Ageing is fraught with many problems and dangers, diminishment and decline, but there are many things you can do to slow, minimize and for some, even reverse their effects.
2 of the best
Stretching and exercising are 2 of the very best of them.
Older means faster
Our brains aren’t fully developed until we are about 23 years old. Our biological peak is just a few years after that. So strictly, physiologically speaking, its all downhill after about 30. The older you gets the faster ageing occurs.
The most obvious musculo-skeletal changes associated with ageing are that your muscles reduce in size and strength, your bone density diminishes (osteoporosis) and your joints get stiffer.
These changes associated with ageing creep in slowly so often catch people unawares when something dramatic happens. For example, having to walk or run a moderate distance or lift or carry something heavier than usual.
You start to get aches and pains that slowly develop for no apparent reason and if you strain or injure yourself, it takes longer to recover.
Size and Strength
Ageing induced loss in muscle size and suppleness means you lose strength, speed and agility. This means you can’t pick up things that you used to. Don’t make the mistake that so many people do, especially blokes, that you are as strong as you used to be.
Can’t do what you could
If you’re over 50 don’t think you can necessarily do what you could when you were under 30. Plenty of people hurt themselves doing just that. If you don’t choose to respect your age you will be forced to by pain, strain or damage. If that doesn’t work, you’ll keep hurting yourself until you learn. It’s not unfair, it’s just life. So pay attention and act your age.
You also lose stamina. You can’t go as long or hard as you used to. This isn’t the end of the world that some people think. Respect the fact that you’re not as young as you used to be and behave accordingly. Push yourself sure, but not like you used to or you’ll just end up hurting or damaging yourself, which in turn speeds up the ageing process.
Speed and Agility
Loss of speed and agility means fast movements can cause problems. Recovering from a stumble can cause as much strain as falling over. Answering the phone in a hurry when it woke you from a doze on the lounge, or moving quick to catch something have all caused a lot of shoulder, neck and back problems.
Loss of speed and agility also means you are more likely to fall over. Unexpected slippery or uneven surfaces require very fast reactions to correct yourself. If you’re not fast enough, down you go.
Bad or catastrophic
Just slipping over can cause bad injuries in anyone, especially the over 50’s and catastrophic injuries in the elderly. For example, if an old person breaks the neck, (the top) of the femur or thigh bone, they will most likely need surgery to replace it. And surgery gets riskier the older you get.
Falling over is the commonest way older people break bones. Fractures below the elbow or knee are nowhere near as serious as fractures above them.
Always get gortex and fibreglass
These fractures will just usually require a cast. If you ever need one of these make sure you insist on getting a fibreglass cast with water friendly padding, like gortex. This is a much lighter, cooler alternative to plaster and cotton padding. It also means you’ll be able to shower easily and even soak in the bath and go swimming.
A serious fracture in the lower arm or leg may require stabilizing with metal pins, plates and/or screws. This is more likely with upper arm or upper leg fractures. A much better option than months in traction.
Becoming unstable on your feet is one of the horrors of old age. You can become severely limited in your activities very quickly. Anywhere that has a soft or uneven surface, or doesn’t have places you can sit down becomes a scary place to go.
Losing bone density is called osteoporosis. This happens particularly to post menopausal women and older men. If it’s mild it’s no drama at all but if it’s bad, there is an increased risk of broken bones. Falls mean a much greater risk of arm, leg and spinal fractures.
Lifting something too heavy can cause spinal compression fractures. These are most common in the middle of the upper back at the apex of the curve – the bit that sticks out the most about the level of the bottom of your shoulder blades.
Stiff joints are an obvious part of getting older.
They are responsible for much of the pain associated with life after 50. Stiff joints are one of the main precursors of osteoarthritis. While osteoarthritis does cause joint stiffness, it usually starts the other way around. The stiffer your joints, the tighter and weaker your muscles become. If you don’t do something about it, you will slowly get worse.
What you can do about it
The good news here is there are things you can do to minimize these problems. First and foremost are stretching and exercising. The older you get, the more you need to stretch and exercise. Not less, more.
Exercising will improve your strength, speed, balance and agility. Many people have an aversion to exercise. If this is you, think of what I’m about to suggest as activity, not exercise.
Walking and cycling are excellent ways of maintaining your muscular strength and keeping your heart, lungs and circulation in really good condition. So if you’re inclined, get a bike or exercise bike, and if that doesn’t appeal, start walking or using a treadmill, most days.
There are many ways to exercise, it doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it’s safe and requires effort. Do something that you enjoy, or at least don’t mind. For example if you don’t like swimming, don’t just do it because someone said it’s really good for you. It won’t be long before you get sick of it and stop doing it.
Resistance exercise is also an excellent way to improve your muscle strength, especially your upper body strength. That means lifting something more than just your arms and legs. Weights. You can lift weights in a gym or in the convenience of your own home. A set of light dumbbells are cheap, or you can start out lifting cans of baked beans or anything else from the kitchen cupboard. Make sure you start by learning how to do it properly. Strength is extremely important.
Interval training is the way to for cardiovascular, or fitness training.
In the past fitness training consisted of long low or medium intensity workouts, like a long walk, jog or ride.
Interval training says you should warm up then go hard, about 50% effort for 30 – 60 seconds, then go easy for a few minutes, then go hard again, then easy, hard, easy, etc. As you get fitter, you can push up to 80 or 90% effort.
Start slow and work your way up in intensity. This is the best way to get fit and loose weight. To get the most benefit from exercise, you should raise your heart rate, your breathing rate and a sweat.
Improving your Balance
General stretching and exercising will help improve your balance. Every bit counts, but there’s something else you can do. Practice standing on alternate feet. Stand next to something solid you can hold onto, keep your knee a little bit bent and lift the other foot off the floor. For a full description check out Improving your balance