Geriatric Fitness: Recommendations and Benefits
Many people are surprised to learn that the geriatric population (people 65 and over) is the fastest growing population in society. Thanks to modern medicine, improved sanitation, and better nutrition habits, more people are living into their 80s, 90s and beyond. This is an amazing feat; 200 years ago most people didn’t make it past the age of 50. As a result, we have seen increased long-term facility care, preventable injuries, and medical expenses in this population, and as such, there’s also been a new demand for preventative medicine to help decrease or slow the effects of aging. So, this week we are going to discuss these changes and the importance of staying active as we age!
The bottom line is that there’s no “fountain of youth” to stop the aging process. It’s part of life and cannot be avoided. We will all go through extensive changes, and the only thing we can do is be proactive and ready to face them head-on. These changes that will undoubtedly have an effect on your health and relationship with physical activity, so it’s paramount to recognize them, appreciate and respect them, and do your best to accommodate and adapt to them. There are 3 main types of changes that are affected by the aging process: musculoskeletal, cardiopulmonary, and neuromuscular.
Typical musculoskeletal changes can involve degeneration of the neck and back vertebrae, thinning and degrading of cartilage and connective tissue, loss of muscle (sarcopenia), and decreases in bone density. While many consider the elderly population to be people over the age of 65, these musculoskeletal changes actually begin to kick in around the age of 30. These changes can lead to alteration in function and mobility which can create joint stiffness, loss of range of motion, postural changes, increased risk of osteoarthritis and bone fractures, and decreased muscle mass and muscle endurance. If these changes are ignored, they can lead to osteoporosis, broken bones, arthritis, and posture dysfunction like kyphosis and lordosis.
Cardiopulmonary changes include stiffening of the heart wall, thickening heart valves, and decrease in diameter of blood vessels. These changes adversely affect maximal heart rate, increase resting blood pressure, and decrease endurance of the heart muscles. There are also changes seen in the respiration muscles, airway, lung tissue, and chest wall. The unfortunate result is the body having to work harder to breathe normally. This explains why older adults become so fatigued when exerting energy for extended amounts of time. If not controlled, these changes can result in hypertension, COPD, coronary artery disease, and peripheral vascular disease, to name a few. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death globally, so it is so incredibly crucial to be cognizant of these changes and have an active relationship with your doctors to stay on top of any complications that arise.
Finally, there are neuromuscular changes that should be discussed. As we get older, our brain doesn’t send messages throughout the body as quickly as it once did. Thus, reaction times slow down and muscles don’t always fire in sync. We notice decreases in agility and balance, as well as changes in gait and hand-eye coordination. For many, this is an incredibly frustrating aspect of aging, because our bodies just simply work as well as they used to or as well as we’d like them too. We often become more dependent on others.
How to Stay Healthy as You Age
While we cannot prevent aging, one thing we can focus on is maintaining quality of life. We can do this by being proactive and trying to slow the aging process down through exercise. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), individuals over the age of 65 should perform moderate-intensity aerobic exercise foe 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week, or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise 20 minutes a day, 3 days per week. Moderate-intensity exercises can include dancing, fast-walking, and doing housework or gardening. Vigorous-intensity exercises include running, biking, swimming, and cycling. The ACSM suggests doing 8-10 strength training exercises performed 2-3 times a week, with 10-15 reps of each. In addition, flexibility exercises, such as yoga or basic stretching, should be performed 2 days a week. Both strength and flexibility exercises should be focused on larger muscle groups, like the neck, core, back, legs, and arms. Balance exercises are also vital to decrease the risk of falls.
In sum, as we age, we go through intense changes that tend to have negative effects on our mind, body, and overall health. They leave us with muscle pains, stiff joints, degeneration in our bones, weaker heart muscles, and balance issues. However, if we learn to recognize the first signs of these changes, we can combat them before they become debilitating. The best way to do this is to stay in shape! Exercise is important for all ages, but it is even more crucial as we age. If we can maintain a good quality of life, all those extra years can be joyous ones spent pain-free and in good health. At the end of the day, that’s all we want!
If you or someone you know is in the geriatric/elderly population and is in need of physical therapy or a home exercise program to stay active and healthy, come stop by OC Sports and Rehab. Myself and my wonderful staff are ready and able to create a specialized, age-specific approach to your body as strong as it can be. We can show you exercises to work on your balance and gait, as well as ones to keep your all your muscles in tip-top shape! Check out our website, at ocsportsandrehab.com to read about all of the services we offer. We hope to see you soon!
To find out more about Geriatric Fitness, contact Dr. Cary Costa at 949.716.5050
Cary Costa, PT