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Combatting the Effects of Aging

By: Vadim Goz, MD and Lali Sekhon, MD PhD MBA

This article was adapted from OrthoInfo.

The inevitability of aging brings about a range of bodily transformations, some more noticeable than others. While many individuals age gracefully, remaining active and alert, others encounter challenges that affect their participation in various activities. Understanding the aging process and taking proactive steps to counter its effects can contribute to maintaining vitality and independence. A combination of a healthy diet, regular exercise, and a positive mindset can delay the onset and decelerate the progression of age-related changes. 

The Aging Process Unveiled 

Aging Muscles: 

  • Muscle atrophy, characterized by a reduction in size and mass, is a natural part of aging, but a sedentary lifestyle can exacerbate this decline. 
  • Both the number and size of muscle fibers decrease with age, leading to slower response times compared to one’s younger years. 
  • Tendons, responsible for attaching muscles to bones, experience reduced water content as we age, making them stiffer and less resilient to stress. 
  • Grip strength diminishes, making everyday tasks like opening jars or turning keys more challenging. 
  • The heart muscle’s efficiency declines, resulting in reduced blood-pumping capacity, quicker fatigue, and slower recovery. 
  • Metabolic rate decreases, affecting how quickly the body converts food into energy, potentially contributing to obesity and elevated “bad” cholesterol levels. 

 Aging Bones: 

  • Bones undergo constant remodeling through a balance of absorption and formation throughout life. With aging, this balance shifts, leading to bone tissue loss. 
  • Reduced mineral content results in less dense and more fragile bones. 
  • Osteoporosis, which affects both men and women, emerges as bones lose mass. It can lead to vertebral fractures and is the primary cause of hip fractures among older adults. 
  • Cartilage, providing cushioning between bones, undergoes chemical changes, making it more susceptible to stress and promoting arthritis. 
  • Ligaments connecting bones become less elastic, causing reduced flexibility. 

 Aging Joints: 

  • Tendons and ligaments changes contribute to restricted joint motion and decreased flexibility. 
  • The degradation of cushioning cartilage from years of use leads to joint inflammation and arthritis. 

 Combatting the Effects of Aging 

Many musculoskeletal changes result more from disuse than simply aging. Shockingly, less than 10 percent of Americans engage in regular exercise, with the most sedentary group being those over 50. Maintaining joint flexibility can be achieved through stretching, while weight training can increase muscle mass and strength, facilitating daily activities with less strain. 

Even moderate physical activity can lower the risk of hypertension, heart disease, and certain cancers. Regular exercise can also slow muscle mass loss and curb age-related body fat increase. Furthermore, it helps maintain response time and oxygen utilization efficiency. Just 30 minutes of moderate activity, integrated into daily routines, can yield significant health benefits. 

Exercise programs need not be overly strenuous to be effective. Activities such as walking, swimming, square dancing, and bicycling are recommended for maintaining fitness in aging individuals. Even if you break up the 30-minute moderate activity into shorter bouts, like gardening in the morning and an afternoon walk, the cumulative benefits remain substantial. 

If you haven’t previously embraced an exercise regimen, it’s advisable to consult your physician before embarking on one now.