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~Physical Change and Aging ~
Barbara Riley-Baker, BA, MA, CMC, C.P.G.
Browning’s view on aging is summed up in
his immortal poem, “Rabbi Ben Ezra”
Grow old along with me, the best is yet
The last of life, for which the first
Our times are in His hands, who saith,
A whole I planned , Youth shows but
Trust God: see all, nor be afraid.
second “half of life” can be something
to anticipate and enjoy if we are free
of chronic diseases and their
consequences. To age successfully we
need to understand how our “bodies
metabolize time” and how “our beliefs
become biology”. How we age is largely
in our own hands.
tells us the maximum life span for
humans is 130 years. According to the
census in 2000, there were nearly 35
million Americans over age 65 (20.6
million women and 14.4 men). This is a
12% increase in only 10 years from the
1990 Census. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention predicts that a
65 year-old man in the year 2000, could
expect to live another 16.6 years or
until about 81.6 years of age. A 65
year-old woman in the year 2000 could
expect to live almost another 20 years
(19.5) or until the age of 84.5.
Whether or not we make it to life
expectancy or to 100 plus years of age,
our genes, environment, life style and
our perceptions of the world in which we
live will determine how old we will
are several types of aging; biological,
chronological, cosmetic, social,
psychological, and economic and a number
of theories of aging; physiological,
evolutionary, programmed, network
theories. This paper will focus on the
biological and psychological aspects of
aging due to internal and external
environmental factors and our
perceptions of these events. Using the
Stress Theory on Aging we will discuss
the how this flight or fight response
affects our body’s metabolism and how
our minds can change aging.
Stress Theory of Aging or the fight or flight theory is
our body’s response to stress either
real or perceived. In a threatening
event, be it a lion at our heels or boss
at our throats, our brain triggers
various hormones to be released in the
body directing more blood to our brains
and energy to our muscles enabling us to
deal with the event. In the past, it has
been this mechanism that has enabled our
species to survive. However, most of us
do not have to outrun a lion. Today our
external stressors or more related to
work, family, social situations and
environment such as noise, traffic, and
even the weather. Our internal stressors
include illness and our perceptions of
stressful event happens or you even
think something stressful is about to
happen, our HPA axis (hypothalamus,
pituitary gland and adrenal gland) is
called into action. The hypothalamus
secrets and array of hormones including
peptides, into the
system. Peptides stimulate or inhibit
our pituitary gland to release various
major hormone is called CTH
(corticotrophin releasing hormone). It
is synergized with a variety of minor
hormones. Within seconds, CTH causes
the pituitary gland to release yet
another hormone, ACHT (corticotrophin).
When ACTH reaches the adrenal gland via
the bloodstream, glucocorticoids (cortisol)
adrenal gland also secrets adrenaline.
Adrenaline acts within seconds of the
event, glucocorticoids augment
adrenaline over the course of minutes or
hours. Cortisol, the “stress hormone” is
also needed for the functioning of
almost every part of the body including
regulation of blood pressure,
cardiovascular function, regulation of
the body’s use of proteins,
carbohydrates, and fats. During stress,
cortisol causes the breakdown of muscle
protein releasing amino acids (protein’s
building blocks) into the bloodstream.
The liver uses the amino acids to
synthesize glucose for energy. This
raises the blood sugar level so the
brain will have increased energy from
the glucose while other tissues of the
body decrease their use of glucose.
Cortisol also causes the release of
fatty acids from fat cells, an energy
source for muscles. This complex hormone
ensures the brain has adequate resources
and the individual has the energy to
deal with the stress.
perceived (psychological) or real, such
as illness, trauma, surgery, temperature
extremes, and lions can also cause the
pancreas to release a hormone called
glucagon. These hormones;
glucocorticoids (cortisol), glucagons,
and the sympathetic nervous system raise
circulating levels of the glucose
(sugar) in our bodies enabling us to
survive threatening situations.
a family member or close a friend,
illness, lose of a job, financial
difficulties, marital problems, and
caregiving are common stressors today
resulting in high levels of cortisol
remaining in the bloodstream. Chronic
stress and elevated levels of the stress
hormone have been associated with weight
gain, persistent fatigue, diabetes, and
bodies do a poor job of distinguishing
between life-threatening situations and
stressful everyday events. Trouble
begins when the stress response is never
fully turned off. Cortisol, a steroidal
hormone, can stay in our bloodstream for
prolong periods of time due to chronic
stressful lives. Cortisol can affect
homeostasis in all our body systems
leading to chronic conditions and
Stressful events reroute the energy that
normally is used for cell renewal,
building new proteins and manufacturing
new DNA and RNA. Normal metabolism,
that builds the body, is converted
catabolic metabolism which breaks down
our body’s tissues.
of chronic stress catabolic metabolism
effects can become diseases as normal
body functions are tuned off to prepare
our bodies to deal with the threat. The
following table is an excerpt from Dr.
Chopra’s Book, “Ageless Body, Timeless
- Mobilized energy
- Increased cardiovascular
- Suppressed digestion
- Suppressed growth
- Suppressed reproduction
- Suppression of the immune
- Increased risk of disease
- Sharpening of thought and
- Disease Result
- Fatigue, muscle destruction,
- Stress-induced hypertension
- Psychogenic dwarfism
- Neuron damage or death
- Impotence, loss of libido,
interruption of Menstruation
cortisol is called hypercortisolism or
Cushing’s disease. Addison’s disease
occurs when the adrenal glands do not
produce enough cortisol. A blood test
called a hydrocortisone test is used to
diagnose both Cushing’s and Addison’s
health problems exacerbated by stress or
attributed to stress include; allergic
skin reactions, anxiety, constipation,
cough, dizziness, heartburn, infectious
diseases such as colds and herpes,
irritable bowel syndrome, morning
sickness, hot flashes, nervousness,
headaches, muscle pain, slow wound
healing, trouble sleeping, cancer and
stress seem to go hand in hand.
According to the findings from the
Swedish Adoption/Twin Study of Aging,
previous negative life events predict
depressive symptoms and depressive
symptoms also predict future negative
depression is far more than simple
sadness. It is a total loss of pleasure
in the things that you once enjoyed.
Depression can cause sleep and eating
problems even a sense of worthlessness.
You may feel apathetic or even suicidal.
The DSM IV (Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
4th edition) states, a
typical major depressive episode lasts
at least two weeks and can affect more
than your emotions, appetite, and sleep.
Depression can alter your ability to
deal with anger, your outlook, libido,
self-esteem, concentration, increase
anxiety, cause restlessness and a muted
affect slowing your movements and even
levels, the stress hormone, are
typically abnormal in people who have
been diagnosed with clinical depression.
It appears the excessive secretion of
this hormone is due to feedback
resistance i.e. the brain is not
effective in shutting down cortisol
secretion. Cortisol can alter the
neurotransmitters system, serotonin
norepinephrine and dopamine in depressed
individuals as well as persons under
Depression is the single greatest cause
of problem disability across the world,
especially for older adults. Decrements
include declines in emotional, cognitive
and physical functioning (IADL/ADL). A
major depression may even produce a
dementia syndrome referred to as
pseudodementia. As the degree of
disability increases with the depression
the likelihood of recovery decreases
with each additional symptom. To improve
the quality of life for all who suffer
from depression, especially older
adults, the diagnosis of depression and
treatment should begin as soon as
Successful aging or optimal aging is
more than “choosing your parents
wisely’. The MacArthur Foundation coined
the term, “successful aging”. According
to the researchers, we have the ability
to age successfully. The key is a desire
and means to sidestep disease, sustain
mental and physical function and engage
in actively in life.
Lifestyle choices, more than our genes,
determine how we will age. Today’s
common chronic diseases; arthritis, (an
autoimmune disorder), heart disease and
hypertension, (cardiovascular disease),
and diabetes, (an endocrine system
disorder) are related to the choices we
make or to our beliefs. Our beliefs
(stressors) can affect biological
changes leading to chronic conditions
and accelerated aging. Longevity is in
a sense, our net ability to withstand
the “sum of all our stresses” according
to Dr. Reis in a recent issue of Geriatric Rounds.
Physiologist have known for more than
fifty years that subjecting an animal to
stress will cause it to age quickly.
Researchers placed a mouse on an
electric grid and administered mild
shocks to it. The shocks do not have to
be lethal to kill the mouse. By simply
giving very mild shocks at random
intervals, the mouse’s stress response
was activated. When the stress response
is called into play, the body focuses on
the immediate survival and not
rebuilding itself. Each time this
happens, the body breaks down a little
more. After only a few days of such
stress, the mouse will die. Upon autopsy
the mouse’s tissues displayed many of
the signs of accelerated aging.
to learn how to handle stress, stop the
cascade of hormones, especially cortisol,
avoiding many chronic conditions and
give our bodies time to recover between
stressful events or suffer the fate of
the mouse. One way of doing this is to
take control of our lives by eliminating
as many of the stressors as possible.
Findings from the Berlin Study suggest
perceived control over desirable
outcomes is associated with high
emotional well-being, where as perceived
control by others is an emotional risk
factor in old age.
forms of stress management or turning
back the clock include exercise and
meditation. Exercise enhances mood and
blunts the stress-response. Meditation
on a regular basis decreases cortisol
levels, and sympathetic tone. Feelings
of control, predictability, outlets for
frustration, social connectedness, and
believing things are improving rather
than worsening are other ways to enhance
the quality of our lives and the
quantity of our years, reducing the
effects of biological aging.
According to Henry Lodge, M.D, 50
percent of illness and accidents and 70
percent of aging problems can be
prevented by following his “seven rules
Exercise six days a week.
aerobic exercises four days a week.
Strength train with weights for two
days a week.
less than you make.
eating bad food.
care now for how well you want to be
in the future.
Connect and commit.
Chopra’s Ten Keys To Active Mastery and
to your body’s wisdom.
in the present.
time to be silent.
Relinquish your need for external
you find yourself reacting with anger
or opposition, realize you are only
struggling with yourself.
that the world “out there” reflects
your reality “in here.”
the burden of judgment.
contaminate your body with toxins,
either through food, drink, or toxic
Replace fear-motivated behavior with
Understand that the physical world is
just a mirror of a deeper intelligence
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