7 Ways Your Body Changes As You Get Older That You Wouldn’t Expect
Aging is inevitable for everybody. And most of the effects of aging have to do with how our bodies work. But beyond the obvious symptoms of aging bodies, from white hair on your head to less elastic skin, there are more unusual symptoms that crop up as the body gets older. And frankly, some of them sound way more interesting than how our bodies worked in our youth. (I'm kind of excited for how my taste buds will change when I'm older, TBH.) These ways your body changes as you get older aren't talked about all that much, but they're pretty cool all the same.
Of course, a lot of what we think of when it comes to how are bodies change as we age has to do with the pressure put on women by a misogynist society — but that doesn't have to be the case. Wrinkles, gray hair, and other 'hallmark' signs of aging are beautiful, but don't hugely affect your body's basic functioning. Your body's sleep patterns may also shift as you get older, as will your body's response to allergies, for not completely understood yet reasons. Here are seven unexpected ways your body may change as you get older.
1. Your Body Hair Changes
Of course, getting a gray hair or three in your twenties and thirties is perfectly normal. But not many people know that the hair all over your body will lose its pigment as you get older. Hair gradually stops receiving melanin from the follicle, meaning that its natural tint fades away and only the clear hair fiber itself is left.
2. Your Nails Become More Brittle
It's common for people who are a bit older to have either far thicker nails or far thinner ones than they did in their youth. You may have noticed this in your grandparents or your parents; it's particularly common in menopausal women, because shifting hormone levels can affect nail health. But it can also show up much younger; for the same hormonal reasons, nail thinning tends to occur during and after pregnancy.
3. Your Sleep Changes
If you've just figured out a sleep schedule that allows you to exercise, have sex, watch three episodes of Game Of Thrones and still wake up feeling refreshed, be prepared: it's going to change. It's actually a fallacy that people need to sleep less as they age. The National Sleep Foundation reports that as we age, we take longer to fall asleep, don't experience REM (rapid eye movement) deep sleep as much as we did in our youth, and experience more waking up in the night. We also begin to shift our sleepiness patterns; the older we get, the sleepier we are in the early evening and the more prone we are to getting up at the crack of dawn — and not because we've become morning people.
4. Your Allergies Shift
Just as our allergies and immune systems evolve when we're very young, so do they shift when we're aging. Aging populations are showing more and more signals of new allergies and intolerances, according to recent research. There's a lot of reasons why: as we age, our immune system changes, making us less capable of distinguishing between genuine threats and harmless pollen. And our bodily defenses may break down so that allergies that we were "hiding" all our lives now show up. We're also living in an age of greater pollution, particularly in the air and environment, and that seems to be affecting allergies for all folks, not just older ones. That might also mean that as this generation ages, allergies normally associated with older age may start to show up earlier and earlier.
5. Your Posture Changes
Once you get past menopause, it's likely that your posture is going to alter. Both the bones in the spine and the cartilage between them shift as you age, altering the curvature of your spine — and how tall you are. The cartilage between the vertebrae of your spine gradually hardens and thickens so that the spine shortens and your posture tilts forward. This is why you should always be mindful to sit up straight, even while you work in your desk chair in your 30s.
6. Your Feet Thin Out
Feet actually carry a lot of cushioning and fat from childhood onwards, and this cushioning gradually thins as we age. The cushioning is made of adipose tissue, which is what keeps us from feeling the impact of our bones on hard surfaces when we walk. (This is also what helps us survive wearing high heels, which is why padding is so helpful when you're in stilettos all day.) As we age, though, the tissue becomes less protective, so we're more likely to encounter aching feet after walking around all day.
7. Your Tastes Are Different
If nothing tastes quite the same as it did when you were a kid, there's a reason for that. The taste buds, small nerve centers on the tongue, age just as the rest of the body does, and that means that what you like and how you interpret taste signals also alters. Taste buds regenerate after injury, but they do it far more slowly as you age, meaning that some tastes become "dulled" — particularly if your sense of smell also starts to dim slightly, which is common after you hit the age of 70. Factors like reduced saliva flow when you age also affect how you taste things and what you like; many people who are elderly report more of a liking for sweet things, which provide a quick, intense hit of flavor, while others like strong spices or intense savory tastes.
Turns out that aging, as the one inevitable human biological process, has wider impacts than you may have realized. If society were less focussed on eye bags, we'd see age as what it is: a kind of peculiar adventure.