“The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be … !”
Many “seasoned” individuals (yes, and that includes me!) can recall sitting around a camp fire singing that old famous folk song.
There’s a lot of truth in those lyrics. In case you haven’t noticed, your body is changing!
Some of the many changes that come with aging typically include:
- You get shorter and more hunched over
- Your muscles get weaker and less flexible
- You have more instability and fear of falling
- You lose bone density and are at higher risk of fractures
- You feel depressed.
All of this can potentially contribute to becoming significantly more sedentary and less able to move well. The resulting downward cycle can lead to falls, which remain one of the biggest causes of injury and death (https://nfsi.org/nfsi-research/quick-facts/, https://www.backsmithphysicaltherapy.com/using-unique-innovations-improve-walking-exercise-tolerance/).
Understanding some of the reasons why these changes occur can help you make better health care choices and adapt to your changing body. Life is all about adapting and the right health care and innovations can make a huge difference!
Yes, You Do Actually Get Shorter As You Age!
As time goes by, the primary reason we lose height is the inter-vertebral discs in the spine lose hydration (water content) and degenerate. This happens with the loss of disc substances called proteoglycans and glycosaminoglycans (https://clinicalgate.com/intervertebral-disc-process-of-degeneration-physiology-and-pathophysiology/, The Neuroradiology Journal 1:639-644,2011).
Research has shown disc degeneration is generally worse in populations that smoke (https://www.news-medical.net/news/20160218/Smoking-linked-to-worsening-degenerative-disc-disease-in-cervical-spine.aspx).
In addition to degeneration, muscle imbalances, poor postural habits, and poor sitting, your living and working environment can also contribute to loss of height as well as restrictive pain and kyphotic (hunched over) spine deformities.
These problems can also drive restrictive weakness, instability, muscle tightness, and joint pathology. (https://www.backsmithphysicaltherapy.com/do-you-have-the-protective-joint-stability-you-need/, https://www.backsmithphysicaltherapy.com/addressing-muscle-imbalances-improve-performance-human-race/).
On a positive note, research has indicated that it’s possible for most people to maintain muscle mass and strength with aging (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22030953). To achieve this however, one must consistently stay active and make taking care of themselves a big priority.
Next, osteoporosis which involves thinning of bones resulting in reduced density. It’s an epidemic problem for women more than men (especially after menopause). Typically, there are no symptoms until bone tissue starts breaking down. Appropriate weight bearing aerobic exercise and resistance training can improve bone health and reduce risk of fractures.
Like so many things in life, an ounce of prevention can be worth a ton of cure.
Abnormal posture and poor lifestyle habits often lead to joint inflammation and damage. Besides creating painful joints, research now supports inflammation can also be directly related to depression (Soledad C., et al., “Depression Is Associated With High Levels of C-Reactive Protein & Low Levels of Fractional Exhaled Nitric Oxide,” J Clin Psychiatry 1666-71).
By effectively addressing drivers of joint inflammation, one can also reduce or eliminate depression.
Consider these guidelines to help maximize health & wellness as you get older:
- See your medical doctor to rule out any sinister pathology as well as address any medication-related problems.
- Quit smoking
- Talk with your doctor or pharmacist regarding calcium & Vitamin D supplementation for bone density loss
- See a Doctor of Physical Therapy to help address restrictive postural changes, weakness, instability & pain issues.
- Consider seeing a licensed counselor to address depression. There is no reason to suffer alone and in silence! Often just talking about the problems you are experiencing can improve your outlook.
Exercise is like a drug; when done under the right conditions it can be of great value; under the wrong conditions it can make problems worse! Treatment by a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy can often reduce or eliminate the need for medication or surgery.
To summarize, “motion is lotion” and “quality movement is the best medicine”. Discipline yourself to stay active and keep learning how to stay healthy!
Lifestyle choices make a huge difference, either positively or negatively. Great resources and innovations are available for those who are willing to seek out help. Being proactive can help you improve your quality of life, stay independent, and better champion the aging process.
In the words of the great Vince Lombardi, “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”