Keith Kendrick: Can worrying about old age make you look older?

From a speech on ageing given by the Professor of Physic at Gresham College in the City of London
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The Independent Online

The huge increase in cosmetic surgery in the developed world over the last 10 years or so is testament to the fact that the human race is particularly concerned with disguising the external physical signs of ageing. Of all the degenerative signs of ageing skin, connective tissue and muscle changes are inevitable, although they can of course be quite variable in degree and time course.

Pills and potions to reverse the external signs of ageing are big business and the subject of claims that are often outrageous and with very little basis in scientific fact. Most experts will normally make the key recommendation of avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun and making sure you have a healthy diet and drink large amounts of water.

It is a sad fact that obsessive concern with maintaining the appearance of youth can be linked with a fear or inability to adjust to different phases of life where some advantages are lost while others can be gained. Such inflexibility may, arguably, help to prevent compensatory changes from occurring beneath the surface, notably in the brain, which will minimise the impact of ageing on our personality, mental faculties and perhaps even on other vital internal organs.

While our increasing knowledge of the physiological mechanisms which govern ageing will undoubtedly provide us over the next few decades with surgery-free alternatives for retaining youthful looks, the problem of needing to be able to adjust positively to the changing phases of our lives will not diminish as a result.