Is This Normal?
The way you grow older is specific to you. Lifestyle, among other things, can play a role in the process. But some changes in your 70s are universal, because they're the result of the way your body works. Experts sometimes call this "pure aging." These shifts happen in everyone who lives long enough. You can't avoid them, but you can prepare if you know what to expect.
Parts of your brain shrink as you get older, and signaling between different areas can slow. That means you may have trouble remembering names or coming up with a specific word. It may be harder for you to multitask and pay attention. If that makes you concerned about Alzheimer's disease, don't worry -- these are normal changes. Alzheimer's and other types of dementia cause much more severe trouble with memory and everyday tasks.
As you age, your heart can't beat as fast during exercise or when you're stressed. As its walls get thicker and its valves get stiffer, blood may not flow through as efficiently. The heart's electrical system may start to glitch, which can cause an irregular heartbeat. The most common problem is artery plaque buildup. But you can lower your risk of trouble with healthy habits, such as exercise, a heart-healthy diet, and not smoking.
Age spots and wrinkles are no surprise, but you may also find that you bruise more and sweat less. Your skin may be drier and more paperlike. It might be itchy and more easily irritated, too. It can help to switch to gentler soap and use moisturizer and sunscreen regularly. You might also try a humidifier.
Your metabolism slows as you age. You may need to cut calories to prevent weight gain. On the other hand, some people find that they don't get as hungry or thirsty as they used to. As you eat less, choose foods that pack more nutrients into fewer calories, such as fruits and veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. Changes in your body could leave you short of vitamins D and B12, so you might need supplements, too.
Your Bones, Joints, and Muscles
About 1 in 4 women -- and some men, too -- over 65 have osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease. Your muscles get weaker, and the tendons -- which connect muscles to your skeleton -- get stiffer. This will decrease your strength and flexibility. In your 70s, you might lose an inch or two off your height as disks in your back flatten. Exercise, especially the weight-bearing kind, can help prevent these changes and may even reverse them.
When you're older, you spend less time each night in deep sleep and more in lighter phases. You might wake up more and have trouble going back to sleep. Insomnia can be an issue in your 70s, especially for women. You might also find yourself falling asleep and waking earlier. Despite the changes to your sleep patterns, you still need 7-8 hours a night. Do what you can to keep good sleep habits, and talk to your doctor about any troubles.
Your Immune System
Your body's defenses lose a step in your 70s, which leaves you more vulnerable to illness. Vaccines don't work as well as they once did for you, but because you're susceptible to infection and viruses, it's still important to get shots for flu, pneumonia, and shingles. On the plus side, allergies are less severe and autoimmune disorders are rare at this age.
Your Digestive System
Your stomach lining is more fragile, which raises your odds of having ulcers. That's especially true if you take a lot of aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Perhaps the most common problem at this age is constipation. Part of the reason is that your digestive system doesn't move food through quite as well as before. Medications and lack of exercise may also play a role.
Your Urinary Tract
Your bladder can't hold as much as it once did, and your muscles that support it have lost some strength. They might also squeeze when you don't really need to go, which leads to an overactive bladder. All these things can send you to the bathroom more often. Many women in their 70s have trouble with urine leaking. Prostate trouble, which affects many men this age, can cause trouble going, too.
Research suggests that more people in their 70s today are sexually active than in previous eras. But there may be more challenges. You and your partner might have vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction, as well as other health problems. Body image and stress can play a role, too. But you don't have to give up on sex. Talk with your partner about what's enjoyable, and ask your doctor for help with any medical issues that affect sex.
Your pupils react more slowly to changes in light, because your eye muscles are a bit weaker. You'll need more time to adjust when you move between the indoors and bright sunlight. Some fine details are hard pick out, because there are fewer cells to send messages about what you see back to your brain. The lens gets thicker and more yellow, which makes it hard to see in dim lighting and makes colors less vibrant.
About one-third of people ages 65-74 have hearing loss, and about half of those over 75 do. High-pitched sounds are especially hard to make out, and that makes it hard to understand what others are saying. You may be able to figure out the vowels but not the consonants. Background noise also can interfere more with your conversations. If you find it harder to hear everyday sounds, talk to your doctor about things that can help.
Steps You Can Take
You can't turn back the clock, but there are a lot of ways to stay healthy in your 70s. Diet and exercise are important. Monitor your health, especially when it comes to watching for problems like cancer and heart disease. Stay active socially, and challenge yourself mentally -- they will help fight mental decline. And talk to your doctor about changes in vision, hearing, digestion, and other issues so you can keep thriving with age.