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Health Information How Aging Affects Your Tissues 
and What You Can Do About it

Time takes a toll on tissues throughout your body, but the effects of aging may be especially notable in your skin, joints and heart.

As we grow older, artery tissue stiffens and becomes less pliable, somewhat like a garden hose that gets brittle over time. Stiff arteries force your heart to pump harder. And because the heart is muscle tissue, when it works harder it gets bigger.

As the heart enlarges, its ventricles may not fill with blood properly. That makes pressure in the heart increase, forcing the organ to work harder still.

"As the muscle overworks, it weakens," says Rohini Bhat, MD, an internist at Rush University Medical Center. "This leads to increased risk of heart failure, arrhythmias, heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest." Over time, plaque accumulates in the arteries, too. This can block the flow of blood, raising the risk of heart attack.

Take control: Smoking and conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes damage the inner layer of your blood vessels. The damage makes plaque more likely to stick to the vessels. Eating well, getting regular exercise and stopping smoking help control these conditions.

Did you know? Too much sodium can raise blood pressure. But eating potassium-rich foods can blunt sodium's effects. Good sources include sweet potatoes, spinach, bananas and beans.

Aches and pains often increase in joints as the body grows older. Many times, that's due to osteoarthritis, the wearing away of cartilage (connective tissue) that cushions the ends of bones.

Aging plays a role in cartilage degeneration, though exactly how is unclear. It may be related to declining hormone levels, a stress response that promotes inflammation or a decrease in the number of cells that form cartilage.

One thing that's clear is that as we age, water content in the body decreases. As a result, tendons (bands of tissue that attach muscle to bone) and ligaments (tissues that bind joints together) become stiffer and less able to bear stress. When these tissues get weaker, the joints they support do too. "Joint motion becomes more restricted and joint flexibility decreases," Bhat says.

Take control: Carrying too many pounds contributes to the breakdown of joint cartilage in hips and knees. Controlling your weight controls this risk. And regular exercise strengthens your muscles, giving your joints more support.

Did you know? Smoking makes it harder for your body to absorb calcium and easier for it to break down estrogen. Calcium and estrogen are important for good bone health in both men and women.

Your skin is a collection of tissue. As you age, a number of changes occur:

  • Glands produce less oil and sweat.
  • Skin's outer layer — the epidermis — gets thinner and less elastic.
  • The bond between the epidermis and the layer under it — the dermis — weakens.
  • The bottommost layer of skin, which contains connective tissue that attaches your dermis to muscles and bone, decreases. Over time, all of these changes can cause the skin to dry out, bruise, wrinkle and sag.

Take control: Smoking and sun exposure accelerate skin aging. Kicking a cigarette habit and wearing sunscreen are two of the most important things you can do to protect your skin

Did you know? Exercise is good for your skin. It increases blood flow and may even strengthen your immune system. This can help your skin appear younger

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Discover Rush Winter 2013
How Aging Affects Your Tissues 
and What You Can Do About it

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