You already know you get wiser with age. And of course, there are the inevitable laugh lines and grey hairs that, in our opinion, are a wonderful reminder of how much you’ve smiled and achieved in your lifetime.
But there are some other, lesser-known and often invisible changes that start to occur in your 40s and 50s that might take you by surprise and leave you wondering: Is this normal? Here are five aging-related shifts you should know about, and what you should do about them (if anything) to keep feeling your best.
1. You Dehydrate More Easily.
Our bodies have a built-in system for moderating body temperature. Put simply: When we get hot, we sweat, and that helps cool us down. But as we reach middle age, our bodies aren’t as good at monitoring how much water we lose via sweat during physical activity, according to a new study in The Journal of Physiology.
The result? Sweat rates and body temperatures don’t get adjusted like they’re supposed to, and we get dehydrated more easily. What’s more, the thirst center of the brain isn’t as active as it used to be, so we’re not as inclined to drink up and replace lost fluids.
That’s a concern for a few reasons. For one, too-high body temperatures are associated with serious health risks such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and heart issues. Also, dehydration can cause electrolyte imbalances, disrupt metabolism and organ function, and more.
What to Do?
Drink up, even if you don’t feel thirsty. That’s not to say you should chug H2O until the cows come home — drinking extreme amounts of water can cause a condition called hyponatremia, where electrolyte levels become too diluted and sodium levels become dangerously low. But you simply need more hydrating fluids than you did in your 20s and 30s.
Signs it’s time to fill up include:
- Dark yellow urine (like the color of apple cider vinegar)
- Feeling worn out and fatigued
- Brain fog
- A sense of malaise
2. Your Taste Buds Need a Helping Hand.
If you find your food is tasting blander than it used to, it’s not your imagination — or a commentary on your cooking skills. Instead, there might be a few physiological things at play.
The first has to do with your taste buds, which research suggests aren’t as good at regenerating after an injury like burning from a super-hot cup of coffee or bite of food as we age. Medications that are more commonly taken among the older set, such as some diuretics, statins, beta-blockers, and calcium-channel blockers, also interfere with sense of taste. They can do this by directly affecting taste receptors, changing how taste buds send and receive nerve impulses, or disrupting the chemical makeup of saliva.
Another player: a gradual loss of smell, which generally begins around age 60. Smell is largely involved in your sense of taste: Volatile molecules from foods and drinks activate receptors in the nasal passages that signal the olfactory bulb in the brain to create the perception of flavor. Other factors that impact our ability to smell include damage from viruses, bacteria, and pollution.
What to Do?
The first step is to make sure there isn’t an underlying health condition at play that requires medical attention. Lately we’ve heard a lot about loss of taste being a telltale sign of COVID-19, but other conditions such as allergies, nasal polyps, and Alzheimer’s have long been linked with losses of taste and smell.
Once you’ve confirmed you’re healthy, focus on ways to make your food taste great again. But don’t just add salt — Americans get more than enough of that thanks to the excess of processed foods in the typical modern diet, and excess sodium comes with its own set of health concerns.
Instead, reach for flavorful fresh and dried herbs such as oregano, rosemary, thyme, turmeric, garlic, cumin, and ginger, says Dr. Bill Rawls, Medical Director of Vital Plan. They’ll give your palate the flavor it craves, plus herbs are packed with phytochemicals, plant compounds that confer numerous health benefits such as antioxidant power, anti-inflammatory activity, antimicrobial abilities, heart health support, and more, Dr. Rawls explains.
3. You Get a Little Closer to the Ground.
It’s true, we get a little shorter as we get older. It has to do with the discs in your spinal column: The gel-like fluid between them, which play the role of shock absorbers, start to dehydrate, and so our discs get closer together and we shrink — about ¼ inch to ½ inch per decade, starting around age 40.
Osteoporosis, a condition characterized by bone weakening that’s more common in women, can also play a role. It can lead to micro fractures in vertebrae that cause the spine to start to curve, and so you lose a little height.
What to Do?
There’s really nothing you can do about discs dehydrating, it is what it is. But you can take good care of your bones to prevent osteoporosis and minimize shrinkage, says Dr. Rawls. Be sure to get plenty of calcium — 1,000 mg per day before age 50, then 1,200 mg per day after 50 — as well as vitamin D, which helps your bones absorb calcium.
How much vitamin D is enough varies from person to person, says Dr. Rawls. The government’s recommended dietary allowance is 600 IU (or 15 mcg) per day for adults, but many of us are deficient or at least have insufficient levels, so talk to your doctor about what might be best for you and how often to monitor your levels.
4. Your Joints Give You Away.
Creaking and cracking sounds from our joints tend to get louder and more frequent with age. Unless it’s painful and accompanied by swelling — in which case, see your doctor — it’s generally a side effect of wear and tear from regular use over time.
“Cartilage, which is the flexible connective tissue that coats the surface of bones to cushion them and keep joints moving fluidly, wears away as part of the normal aging process,” says Dr. Rawls. As a result, the surfaces of your bones rub together more, and that creates those snap, crackle, and pop sounds.
What to Do?
Keep moving, for one. There’s a saying in orthopedics that “motion is lotion,” which stems from the fact that movement and physical activity increase the synovial fluid that lubricates joints and reduces friction, allowing for ease of movement and fewer cracks and creaks.
Also key is taking joint-supporting herbs and natural ingredients, says Dr. Rawls. Here are four he recommends:
It contains a natural matrix of beneficial nutrients and proteins like collagen, peptides, and calcium that promote joint health. Eggshell membrane also supports healthy cartilage and connective tissue — fibrous tissue that binds other tissue and organs together for support and insulation — which is increasingly important with age.
This substance is naturally produced by the body and found in connective tissues, skin, eyes, and especially synovial fluid. It’s what makes synovial fluid viscous for effective lubrication and friction reduction. A number of clinical studies have shown that supplementing with hyaluronic acid can help ease joint pain, particularly in the knees, by contributing to healthy lubrication.
Best known as the main spice used in curry, turmeric helps tamp down inflammation that’s associated with joint stiffness and pain. One review of research in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that curcumin and other curcuminoids — active components in the turmeric plant — demonstrated safe and effective anti-inflammatory activity.
This rich source of omega-3 fatty acids is a powerful ally against inflammation and related arthritis in the joints. Multiple studies have linked getting enough omega-3s with a reduced risk of developing arthritis and improved symptoms of osteoarthritis.
While many look to fish oil for their omega-3s, krill oil is a smarter bet, says Dr. Rawls. The molecular structure of its fatty acids — called phospholipids — make it easier to absorb than the triglyceride form found in fish. Plus, unlike fish oil, krill oil is a natural source of astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against free radicals and related cell damage and inflammation.
5. You Feel Happier.
Aging has its perks, and this is definitely one of them: Several studies show that the older we get, the happier we are. Though they don’t know exactly why, experts suggest a number of explanations, most having to do with time and perspective.
For instance, some say that as we go through life, we experience a mental shift away from more stressful goals like achieving advancement at work to more meaningful ones like savoring relationships. They also note that we tend to stress less about the things that weigh more heavily on us when we’re younger, such as establishing a career, finding a life partner, and navigating financial issues.
What to Do?
Enjoy it — you’ve earned it!
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