By Dr Adam Carey
Ageing is a complex process characterised by a progressive loss of physiological integrity, leading to impaired function and increased likelihood of dying. These changes drive the primary risk factors for major human pathologies, including cancer, diabetes,
cardiovascular disorders, osteoarthritis and neurodegenerative diseases. Ageing research has exploded in recent years, particularly
with the discovery that the rate of ageing is controlled by genetic pathways and biochemical processes that are evolutionarily conserved. There have been nine tentative hallmarks that have been identified, which represent common denominators of ageing;
four have a genetic basis, three a cellular basis and two occur within tissues. Work continues to better understand these processes and what might be done to impact them.
Today, the loss of physiological function results in a loss of quality of life and a gradual increase in fragility. This loss in function, mobility and quality of life is mirrored in the body by a loss of lean body mass. While some of this loss in lean mass is due to a loss in bone mass, the major driver for the change that is seen is due to a reduction in muscle mass. The question being asked is, “Is this all inevitable?”
THE THREE PHASES
When we consider the ageing process, we can divide life into three phases. First there is childhood, which can extend until approximately 30 years of age. It is about this time we start developing our careers and taking on major responsibilities such
as paying mortgages, getting married and raising children.
The second phase of life is adulthood and lasts from about 30 years to 60 years. During this time, we look to discharge these responsibilities. We hope to pay off the mortgage, see our children grow, leave home and become independent and we have
hopefully saved enough to retire comfortably.
The final phase of life is over the age of 60 and has been called old age. During this time the impacts of the ageing process are
experienced with a gradual loss of function, mobility and quality of life. The good news is that this loss of function is not inevitable.
We are now seeing data that suggests that those who are able to look after themselves during a traditional adulthood are better able to manage this third phase of life. They are stronger, active and have a better quality of life. The ideal must be that this final phase of life should be as active and fulfilling as the previous two, but potentially without the same responsibilities. Perhaps the three phases should be renamed: Happy, Happier, and Happiest?
DELAY FUNCTIONAL AGEING
How do we ensure that we continue to live an active life? It is important to prevent the loss of muscle mass and therefore, delay
functional ageing. Functional ageing is directly associated with a loss in muscle mass. This may occur because of a lack of drivers involved in the maintenance of muscle mass, or because of joint injury or disease that inhibits normal physical activities important for the maintenance of muscle mass.