Aging is influenced by our genes, environment, and lifestyle. By the time we reach middle and old age, these factors have had time to make a significant impact on our health. Some of these influences may be positive, others negative. Everyone ages, of course, but we do not all age in the same way or at the same rate. While much of the aging process remains a mystery, we are learning more about it all the time. Most importantly, we’ve learned that our chronological age has little do with our biological age.
The environment affects our health, particularly where we live and work. Our exposure to the sun, infectious diseases and toxic chemicals are important factors as well. Lifestyle choices such as the food we eat, the drinks and drugs we consume, how much we exercise and how much we sleep can all play a factor in our rate of aging. What scientists cannot tell us yet is which of these has more influence than the others, because that varies from individual to individual. Part of the reason for this variation is genetic.
Genes are powerful predictors of longevity – but there is more to the story. Family history definitely influences your health and how long you will live, but through your own choices you can make a difference in the power of genetic predisposition. You can affect your own longevity positively or negatively, to some degree. New genetic tests make it possible to know if you are predisposed to breast cancer, for example. Some women who are predisposed to breast cancer then choose to have their breasts removed to lower the chances of acquiring the condition.
Diet and exercise can play significant roles in health and longevity. According to current research, it is never too late to start eating better or exercising and reap the benefits. Even elderly people can see a significant improvement in their health and well-being and a reduction in the incidence of some diseases by starting on a balanced eating and exercise program suitable for their age and health status. No matter your age, maintaining a healthy weight and a moderate level of fitness will give you a far better chance of long life than someone who leads a sedentary lifestyle.
Smoking is another significant predictor of disease and death. Any smoker who quits reduces their chances of having a heart attack.
As you can see, there is no “magic bullet” to stop or reverse the aging process. However by examining our family history, lifestyle and environment, and by making thoughtful choices every day of our lives, we can affect the chances that we will succumb to diseases and disability early or late in our lives.