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The Science behind Aging

By: Meghna Badami

Our muscles grow weak, hair turns dusky shade of grey, and our memory fails. In other words, we age. The circle of Life dictates that all living things must one day perish. But looking at it from a more scientific aspect, what really goes on?

One of the most striking aspects of growing old is the discoloration of the hair. This one is pretty easy to decode. The hair follicles that once released the pigment melanin in excess die. Ergo the hair turns grey.

Similarly, death of muscular tissue contributes to losing limb strength upto ten percent every decade after the age of fifty.

Speaking of memory loss, the nervous tissue begins to degenerate as well. The human brain shrinks about 2-3% per decade, beginning at the young age of 30. Doing the math, that adds up to ten to eleven percent loss of brain matter by the age of eighty. Furthermore, neuron death in the brain is initially selective to memory and planning centers, hence we tend to lose short term memory and cognitive functions with advancing age.

There are numerous theories that attempt to explain the process of aging. The most popular one is perhaps the ‘Genetic theories’ that propose that aging is pre-programmed within our genes. On the other hand, ‘Damage theories’ state that biochemical reactions in our body produce harmful by-products that cause gradual, irreparable damage. Free radicals produced as a result of oxidation reactions are one such example.

All discussion about aging comes back invariably to one question- can we slow the process down? Environmental factors and exercise can play a massive role in improving the quality of life. However, such benefits again depend on your genetic make-up.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association tested 1,600 candidates aged 60-64 for biomarkers such interleukin 6 and cholesterol precursors and found that people who spent more time sitting had a higher levels of the aforementioned compound.

Another study published in the journal Neurology Clinical Practice found that older folks who get roughly 40 minutes exercise three times a week showed cognitive advantage than those who did none or less.

Hence, exercise may indeed be considered as the ‘Elixir of Life’ after all!


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