What is aging?
Aging is a complex process generally defined as gradual changes in biological, psychological, sociological domains of life as people grow older. Each of these domains ultimately has its own unique definition of aging in the language of the respective discipline. For example, biological observations of how cells age or experience senescence will lead to similar definitions of aging. While this might lead to ambiguity in a universal definition of aging, it does highlight just how multifaceted the phenomenon of aging truly is.
The Swiss philosopher Henri-Frédéric Amiel once wrote: “To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.” These wise words juxtapose two realities of aging. On the one hand, old age brings with it a lifetime’s worth of knowledge that enriches the individual and society. Yet sadly on the other hand, aging also brings with it physical limitations that are what society often fearfully focuses on when thinking of getting older.
Ultimately, aging is something North Americans dread because our sociological values venerate eternal youth. The media propagates images of youthfulness and many will go to extremes in order to attain these ideals. In other cultures, however, graying hair might be worn proudly as a sign of wisdom and accomplishment. Be as it may, aging is something we will all face and must learn to appreciate.
Until then, we would do well to appreciate the fact that we all age and at different rates. Many believe that chronic stress affects the rate of aging by essentially aging us quicker. There is some truth to this notion as cells are more prone to malfunction when overwhelmed, and stress can accelerate this process. But like so many things, stress is only one part of the equation. Coping with stress and all those good things your grandma mother told you to do when you were young – “exercise, eat well, laugh, learn, love” – all have effects on decelerating aging as well.