Ageing is not a matter of counting birthdays as of changes in fitness; in the way your body works and reacts. If your body changes enough that you look, feel, and function differently than when you were younger, age may be overtaking you.

Chronological age and biological age is not the same. Ageing is a physiological process that at times is only remotely connected to how old you are. How you look is sometimes an indicator of you biological age, but appearances often can be deceptive.

Without the diseases of premature ageing, normal human life expectancy is estimated to be 120 years. Most people are capable of living their lives without pain and suffering caused by such chronic degenerative diseases.

Although the disease process and the ageing process may run concurrently, they are not the same thing. You can get sick and even die from many diseases common to old age, but you don’t have to get old to have such diseases. And if you maintain an optimal level of wellness, you should be able to get older without automatically and inescapably being condemned to the pain, discomfort and disabilities associated with many disease states. Growing old and getting sick simply are not interchangeable or even inextricably linked processes.

Premature ageing of the brain, circulation, heart, joints, skin, digestive tract, and immune system can begin at any time of life. Various factors cause the body to deteriorate, including injuries that do not heal completely, allergies, toxic chemicals, and heavy metals, poor nutrition, excessive radiation sunlight, overwhelming stress, and inactivity.

Sometimes premature ageing occurs without any symptoms until, suddenly, there is a catastrophic event such as a heart attack, cancer, or a stroke. Other times, atrophy or tissue wasting can occur, as in muscle weakness with lack of exercise, mucous and glandular deterioration with decreased hormone levels and brain atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease.

Frequently, however, a body that is ageing prematurely sends a message to its owner that it is malfunctioning. The most common message is pain. The cause of the pain might include such factors as inflammation, joint instability, insufficient blood supply, or pressure within an organ or on surrounding tissues.

The earliest and most obvious signs include men losing their hair and men and women needing reading glasses because of presbyopia (inability to focus on near objects).

Causes of Ageing Skin

Research shows that there are, in fact, two distinct types of ageing. Ageing caused by the genes we inherit is called intrinsic (internal) aging. The other type of aging is known as extrinsic (external) aging and is caused by environmental factors, such as exposure to the sun’s rays.

Intrinsic ageing, also known as the natural aging process, is a continuous process that normally begins in our mid-20s. Within the skin, collagen production slows, and elastin, the substance that enables skin to snap back into place, has a bit less spring. Dead skin cells do not shed as quickly and turnover of new skin cells may decrease slightly. While these changes usually begin in our 20s, the signs of intrinsic aging are typically not visible for decades. The signs of intrinsic aging are:

  • Fine wrinkles

  • Thin and transparent skin

  • Loss of underlying fat, leading to hollowed cheeks and eye sockets as well as noticeable loss of firmness on the hands and neck

  • Bones shrink away from the skin due to bone loss, which causes sagging skin

  • Dry skin that may itch

  • Inability to sweat sufficiently to cool the skin

  • Graying hair that eventually turns white

  • Hair loss

  • Unwanted hair

  • Nail plate thins, the half moons disappear, and ridges develops

Genes control how quickly the normal aging process unfolds. Some notice those first gray hairs in their 20s; others do not see graying until their 40s. People with Werner’s syndrome, a rare inherited condition that rapidly accelerates the normal aging process, usually appear elderly in their 30s. Their hair can gray and thin considerably in their teens. Cataracts may appear in their 20s. The average life expectancy for people with Werner’s syndrome is 46 years of age.

A number of extrinsic, or external, factors often act together with the normal aging process to prematurely age our skin. Most premature aging is caused by sun exposure. Other external factors that prematurely age our skin are repetitive facial expressions, gravity, sleeping positions, and smoking.

The Sun. Without protection from the sun’s rays, just a few minutes of exposure each day over the years can cause noticeable changes to the skin. Freckles, age spots, spider veins on the face, rough and leathery skin, fine wrinkles that disappear when stretched, loose skin, a blotchy complexion, actinic keratoses (thick wart-like, rough, reddish patches of skin), and skin cancer can all be traced to sun exposure.

“Photoaging” is the term dermatologists use to describe this type of aging caused by exposure to the sun’s rays