Struggle to get out of your chair Puffed-out on the stairs Could you be growing old before your time
We all have those days when we feel much older than our age — but we usually bounce back after a good night’s sleep or taking it easy for a while.
Far more insidious is the way certain bits of our bodies may actually be ageing much faster than they should or we expect them to, often without obvious warning.
For instance, last week a report in the British Medical Journal suggested that our capacity for memory and reasoning can start to deteriorate from the age of just 45.
For each body part, if your symptoms are not usual for your age, it means that bit of you is likely to be between five and ten years older than it should be
So is your body ageing before its time — and what can you do to reverse the effects
We asked leading experts to explain what’s normal for your age and what’s not.
For each body part, if your symptoms are not usual for your age, it means that bit of you is likely to be between five and ten years older than it should be.
JOINTS & BACK
Check your posture if you spend a long time doing a particular task, such as being hunched over a laptop or bent forward over a low desk
If you’re 30-50
WHAT'S NORMAL: Occasional neck or back ache upon waking; back stiffness when driving for more than two hours; some aching in the legs after walking for 30 minutes to an hour; needing to move around after an hour of sitting on a hard chair.
WHAT'S NOT: Intense pain in one or more joints after carrying shopping; difficulty or discomfort getting into a low car or out of a seat.
‘Having any one of these symptoms is a sign that your joints or back are suffering early signs of degenerative change,’ says Tim Allardyce, of the British Osteopathic Association.
‘This may be either through injury or, as is increasingly the case, a sedentary lifestyle. Poor posture at a desk is another contributing factor.’
And obesity increases the risk of osteoarthritis by up to 15 times, says Arthritis Research UK.
GET THE YEARS BACK: Check your posture if you spend a long time doing a particular task, such as being hunched over a laptop or bent forward over a low desk, for example, as a teacher.
Whatever your exercise, invest in professionally fitted training shoes, says physiotherapist Sammy Margo. This will help minimise stress on your joints.
Excessive repetitive movements, such as long-distance running, may lead to overuse injuries and a greater risk of joint problems; also protect your knee joints by strengthening the muscles in the front of your thighs.
If you’re 50-70
WHAT'S NORMAL: Aches and pains when changing your bedsheets; discomfort or restriction in the neck while checking the blind spot in a car; back ache when sitting for long periods; stiffness or aching in the legs or back when walking between 30 minutes and an hour.
WHAT'S NOT: Joint pain that wakes you up in the night; being unable to turn your neck at all to check a blind spot due to stiffness or pain; avoiding low chairs and sofas due to knee, hip or back pain; intense joint or back pain after walking.
From 50 onwards the body’s muscles, ligaments and tendons are not as strong and wear and tear really begins to set in, says Tim Allardyce.
However, he adds, this should not normally make daily life more difficult, so if you are struggling, your joints are ageing prematurely.
GET THE YEARS BACK: Exercises for flexibility will help ease everyday movements such as walking and carrying the shopping, advises Sammy Margo. Try stretch classes, beginner’s yoga and t’ai chi.
‘There’s also evidence that omega 3,6, and 9 — fish oils — may have an anti-inflammatory effect and help joint pain,’ she says.
If you’re 70+
WHAT'S NORMAL: Knee pain while going downstairs; needing a rest after 20 minutes of walking; needing to swap shopping bags for trolleys; preferring upright chairs to sofas (easier to get out of); needing to use your arms to push up from a chair when standing (because of weakness in your legs).
WHAT'S NOT: Shortness of breath while walking and carrying light bags over a short distance; being unable to get up from a chair without someone’s help .
Wear and tear on the knees, which bear most of the body’s weight, is very common at this age, and is the cause of pain walking up and down stairs, or when carrying things, says Allardyce.
Any shortness of breath over a short distance should be investigated, he adds, as this could be a sign of cardiovascular disease.
GET THE YEARS BACK: If you have trouble getting up from a chair unassisted, then exercises to strengthen the leg muscles are vital to maintain an independent lifestyle and prevent falls, says Allardyce.
‘As you get older, your appetite will reduce, and the body dehydrates more easily, so drink plenty of water and keep up your intake as food provides energy.’
MEMORYIf you’re 30-50
WHAT'S NORMAL: Forgetting people’s names; mislaying keys, phone or wallet; forgetting phone numbers.
WHAT'S NOT: Problems negotiating familiar places (for instance, regularly not being able to find your vehicle in the car park); difficulty recognising faces, colours, shapes and words; finding you’ve left objects in the wrong place, such as keys in the fridge.
Memory problems are part of the healthy ageing process, so don’t be unduly worried by absent-mindedness as you get older, says Dr Catriona Morrison, a memory expert at the University of Leeds.
The brain gradually shrinks with age as the neurons decline — by 80, it’s lost 15 per cent of its original weight.
More severe memory problems at this age, although very rare, could be a sign of dementia.
‘At this age, it’s likely to be a genetic form of dementia,’ says Dr Morrison.
GET THE YEARS BACK: ‘If you don’t use the brain, it will simply waste away,’ says Dr Morrison.
‘That’s why it’s so important to undertake activities that stimulate it. The more new things you do the better, even if it’s just something simple such as going to a new restaurant.
‘That’s because neurons make new connections during learning or when we do something new.’
If you’re 50-70
WHAT'S NORMAL: Forgetting to keep appointments; going into another room and being unable to remember what you went for.
WHAT'S NOT: Asking for a cup of tea, not realising you’ve just had one; not knowing who family members are but your own childhood memories are vivid; leaving belongings in strange places, e.g., a kettle in the fridge.
‘Our immediate short-term memory is easily distracted,’ says Dr Oliver Cockerell, a neurologist at The London Clinic.
‘That’s why we all sometimes can’t remember why we walked into a room.’ However, more profound memory problems could be a sign of dementia — most common after 65.
GET THE YEARS BACK: Exercise has been shown to help preserve memory and reduce the risk of developing dementia. U.S. research found walking for 40 minutes a few times a week boosted the hippocampus, an area of the brain that makes memories.
If you’re 70+
WHAT'S NORMAL: Frequent episodes of absent-mindedness, as above.
WHAT'S NOT: More examples of confused or defensive behaviour; not being able to make a cup of tea because you can’t remember how to do it; leaving the hob on after cooking.
‘Memory problems are not categorically different as one gets older, more a matter of degree,’ says Dr Morrison. The rate of dementia is 5 per cent over 65, by 80, this rises to 20 per cent.
GET THE YEARS BACK: Keep the mind as active as possible, for example, with conversation and crosswords.
And if you have type 2 diabetes, it is particularly important to try to control it because sufferers are twice as likely to have memory problems (chronically raised blood sugar damages brain cells).
Slightly discoloured teeth, some loss of enamel or length, gingivitis (inflamed gums) is normal if you're 30-50
If you’re 30-50
WHAT'S NORMAL: Slightly discoloured teeth, some loss of enamel or length, gingivitis (inflamed gums).
WHAT'S NOT: Missing or loose teeth; aching jaw; canine teeth (in the top jaw) are less pointy and the four upper front teeth now the same length; bleeding gums.
With age, our teeth naturally become stained as crystals in the tooth enamel break down, allowing tea and wine to penetrate, says Dr Nigel Carter of the British Dental Health Foundation.
But losing your teeth at this age is a major sign of premature ageing — usually as a result of gum disease. Teeth grinding (through stress) can prematurely age them by speeding up the natural levelling off that occurs with age.
GET THE YEARS BACK: Research has shown that people who stay generally fit and healthy are 40 per cent less likely to develop tooth-threatening gum infections that could lead to gum disease. It’s also vital to start flossing if you’re not doing it already, says Dr Grant McAree, a Devon-based dentist.
If you’re 50-70
WHAT'S NORMAL: Receding gums; stained teeth, especially near the gums; loss of some teeth.
WHAT'S NOT: Teeth looking very yellow; teeth moving about. Around 80 per cent of us will have receding gums due to gum disease.
‘There’s a reason for the phrase “long in the tooth”, as we age, receding gums make your teeth look longer,’ explains Dr Carter.
But being able to see the ‘neck’ or root of the tooth near the gum line — just above the area of tooth enamel — can lead to tooth loss, as the root has no protection.
Get the years back ‘From the age of 60 the effects of gum disease are most obvious,’ says Dr McAree, so it’s vital to try to prevent damage before this.’
Though it is possible to have surgery to correct excessive tooth recession.
If you’re 70+
WHAT'S NORMAL: Dentures, excessive staining, teeth with bits fractured off, lost teeth.
WHAT'S NOT: Mouth pain. This can be caused by dry mouth — often a side-effect of medication, especially heart, blood pressure and tablets for depression.
Get the years back: While dry mouth cannot be prevented, there are gels and sprays that may help.
FITNESS If you’re 30-50
WHAT'S NORMAL: You are slightly breathless after walking up three flights of stairs.
WHAT'S NOT: Struggling for breath after three flights of stairs or needing to stop to complete it; headache, dizziness, sudden breathlessness; finding it hard to step down off something such as a 2ft high box.
Heart muscle shrinks by an average 0.3 g per year from middle age, affecting its ability to pump blood. This can lead to high blood pressure and increasing breathlessness.
Fitness is important for heart health — being physically inactive is responsible for more than one in five of us getting coronary heart disease.
GET THE YEARS BACK: The British Heart Foundation recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a day, such as walking and getting slightly out of breath, on five or more days a week.
For your heart to benefit, the activity needs to be continuous for at least ten minutes.
If you’re 50-70
WHAT'S NORMAL: Slight breathlessness after walking up two flights of stairs without stopping; being able to balance for 15 seconds with your eyes closed on both legs (one if you can manage it safely).
WHAT'S NOT: Dizziness upon exertion or when standing up, e.g., when you get up from kneeling while gardening.
‘Dizziness may indicate your heart and circulation are not adapting quickly enough to the burden on them, and that you may have cardiovascular disease,’ says Dr Tom Crisp, consultant sports physician at Bupa Health and Wellbeing.
'If the arteries are narrowed the body will take longer to react.’
GET THE YEARS BACK: Brisk walking, gardening and climbing stairs will provide as much benefit as pounding the treadmill. Break up sitting periods every 30 minutes — for example, while watching TV, at your work station, at the computer, or when you are driving.
If you’re 70+
WHAT'S NORMAL: Slight breathlessness after walking up one flight of stairs; only able to stand on two feet with your eyes closed without wobbling for ten to 15 seconds.
WHAT'S NOT: If you can’t manage these tasks, it’s vital you take action and seek advice, says Dr Crisp.
GET THE YEARS BACK: Being active is just as crucial in your 70s as in your 30s, because it means you maintain independence.
One reason for premature hearing loss is loud music
If you’re 30-50
WHAT'S NORMAL: Finding it difficult to pick out speech over loud background noise.
WHAT'S NOT: Struggling to hear a conversation in a restaurant; thinking people are mumbling; struggling to hear consonants such as ‘s’ and ‘th’ sounds; difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds or women and children’s voices.
Age-related hearing loss is caused by the death of tiny ‘hair’ cells in the inner ear. But family history, repeated exposure to loud noise and smoking all increase the risk. This should not really be a problem before the age of 55.
GET THE YEARS BACK: One reason for premature hearing loss is loud music — use headphones that cancel out background noise, so you don’t need your music so loud, says Crystal Rolfe, senior audiology specialist at Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the RNID).
If you’re 50+
WHAT'S NORMAL: Struggling to hear every day sounds, particularly in loud, noisy places; younger people telling you the volume on the TV or radio is too loud.
WHAT'S NOT: Tinnitus accompanied by deafness, struggling to hear the world around you.
From the age of 55, it’s quite normal to be suffering from age-related hearing loss, and by the age of 70, 70 per cent of the population is affected.
But, on rare occasions, hearing loss in one ear accompanied by tinnitus, nausea and dizziness, could be a sign of a tumour in the inner ear.
GET THE YEARS BACK: You can’t prevent age-related hearing loss, but if you need one, get a hearing aid.
‘People tend to not get hearing aids until their mid-70s — it takes on average ten years, partly due to the stigma,’ says Crystal Rolfe.
‘But the earlier you get one, the easier it is for the brain to adapt to it. If you wait, your brain cells will have a harder time interpreting the sounds — basically, use it or lose it.’
Struggling to read fine print is a classic sign of age-related sight loss, or presbyopia, which occurs as the lens becomes less flexible
If you’re 30-50
WHAT'S NORMAL: From the age of 45, can’t read small print; needing brighter light to read.
WHAT'S NOT: Cloudy vision; field of vision becomes narrower (like tunnel vision).
Struggling to read fine print is a classic sign of age-related sight loss, or presbyopia, which occurs as the lens becomes less flexible, says Sonal Rughani, an optometrist at the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
Cloudy vision could be a sign of cataracts. These normally occur in your 70s, but some people get them as young as 50, particularly diabetics.
Glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve that can cause tunnel vision) is more common in your 70s.
GET THE YEARS BACK: Smoking accelerates most eye problems, particularly cataracts, so quit.
If you’re 50-70
WHAT'S NORMAL: Cloudy, fuzzy or filmy vision; occasional spots on your vision; the lens turning yellow or brown.
WHAT'S NOT: Sudden blurring of vision. Straight lines appearing ‘wiggly’.
This is the time of life when you’re more likely to become diabetic, which can blur your sight, due to fluctuating sugar levels, says Sonal Rughani. This needs attention.
Straight lines that look wiggly are a classic sign of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness. AMD usually occurs in your 70s; earlier than that and it’s likely to be linked to smoking or family history.
GET THE YEARS BACK: Check your vision one eye at a time to ensure you can see straight vertical lines — if detected early some cases of AMD can be prevented from worsening. Watch your fat intake and ensure you get sufficient omega-3 fatty acids. Australian research found this reduced the risk of AMD.
If you’re 70+
WHAT'S NORMAL: Foggy vision; dry and watery eyes; filmy vision.
WHAT'S NOT: Wiggly lines. In Britain, 40 per cent of over-75s will develop cataracts and almost half will have some symptoms of age-related degeneration.
GET THE YEARS BACK: It’s vital to get AMD diagnosed to try to prevent blindness.