How your body shape changes with age


How your body shape changes with age

This piece was written by Jill Corleone, RD and medically reviewed by Tyra Tennyson Francis, MD from website verywell fit. This website provides health and wellness information by health professionals launched in 2016. 

How Your Body Shape Changes with Age:

“Although it is normal to want to slow down the aging process as much as we can, aging is a normal and inevitable part of life. But as long as you know what to expect—as well as how to address some of the changes you will face—you can age gracefully.

 While you can’t stop the years from whizzing by, you can take steps to minimize how aging affects your body. Knowing what’s normal can help you create a lifestyle that makes sense for you. Here’s what you need to know about the aging process and what you can do to live a balanced lifestyle.

Why Your Body Changes with Age

In the most simple terms, aging is the process of growing older. But aging is more complex than that number you hit every year on your birthday. According to a 2019 article published in Biochemia Medica, aging is the time-related irreversible deterioration of the physiological process that supports a species’ ability to survive.1 In simple terms, it is the body’s inability to repair itself and regenerate new cells.

Your body has many types of cells with varying lifespans.2 Some cells have a very short lifespan, like your skin and bone cells. These types of cells have the ability to regenerate, with new cells regularly replacing old cells. Other cells, like the nerve cells in your brain, live a very long time, but are unable to regenerate. 

The many changes that occur to your body as you age because of a slow down in cell production and degeneration of the cells, tissues, and organs your body can’t fix.2

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What Changes to Expect

Aging affects almost every part of your body but some of these effects are more visible than others. Here are some common age-related body changes you might experience as you age.

Muscle Loss

Between age 30 and 40, lean body mass starts to decline.3 That means your body’s production of muscles cells is slowing down. By the time you hit 50, you may have 10% less muscle mass than you did at age 30.3

Muscle does all the heavy lifting, so losing muscle mass means you may have a harder time carrying in all the grocery bags in one trip. Loss of muscle and body strength also affects endurance, balance, and mobility. This is why older adults are at greater risk of falls.4

The lower part of your body loses muscle and strength faster than your upper body.3 This fact is one of the reasons why you are at an increased risk of falls as you age. 

7 Exercises to Prevent Muscle Loss

Bone Loss

Bone loss is also a common body change that occurs with age. In fact, as you get older, the rate of bone cell breakdown outpaces the rate of new bone cell production.5 This causes your bones to become less dense and more brittle, leading to conditions like osteopenia—bones that are less dense—or osteoporosis, which means your bones are porous and brittle.5

The combination of bone loss and muscle loss may affect your height. Adults lose a 1/2-inch of height every 10 years after age 40.5

Exercises That Make Bones Stronger and Weaker

Body Shape

Changes in muscle and bone mass will also affect body shape. While you’re losing muscle and bone, body fat increases, changing your body composition.5 Most of this new fat accumulates in the abdominal area. What’s more, that extra abdominal fat, or visceral fat, is a risk factor for chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.6

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Changes in Digestion

You may experience new digestion issues like acid reflux or constipation as you get older.7 These digestion problems are the result of age-related changes that affect the function of your gastrointestinal tract. 

A slow down in gastrointestinal motility is part of the aging process.7 This means it takes longer for food to move through your digestive tract, causing heartburn and constipation. You may also notice that some of you favorite foods no longer taste like they used to. These sensory changes occur because your taste buds are aging as well.2

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Cognitive Changes

You can also expect cognitive changes as you age. Between ages 30 and 40, the nerve signals between your body and brain start to slow down.8 These changes make it harder for you to pay attention, process information, and multitask. It’s normal for more mature adults to take longer to learn new things or forget where they put their keys.9 

Stable Weight Tied to Cognitive Function as You Age

Sensory Changes

In addition to taste, aging affects other senses like your vision and hearing.2 Around age 40, you may find yourself holding your book further away from your eyes in order to see the words more clearly. This occurs because your eyes get rigid and less flexible as you age making it harder to focus light on your retina.10

You may also find yourself turning up the volume on the television as you age. Like your eyes, age-related hearing loss most often occurs because of structural changes in the ear.11

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How to Navigate These Changes

You can’t stop having birthdays, but you do have some say in how you deal with the body changes that occur with age. Lifestyle factors play a major role in influencing the rate at which your body changes. Here is what you need to know about navigating these changes.

Muscle Loss, Bone Loss, and Body Shape

Life seems to get busier as you age. Between work and family, you may find it harder and harder to hit the gym. But getting back into your exercise habits can help slow down some body changes many people consider a normal part of the aging process.

In fact, getting regular exercise can help slow down these age-related changes. Though muscle fibers decrease with age, lack of physical activity plays a major role in muscle loss and strength.3 Engaging in resistance exercises also can help prevent muscle loss and strength and improve bone density.12

Working out your muscles also benefits your body shape and may prevent the accumulation of body fat around your mid-section.  Likewise, eating a balanced diet is also good for your muscles, bones, and body shape.5 Making nutritious food choices supplies your body with the nutrients it needs to maintain muscle mass, keep your bones strong, and maintain a healthy weight.

Tips for Building and Maintaining Muscle

Digestion Changes

What you eat also benefits many of the digestion changes that occur with aging. For example, eating small frequent meals and limiting fried foods may help reduce your acid reflux.13 You may also find relief from some of your age-related digestion problems by adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your menu.

These foods are good sources of fiber and improve the movement of food through your digestive tract, preventing constipation.13 Regular exercise also benefits digestion. Physical activity keeps things moving through your digestive tract, helping to ease indigestion and constipation.13

8 Ways to Naturally Digest Food Faster

Cognitive and Sensory Changes

A healthy lifestyle may also delay age-related cognitive and sensory changes. In addition to eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise, finding healthy outlets to manage stress and limiting your intake of alcohol is good for your brain and your senses.2 

Being social also benefits your emotional well-being, which may help keep your mind sharp and prevent age-related depression.2 Likewise, practicing mindfulness may also benefit cognitive health.

According to an article published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, engaging in activities like mindful breathing and mindful listening, improves attention, emotional well-being, and quality of life.14

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When to See A Healthcare Provider

To make sure you are aging appropriately, you should see a healthcare provider every year for an annual wellness exam.15 This comprehensive evaluation helps you and your provider stay on top of your health and well-being. 

Your annual physical also includes health screenings for common problems that occur as you age. Finding these age-related conditions during the early stages may prevent or delay more serious complications.15

Make sure to schedule an appointment right away if you notice sudden changes in vision, hearing, muscle strength, or memory.9 The sooner you address issues, the better you will feel overall and the more quickly you can address age-related concerns.”

Simple Ways to Live a Healthier Lifestyle

By Jill Corleone, RD