Growing Old An English Listening Topic That Interests Everyone At Some Point In Their Lives Ep 562

Digital art of a tortoise standing on papers. Today in our English listening practice lesson, we’ll discuss how scientists are learning from animals about growing old.

📝 Author: Hilary

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💬 2898 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 15 min

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English Listening Practice: Let’s Talk About Ageing

Today we will explore an English listening practice topic which interests us all: ageing. We will discover what scientists are learning from animals that live a long time, or ones that live brief lives. And what that means for us aging humans. So join us and learn to speak English with our fun listen and learn approach to language learning.

Ageing is something we’re all intimately familiar with, although most of us try to avoid thinking about it! When we think about getting old, we focus on the symptoms, a wrinkle here and ache there, less hair and less energy. Well, today we look at the other end of the problem, the causes of ageing.

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Most Unusual Words:

  • Diseases: Illnesses that affect your body.
  • Telomeres: Protective ends of DNA in cells.
  • Metabolism: How your body changes food into energy.
  • Reptiles: Cold-blooded animals with scales, like snakes and lizards.
  • Mammals: Warm-blooded animals with fur or hair, like humans, dogs, and cats.
  • Tortoise: A slow-moving animal with a shell on its back.
  • Senescence: The process of growing old.
  • Resident: A person who lives in a specific place.
  • Captivity: A situation where animals are kept and cared for by people, not living in the wild.

Most common 2 word phrases:

One Of3
Will Help2
Give Us2
Someone Who2
Not Sure2
About Ageing2
A Tortoise2

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Transcript: Growing Old An English Listening Topic That Interests Everyone At Some Point In Their Lives

Hi, there. Let's tackle another interesting topic today, one which is of interest to us all -eventually. And that subject is 'how we age'. That's A G E. So 'to age' can be a verb, as well as a noun. What are scientists learning from animals who live a long time? Or ones that live short lives? What can we learn about ageing?

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Happy birthday to a resident of St Helena

So in January, this year, one of the residents on the island of St Helena celebrated a birthday. When I say 'resident', that's R E S I D E N T. That just means 'someone who resides', 'someone who lives in a place'. And this 'resident' is called 'Jonathan' and he celebrated his 190th birthday. 190!


Digital art of a cute tortoise with large eyes. In this English listening practice lesson, we discover scientists are learning a lot about how animals live longer. And what that means for humans ageing.

©️ Adept English 2022

Jonathan is a tortoise and thought to be the oldest living tortoise in the world. So the word 'tortoise', that's T O R T O I S E. That's an aminal, a reptile and tortoises, if you're not sure what one is, they have a shell on their back and they walk very, very slowly, as in the story, 'The Hare and the Tortoise', which you might be familiar with.

Turtles, T U R T L E S. They're similar sorts of animals, also with a shell on the back.

Jonathan 'through history'!

There are photographs of Jonathan when he arrived on the island of St Helena, when he was quite young and quite a bit smaller than the subsequent photographs, but he's surrounded by what looked like Victorian gentlemen. There's another photograph of Jonathan where a young Queen Elizabeth and her family are visiting. And again, he's grown quite a bit, not as big as he is now though.

So Jonathan at 190 has apparently lost his sense of smell somewhat, but he still enjoys his food. And he mates frequently with the other tortoises. Respect to Jonathan! As I've mentioned previously, my daughter's boyfriend has a tortoise as a pet. Now this tortoise is only young, so she's quite small. He thinks she's a girl - we're not sure. And she's called Mary. What's a lovely name! My daughter's boyfriend is only 24 and it's quite possible that his tortoise will outlive him. What a strange thought! So why is it that tortoises live for so long? And what can we learn from them about ageing, about the process of how we age.

The pyramid of the age bands

One of the charts that I saw during the pandemic, which really made me think was - bands of numbers, of people, of certain age groups. So when we were first rolling out the vaccination, it was given to the over nineties - not many of those, then the over eighties - a few more, but still not very many. And the over seventies, the over sixties, the over fifties. So I guess what I was impacted by, what I noticed was - how each decade of life, there are fewer and fewer people. There's a dramatic 'drop-off' with human beings and age.

Tortoises just keep on trucking!

Apparently with tortoises, it doesn't happen in the same way. And if you put tortoises in captivity, that's C A P T I V I T Y. That means you put them in an environment where they're looked after, where their needs are met, then they barely age at all, it seems.

They have enough food. They have enough water, they have shelter and protection. It seems very little can kill them. Whereas with human beings, obviously the older we are, the less likely we are to continue to live, so something quite different is happening there.

Mammals differ from reptiles

One thing that scientists think makes a difference, particularly if you compare mammals that's M A M M A L S. That's what we, humans are - we're mammals. When we compare mammals with reptiles, there's a big difference. When we mammals get to the age where we can reproduce, where we can have babies, you stop growing, you don't get any bigger.

And our body's resources go into reproduction, having babies, whereas tortoises and other reptiles continue to grow.

What this means is that their bodies' focus on continuing to grow, but they also repair. So their body is focused on repair and maintenance as they grow - much more than our human bodies are.

This means that tortoises' bodies are less susceptible to illness and disease.

Listening Lessons

Watching how different species age - 'senescence'

Scientists mapped the 'senescence' - that's an interesting word! S E N E S C E N C E. So that's 'the growing old'. The 'senescence' is the 'growing old' of a species. So scientists mapped the 'senescence' of a number of long-lived species. So 'senescence' is a measure of 'the risk of dying related to age'. So of course, if you're a human being, your risk of dying, your 'senescence', year on year, gets greater. The older you are, the more you are at risk of dying. But not so for reptiles. And in fact, for two types of tortoise, the Greek Tortoise and the Black Marsh Turtle, their risk of dying actually went down, the older they were - as long as they were in captivity. So being given the right amount of food and a protective environment. The older they were, the less risk they were at for dying. Almost indestructible, you might say!

So what can we learn that might be of value to human beings here? Well, tortoises keep on growing bigger, so their bodies devote more energy to growing and less to reproduction or having babies.

The 8 foot ninety year old?!

Clearly, we can't change that in humans. I'm just pausing a minute to imagine what our world would be like if we just grew bigger and bigger, the older we got. So that someone of 90 years old was huge! That would be weird, wouldn't it? Of course that's not in our control nor is it likely to happen. So we're mammals and our bodies stop growing when we get to the age where we can reproduce, where we can have babies. We're kind of stuck with that. So what else can we learn from tortoises?

Some pets age faster than others

Well, if you look at the speed of ageing in other animals, other species, just in the possibility for a choice of pet. So as I said, you can choose a pet tortoise, which will live for a long time, or you could choose a mouse or a hamster. Hamsters generally live for only about two years. So what are the differences between a hamster and a tortoise because they're at the extreme ends of how long you live?

Metabolic rate as indicator for life expectancy

Well, there seems to be a connection between metabolic rate or metabolism. Your 'metabolism', M E T A B O L I S M - that's a measure of how quickly, how fast does your body process its food? So animals with a slow metabolic rate live for longer and animals with a fast metabolic rate, like your hamster, H A M S T E R, they, don't live very long.

That's interesting because as human beings, we often focus on our metabolic rate and we like to have a high metabolic rate. That's seen as a good thing. Probably because it means we don't put weight on. I suspect that this is affected slightly by the fact that most human beings have access to more than enough food, so if anything, we tend to put weight on that we don't need. But speeding up our metabolic rate may not be an entirely good thing. One of the reasons why metabolic rate may be related to life expectancy, how long you live, is that when you burn calories, it releases 'free radicals' and 'free radicals' are substances, which are damaging to the body. That's what happens when you burn energy. We need enough antioxidants to mop up the 'free radicals' in order to stay healthy.

Heart rate as indicator for life expectancy

There's also a relationship between heart rate, how fast your heart beats and how long you live. So on the whole animals with faster heart rates die younger, have a shorter life expectancy. In humans, we like to measure our 'resting heart rate'. So that's a good indicator of how fit and healthy we are. And when we say 'resting heart rate', that means how fast your heart's beating, if you're just sitting doing nothing. And the nearer to 60 beats a minute, your resting heart rate, then the healthier you are. So heart rate and metabolic rate seem to be linked and they both seem linked to the speed with which we age.

DNA changes as indicator for life expectancy

But it's also in your DNA. Scientists are finding that many of the diseases that we're affected by, increasingly as we get older certainly in humans, they're down to genetic changes, changes in our DNA.

So our telomeres get shorter. That's a scientific word. It's probably not a word you need in everyday English conversation, but it's spelled T E L O M E R E, if you're interested. And our telomeres get shorter as we age. This means there are more likely to be errors in the way our DNA is replicated, is copied.

And it's these genetic changes that sit behind many of the diseases, which kill us. Again, tortoises? Their telomeres don't get shorter as they get older. So they are affected by fewer errors in DNA replication. That protects them. That protects them from disease. That enables them to live to 190.

The importance of 'apoptosis' - clearing out damaged cells

The other thing that tortoises and turtles bodies do really well is a process called 'apoptosis'. Another scientific term, A P O P T O S I S. 'Apoptosis' is the process where the body gets rid of damaged DNA or damaged cells. So it happens all the time, in each and every one of us. Our bodies get rid of damaged cells. And how good your 'apoptosis' is, determines whether or not you'll get diseases associated with damaged DNA. So turtles and tortoises are very good at apoptosis. As human beings, our bodies are less good at that, so we're more vulnerable to disease with old age.

Download The Podcast Audio & Transcript

This is an interesting topic - use this podcast to practise more times!

I think I've covered quite a lot there! Lots of new vocabulary, lots of interesting ideas for anyone who wants to be alive and continue to be alive.

I'll do some more study on this. I like this area. It's interesting. And I'll come back to you with what I find. If you're interested in the research that I looked at for this podcast, you'll find the links in the transcript on our website as ever, at Listen to this podcast a number of times until you understand it all.


Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.

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