is showing that prolonged sedentary time can have detrimental effects on almost all aspects of our metabolic health and represents a [major] contributor to unhealthy weight gain.”
“Our current society has made it so that movement and physical activity for many people has become optional to some degree,” Anton continued. “We don’t have to get up and move the way we used to and, if our jobs don’t demand it, it’s easy for many people to go without moving for extensive periods of time. So, the combination of sedentary behavior plus not engaging in physical exercise can really predispose individuals to many diseases.”
The dangers of tobacco use have been understood for decades. Some assert that one glass of red wine a day provides a health benefit. However, research published by The Lancet suggests that there’s no healthy amount of alcohol. In addition to well-known risks to our lungs, heart and liver, smoking and alcohol consumption can make us appear years older than we are. Smoking can cause wrinkles, a saggy face, blotchy skin and discolored teeth. Smoking and alcohol consumption may create dark circles under the eyes, and drinking alcohol may exacerbate rosacea.
Sleep contributes to healthy brain function, mental health and a strong immune system, among other benefits. This makes getting adequate sleep critical, as Anton explained: “[Many don’t realize] the importance of aligning your lifestyle with your circadian rhythms, and that means sleeping when it’s time for our body to sleep. Getting sufficient sleep is a really great place to start to combat many of the metabolic issues and other diseases that, unfortunately, increase in prevalence with aging.”
Excessive Sun Exposure
Exposure to sunlight has both benefits and consequences. The sun’s UV rays catalyze the production of vitamin D in our skin, helping us maintain our immune system and strong teeth and bones. Unfortunately, those UV rays can also lead to skin cancer and accelerate aging by causing wrinkled, dry and leathery skin. Wearing adequate clothing and applying sunscreen when spending time in the sun can help minimize the sun’s detrimental health and cosmetic effects.
Study Aging Online With Our Experts
While we can mitigate the effects of aging, eventually we may all require some special care in advanced age. If your passion is keeping older adults healthy and happy and you wish to advance in a related career, the University of Florida offers the programs you need. Our online master’s degree in gerontology equips you to help older adults transition from one stage of life to the next and advocate for their unique needs. Dr. Anton currently teaches the Healthy Aging: Behavioral Outcomes (GMS 6715) course for this program. You can complete your degree entirely online in as little as three semesters fully prepared to excel in medical school and your desired career.
Our online master’s degree in medical physiology and aging provides you with an advanced education and training in the physiological changes that occur during aging, as well as in the diagnosis and treatment of age-related diseases.
You can also augment your existing expertise in our 15-credit online Graduate Certificate in Aging and Geriatric Practice program, which offers a comprehensive exploration of the major human body systems from a geriatric perspective. You may be able to complete your graduate certificate entirely online in as little as two semesters. The crucial expertise and valued credential you’ll gain can help you stand out in medical school.
No matter which program you choose, you’ll enjoy these benefits:
- No GRE requirement
- No clinical experience requirement
- No thesis requirement
- No campus visit requirement
Ready to get started? Apply now to your program of choice.