Ageing Gracefully

A guide to moving your body through the decades while maintaining optimum health. By Erin Bourne.

Whether we dread it or embrace it, we can’t stop the marks of time in our bodies. While we are all unique and the exact effects and timelines will differ, the following are the general aging processes, and how to work with them.

In Your 20’s

You’re more or less in your prime. The grey and white matter in the brain reaches maturity and the thought processes are fantastic. While there are some decreases in the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid, important for skin hydration and elasticity, your skin still appears healthy. Women will reach peak bone density in their late 20’s so this is your time to build those bones.

Biggest Concern: Stress and lack of sleep are the most common reason for any illness or body issues.

What You Can Do: Start building healthy habits to reduce stress such as daily meditation and making sure you get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Ensure you are participating in weight-bearing exercise regularly, and getting plenty of calcium, to build the bones. Build your baseline fitness level, running, functional movement classes, weight training, Pilates and yoga will all benefit you in your 20’s and beyond.

In Your 30’s

Things start to get noticeable! Production of the sex hormones, Testosterone, Oestrogen and Progesterone start to reduce. This causes your skin cell turnover and collagen production to decline, and spots, fine lines, and wrinkles start to appear. There is less pigment production so grey hairs may begin to grow. Your metabolism in general is slowing down, in part due to a decrease in size, elasticity and strength of muscle tissue. People may begin to gain weight.

Women begin to lose more bone than they produce, and may see changes in their menstrual cycle.

Biggest Concern:  maintaining muscle mass and bone density.

What You Can Do: weight bearing exercise, particularly for women, to keep the bone strength. Ensure you have a good diet that includes healthy fats, many hormones require fat for production. Drink more water and less alcohol to keep the body and skin hydrated. Start facial yoga to help build up facial muscles and plump the skin.

In Your 40’s

The mass of the brain and some cognitive ability begins to decline, roughly 5 percent every decade from age 40. This is not uniform throughout the brain, memory is the most impacted area, nor is it uniform throughout the population.

Lean muscle mass declines and fat increases. Actually the fat cells grow and push into the skin giving the appearance of cellulite. More grey hair appears, and many people will lose hair. The thickness and blood flow of the skin reduces so it appears more wrinkly or sagging.

Fertility drops in women and their menstrual cycle can get unpredictable. Some women in their late 40’s begin Perimenopause. Oestrogen levels decrease and this can reduce memory, the memory will bounce back after menopause though.

Men enter the risk zone for heart disease.

Biggest Concern: maintaining muscle and reducing fat

What You Can Do: keep exercising, a combination of cardio and weight or resistance training.  Keep up the meditation, studies do show that the memory areas of the brain in meditators doesn’t shrink like those in non-meditators. Do yoga, facial yoga and maintain the good sleeping habits developed in your 20’s, or start them now if you didn’t.  

In Your 50’s

Sight and hearing may start to deteriorate; the lenses in our eyes lose mobility. Collagen and elastin production further decrease in the skin so more wrinkles appear. This also means joints are less mobile and hydrated. We begin to shrink, losing about 1cm of height per decade. Our risk of chronic disease and cancer increases.

The average age for Menopause is 51 so many women will experience varying symptoms with this through their 50’s. Around age 55 men stop gaining weight and start to shed it, mainly due to a decrease in lean muscle mass thanks to decreased testosterone.The good news though, happiness levels begin to rise! Numerous studies show people begin to stress less and really enjoy life in their 50’s.

Biggest Concern: maintaining muscle mass and cognitive function

What You Can Do: Regular meditation, learn new skills, like a language, and stay social to keep the brain function. Dancing is an excellent choice for keeping the brain healthy. Exercise regularly incorporating yoga or Tai Chi to keep the joints moving and hydrated.

It’s a journey. Look after the carriage.

In Your 60’s

While new brain cells continue to grow we are slower to access memories. Some cognitive abilities decline yet we get better at regulating emotions and forming impressions of others.

The elasticity and function of the lungs, and maximum heart rate decrease reducing the level of intensity we can exercise at. Muscle mass has continued to decrease and this means we are less able to generate heat, our sensitivity to cold increases.

Hydrochloric acid secretion in the stomach decreases impacting digestion, making smaller meals more often beneficial.

Joints may begin to feel stiff or arthritis sets in. Spider veins may appear on the cheeks, nose, chin and legs as superficial veins dilate.

Biggest Concern: brain function and fitness levels

What You Can Do: stay social and learn new skills! Exercise regularly, Pilates, or dance for fitness and the brain. Yoga will help to keep the blood vessels healthy and the joints mobile.

Beyond Your 60’s

The autonomic nervous system slows and this reduces reflexes and cardiovascular function. We lose weight and height faster; essentially the body is declining overall, from sight and hearing to physical fitness.

Biggest Concern: maintaining health and vitality

What You Can Do: Keep exercising, eat regular and nutrient dense meals and stay social.

Remember, this is a very general picture of the aging process. We are all different; I know that my body is not 100 percent following this guide and we’ve all seen those people doing amazing things in their 90’s. The ‘What You Can Do’ sections are all valid though; healthy diet, social connection and movement really are essential to aging gracefully. What each of those looks like for you will be highly individual, just make sure you’re doing them.