There are few things worse than reading article after article about how the aging process wreaks havoc on our bodies.
If it's not bad enough that our hair is thinning and becoming sprinkled with gray, we're also shrinking. Indeed, starting at about age 40, people typically lose about half an inch each decade, according to Harvard Medical School.
But there's some good news, too. Although it undoubtedly becomes harder to firm up certain parts of our bodies as we age -- think squishy arms -- it's not impossible. And in certain cases, our bodies actually get stronger and better with age.
For example, many people exhibit greater stamina as they grow older. Although some research shows that one's body reaches peak fitness at around age 35, other studies show no significant age-related decline in performance for decades to come. In fact, some 25 percent of the 65- to 69-year-old runners tested in one study were faster than 50 percent of the 20- to 54-year-old runners. Experts say that older athletes often perform better because their bodies have been tested more, so they know what reserves they're able to tap into.
Beyond greater stamina, here are six other ways bodies get better and stronger with age:
1) Less maintenance. As people age, they often experience less hair on their bodies -- which means less waxing and shaving. Their scalps also produce less oil as the years go on, which means they don't have to wash their hair as often. In addition, many women notice their skin becoming clearer with age as the result of stabilizing hormone levels. After age 50, the skin's oil secretions slow down in men as well.
2) Fewer colds. By the time people reach middle age, they've gained immunity to the vast majority of all the infections they could get. And this means they're less likely to get sick. The American Lung Association says that the average adult catches a cold between two and four times a year, whereas young children get them six or eight times a year. Flu viruses are a different animal, though, as they mutate -- so talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot.
3) Less sensitive teeth. One's teeth are most sensitive between the ages of 25 and 30 years old. As one ages, the surface between the enamel and nerves lays down more dentin (the tooth's inner hard tissue), which means more insulation and less pain and sensitivity. Another bonus: less painful dental procedures.
4) Greater sexual satisfaction. A study released in 2012 found that women's satisfaction in the bedroom increases with age, even as sexual desire wanes. The results matched up with another study that found a majority of women aged 60 to 89 years old were moderately to very satisfied with their sex lives. Generally speaking, experts say people know better how to please their partners by the time they reach middle age. And couples are more adept at communicating their desires as time goes on.
5) Lower stress levels. After middle age, many people report being more content with life and less stressed. A large Gallup poll released in 2010 found that negative emotions such as stress and anger recede after the early 20s, with those over 50 fretting much less than their younger counterparts. So why is that? Arthur A. Stone, the lead author of the study, told The New York Times that it could be due to environmental changes, "or it could be psychological changes about the way we view the world, or it could even be biological -- for example brain chemistry or endocrine changes.” Certainly, there are medical reasons to keep stress levels low as you age. One recent study linked too much stress in midlife to a greater risk of dementia in old age.
6) More brain power. Although older people are often portrayed as being foggy and forgetful, many researchers say cognitive abilities actually improve as one ages. For one thing, the brain never stops growing. And people over 50 apparently are better at making financial decisions as their reasoning skills grow sharper. In another study published in the journal Neuron in 2005, younger and older subjects were shown computer screens with a variety of moving shapes and shaded images. Although younger people were able to point out smaller shapes more quickly, older people were better and faster when identifying images that were large and high in contrast. The conclusion was that older people are more able to take in the whole picture when confronted with a situation than younger people.