As you age, it's natural to obsess about the physical signs of aging -- those new wrinkles, gray hairs, and loosening skin. However, it's the changes going on beneath the surface that you should pay more attention to and that can often be delayed with a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, your body's functions begin to get out of whack as you get older. These physical changes can put you at higher risk of injuries if not well managed, either with your doctor or through diet and exercise.
Muscles and Bones
As you age, your muscle mass starts to decline. You may begin to notice that you feel weaker or that you're not able to keep up with your grandkids as much as you once did. This can be worsened by obesity, diabetes, or chronic diseases, according to research in Lancet Diabetes Endocrinology. Your bones also become smaller and less dense with age. The biggest concern here is the risk for fracture, especially if you're more prone to falls from weaker muscles.
You can't completely avoid these changes, but you can minimize and delay them with an active lifestyle. Regular exercise and a diet rich in vitamin D and calcium can keep your muscles and bones going strong for longer. Cut out smoking and limit alcohol intake as well for even more protective benefits.
Starting in your 40s, you may begin to notice vision changes. Having more trouble seeing things up close is one of the most common problems people have in middle age. This is because the lens in your eye is less flexible, making it more difficult to focus on words or objects.
According to the American Optometric Association, other common vision changes include difficulty seeing in low light, sensitivity to glare (such as reflections from the sun or headlights at night), trouble distinguishing between some color shades, and dry eyes caused by less tear production, which is more common in women due to hormone changes.
It's common for your hearing to slowly worsen as you age. This may be more acute for people who have a family history of hearing loss, are repeatedly exposed to loud noises, or who smoke. Some medical conditions and medications can also lead to age-related hearing loss, says Medline.
This one can sneak up on you. You might not notice at first that you're asking people to repeat themselves more often or experiencing sensitivity to some sounds. Some people may experience a ringing in their ears or lose the ability to hear high-pitched sounds. If you start to notice hearing loss, talk to your doctor. Living with hearing loss can lead to feelings of isolation, so it's best to get it checked early.
Inner ear changes can also affect your balance. Be sure to see your doctor if you notice that you have more dizziness or vertigo. Falls are more serious the older you get.
Teeth and Gums
Good oral health becomes even more important as you age. You may think you're past the stage of getting regular cavities, but people over 60 become prone to them again, warns the American Dental Association. One reason for this is dry mouth. Although it's not specifically a problem of aging, dry mouth is often a side effect of numerous medications commonly prescribed for chronic conditions. Drink lots of water, and talk to your dentist about mouth sprays or other options to manage dry mouth.
Gum disease is also an age-related concern. This can be treated with regular dental care, but if left untreated, gum disease can cause your gums to recede from the teeth, which can eventually lead to losing teeth.
Changes in your sex life also come with aging. Chronic medical conditions, cancer treatment, or medications can lessen your libido and physical function. Men may find it more difficult to get an erection, and women may have more vaginal dryness when they get older. Be open and honest with your partner to work through these issues, and talk to your doctor. There are many treatment options for erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and other sexual health concerns.
There's no magic fountain of youth, but regular exercise and a healthy diet can delay the inevitable signs of aging in many cases. Chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, along with stress, tend to worsen many of these changes, so keep them under control. Staying physically, socially, and mentally active can keep your mind and body strong, helping you continue to enjoy activities you love.