8 Ways Your Body Gets Better With Age

Surprise! You're on the verge of being less troubled by stress, allergies, colds, toothaches and ho-hum sex

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Another candle on the cake? Before you jump off the ledge, listen up. Each post-40 birthday you celebrate could be reason to rejoice—because in certain ways your body gets better with age. The shifts aren’t dramatic, but even small physiological improvements can make a big difference in how much you enjoy life.

The Heads of State

1. Lower Stress

Once you pass into midlife, you’re less likely to feel beaten down by stress. While nonphysical factors may contribute to your increasing serenity—your career is established, your kids have left the nest, you’re more secure in who you are—changing body chemistry also plays a part. “Secretion of the stress hormone cortisol decreases slightly after age 50. And levels of epinephrine, another stress hormone, decline,” says Alan Christianson, MD, an endocrinologist in Scottsdale, Arizona, and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Thyroid Disease. If you’re having a day from hell, you may still experience tension, but in a milder form than you did when you were younger, he says.

 

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2. Less Dense Breasts

For most women, breast density declines after age 50, which is a good thing. Dense breasts contain a high proportion of glandular and connective tissue, and “this glandular tissue is more prone to cancer than fat tissue,” says Stephanie Bernik, MD, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and a specialist in breast diseases. When estrogen declines during menopause, some of the gland and connective components turn into less dangerous fatty tissue, thus lowering your odds of developing breast cancer. “Studies show that women whose breasts are less dense have about a 25 percent reduced risk of breast cancer compared with those who have denser ones,” notes Bernik. Breasts that are less dense also pose a smaller risk of deadly cancers because any tumors that form are easier to spot on mammograms, allowing doctors to catch disease at early, more curable stages. Incidentally, you can’t judge your breasts’ density by feel or appearance; you need a mammogram to determine the level.

 

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3. Less Severe Allergies

Plagued by allergies all your life? They will probably bother you less as you age. “After 50, the body experiences hay fever and other seasonal allergies less severely, perhaps because you are then producing less of the allergic antibody IgE. Allergies to pets tend to decline, too,” says allergist Michael Welch, MD, codirector of the Allergy and Asthma Medical Group and Research Center in San Diego and a clinical professor of immunology at the University of California, San Diego. One caveat: This doesn’t happen to everyone. A small percentage of people may continue sniffling and sneezing into their senior years.

 

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4. Fewer Colds

The reason you’re less likely to catch colds and other minor viral infections after you enter midlife: Each time your body is exposed to a virus, it develops antibodies that protect you from getting sick from that pathogen in the future. “By the time you reach your fifties, you have a lifetime of colds behind you and you’ve developed immunity to many of the circulating viruses,” says William Schaffner, MD, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. The flu is different, however, because those viruses are moving targets. Some years, they mutate just a little, which means you’ll carry over some immunity if you caught that flu bug previously. For example, in 2009 the H1N1 flu strain was similar to a flu bug that had circulated in the 1950s; that year most people over age 65 were spared—even though seniors are typically the age group most affected by influenza—because they’d caught a similar virus many years earlier and were still protected. But in other years the flu mutates completely from previous seasons, so it’s wise to get an annual flu shot.

 

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5. Fewer Toothaches

While receding gums might make your teeth more sensitive as you grow older, there’s a counteracting trend: The size of your dental nerves decreases, making your teeth less susceptible to pain caused by, say, cold beverages. “Some people in their seventies and eighties experience so little pain that they may not need local anesthesia during dental procedures,” says Howard Strassler, DMD, a professor of dentistry and director of operative dentistry at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in Baltimore.

 

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6. Clearer Skin and Less Body Hair

Say good-bye to problems with oily skin. After age 50, the skin’s oil secretions slow down. “The shiny look that many people hate will improve,” says Sandra Read, MD, a dermatologist in Washington, D.C., and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Dermatology. And because the scalp produces less oil, you can shampoo your hair less often. Thinking about cosmetic surgery? Taut, youthful skin tends to pull on scars, making them stand out, while older, more relaxed skin hides them better. “Although wound healing can be slower after surgery, the cosmetic result is often better,” Read says. Another aging plus: You won’t have to pull out your razor and trimming scissors as often. The hair on your head, legs and underarms grows more slowly after age 60. You can cut back on deodorant, too, because sweat glands produce less perspiration as you age.

 

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7. More Brainpower

Although some brain functions slow with time, others improve. You may have greater difficulty retrieving words, but you’ll have more of them stored in your head. “If you read and get other intellectual stimulation regularly, your vocabulary will increase as you age,” says Gary Kennedy, MD, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. “You’ll also be better at problem solving because after a lifetime of experience and learning, the older brain stores mental outlines of generic solutions that can be applied to new problems.” For example, when you’re cooking, you may have no trouble figuring out a substitute for an ingredient you’ve run out of, because you’ve spent years fiddling with recipes.

 

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8. Better sex

A shift in your hormonal balance in the early forties can increase your libido and ability to have orgasms. “As estrogen starts to go down, more free testosterone is released,” explains Hilda Hutcherson, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University and author of Pleasure. “This hormonal shift can increase your sex drive and the intensity of your orgasms.” These changes may well lead to more frequent sex, which research suggests may boost immunity. Even better, a National Council on Aging survey reported that 70 percent of women in their sixties and older find their sex lives as satisfying as they did when they were younger, or more so. It appears that as women get older, they become confident about asking for what they need to really enjoy sex, Hutcherson says. Plus, she adds, “premature ejaculation diminishes, and men tend to last longer, prolonging the pleasure.” 

 

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Next: 10 Anti-Aging Skin Myths and Tips

 

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First Published Fri, 2012-12-07 17:39

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