7 Ways Your Body Gets Better With Age
Think you've got nothing to look forward to as you get older? Think again! Aging might actually improve your health in a number of unexpected ways.
By Jan Sheehan
As the years fly by, it's easy to focus on the less-than-desirable aspects of your aging physique. But did you know that, in some ways, your body actually gets better with age? In fact, doctors and researchers are discovering that the natural aging process has certifiable health benefits, ranging from less sensitive teeth to longer-lasting orgasms. The changes aren't dramatic and they certainly won't turn back the hands of time, but even small physiological improvements can make a big difference when it comes to feeling younger and enjoying life more.
Here are seven real benefits you can look forward to as you grow older.
- Decreased Tooth Sensitivity
If you've always had painfully sensitive teeth, they'll become less so as you age. That's because the surface between the enamel and nerves lays down more dentin (the tooth's inner hard tissue) as teeth age, resulting in extra insulation and a diminished pain response. This may make dental procedures less painful, too. "Many older people feel less pain than younger patients — to the point where they may not need anesthesia for simple dental procedures," reports Claire Collins, D.M.D., associate professor of dentistry at the University of Colorado-Denver School of Dental Medicine.
Healthy Advice To boost the comfort and health of your teeth, be meticulous about regular brushing and flossing. "Plaque from food particles can dissolve the teeth's enamel, which will expose dentin and nerves, increasing sensitivity and pain," says Collins. So stay on top of your daily dental regimen to help prevent decay.
- Milder Allergies
Plagued by allergies all your life? They'll be less bothersome as you get older. "After age 50, the body reacts with less vehemence to hay fever and other seasonal allergies, perhaps because older bodies produce less of the allergic antibody IgE," says allergist Michael Welch, M.D., co-director of the Allergy and Asthma Medical Group and Research Center in San Diego and professor of medicine at the University of California-San Diego. Many food allergies diminish, too. However, severe sensitivities to tree nuts and peanuts may not go away. For unknown reasons, these food allergies tend to be life-long, says Welch.
Healthy Advice You may find that you're able to get by without antihistamines and other allergy medications during allergy season. But talk with your doctor before you stop taking medications — especially if you have asthma because allergies can trigger asthmatic episodes.
- Fewer Colds and Other Viruses
You're less likely to get sick with colds and other minor viral infections after midlife. The reason: Each time your body is exposed to a virus, it develops antibodies that make you immune to that virus in the future. This means that more you age, the more likely it is that you'll be immune to many — but not all — cold viruses. There are more than 200 different viruses that cause colds. "But by the time you reach your 60s or 70s with a lifetime of colds behind you, you've developed immunity to many of the circulating cold viruses," says Jack Gwaltney, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville. Unfortunately, this increased immunity doesn't apply to the flu virus, as this bug mutates every year.
Healthy Advice Get a flu shot, and wash up frequently. Hand-washing is a top-notch flu-and-cold preventer. To boost your immunity, get plenty of sleep, eat lots of fruits and veggies, and actively manage your stress, a known immunity-sapper.
- Low-Maintenance Skin
Say goodbye to problems with oily skin. After age 50, the skin's oil secretions slow down in both men and women. "The shiny look that many people hate will start to improve," says Audrey Kunin, M.D., a dermatologist in Kansas City and founder of dermadoctor.com. Thinking about going under the knife? Cosmetic surgery scars can be hidden more easily when you're older because mature skin is less likely to spring back and show a separation than young, elastic skin. And you can shave less often and can stop using deodorant. "Due to hormonal changes in the later years, the growth of facial and body hair slows, and sweat glands disappear," Kunin adds.
Healthy Advice Although you'll smell better, less sweating means you're at higher risk of overheating and heat stroke, so be sure to drink plenty of water during hot weather. Dr. Kunin recommends applying a water-based moisturizer after your shower or bath because tap water can strip the skin of oil and moisture.
- A Fitter Brain
Some memory functions, such as vocabulary and long-term memory, continually sharpen if you stay mentally active. "Memory can be trained just like muscles," says Gary Small, M.D., author of "The Memory Bible" and director of the University of California-Los Angeles Center on Aging. "If you make the most of your memory and use it regularly, that portion of your brain can actually get better as you get older." In fact, research shows that memory skills can be honed well into old age.
Healthy Advice To sharpen your memory, do mind-challenging activities. "Try to do a crossword puzzle every day to help build and maintain vocabulary and memory," recommends Small. Learning a new language also can help. Research suggests that certain foods can help age-proof the brain. A 2008 British study found that eating blueberries can enhance memory and learning, and drinking apple juice may improve memory by preventing the decline of an important neurotransmitter, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
- A Youthful Heart
Surprisingly, the heart hardly ages at all and actually can strengthen — as long as you keep your cholesterol and blood pressure in check. "Although there is some narrowing of arteries with aging, the pumping ability of the heart stays strong throughout life in healthy people," says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association and medical director of New York University's Women's Heart Program. Genes do play a part in the way your heart ages, but the healthier your lifestyle, the more likely your heart will stay strong well into your 80s and 90s. "Exercise, diet, and not smoking are more important than genetics in maintaining the health of the heart after age 60," says Goldberg.
Healthy Advice Artery wellness is crucial for preventing a heart attack. Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked annually, eat a low-fat diet, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise regularly to help age-proof your arteries.
- Heightened Sexuality
A shift in the hormonal balance beginning in the early 50s can increase a woman's libido and her ability to have orgasms, says Jessica Fields, Ph.D., a research associate at the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality in San Francisco. Many women also report an increase in the frequency and intensity of orgasms as they grow older. In fact, some research suggests that the frequency of orgasms increases for women in each decade, up until the octogenarian years (age 80 – 89). But men have reason to celebrate, too. After age 60, the ligaments that attach the penis to the body begin to relax. Assuming a man stays slim, this makes the flaccid penis look longer with each 60-plus decade.
Healthy Advice Don't assume that getting older means that sex needs to fall by the wayside. "Many 60-plus people enjoy an active sex life that is often better than what they enjoyed in early adulthood," says Fields. Plus, some research suggests that frequent sex helps boost the immune system. It also may keep you looking young. A Scottish study of 3,500 people found that men and women who made love at least three times a week looked 10 years younger than their less lusty counterparts.