Tired of being told that you’re just getting older? That you just need to live with it? You’ve got arthritis and there’s nothing to be done? Quit running, quit golfing, quit working. As we age our bodies don’t feel as strong and we may have more aches and pains but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still be living an active and rewarding life. For some people who have been sedentary all their lives, exercising in their later years may help them to become the fittest they’ve been in years. For those who have been extremely fit in their 20’s and 30’s, time inevitably knocks us down a few pegs compared to our prime. Balancing our reduced physical capacity as we age while maintaining our fitness and lifestyle is a challenge that we must embrace and dedicate ourselves to, to maximize the enjoyment of our entire life.
This is a challenge to which MSK Clinics is dedicated to supporting you. Read on to learn more.
As we age there are a few NORMAL physical changes that occur such as:
- Osteoarthritis of the joints
- Increased soft tissue and joint stiffness
- Reduced muscle strength
- Reduced tendon strength
- Slower recovery from exercise or injury
- Slower metabolism
- Reduced bone density
- Reduced cardiovascular fitness
The GOOD NEWS is that many of these issues can be managed and improved with stretching, strengthening, and therapy such as massage and joint mobilization. Our team of physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and kinesiologists can help you and guide you to maximize your capacity no matter what age. Read on to learn more about all of these age-related changes.
What if X-Ray images show that you have ‘arthritis’?
There are many types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the term used to describe the ‘wear and tear’ degenerative changes associated with joint aging. This wear and tear is normal and affects ALL of us to varying degrees as we age. Sometimes degenerative changes of arthritis can contribute to pain and in severe cases, joint replacements may be required.
However, the presence of arthritis on X-Ray imaging does not correlate well with pain, so we should not overemphasize it when we are making predictions about pain, our capacity for exercise, or expectations for improvement. Part of the reason for this may be that some of the changes that occur with arthritis are associated with the surrounding soft tissues such as the joint capsule, ligaments, and surrounding muscles. In other words, the pain of osteoarthritis is not always just from the bones.
Solution: Our experience has taught us that many people with pain which has been attributed to ‘osteoarthritis’ benefit greatly from manual therapy treatment of the muscles and fascia (connective tissue) surrounding the sore joints and by safe, guided exercise progressions for strength and mobility.
At any age, the balance between training intensity and recovery is the key to optimizing fitness while preventing overuse injuries. If your symptoms and physical exam findings suggest medical or surgical consultation is required, then we will make the appropriate referral.
Increased tissue and joint stiffness
Muscle and tendon properties become stiffer / less elastic as we age, and we generally become less flexible. Some of these changes are due to normal hormonal and physiologic changes related to aging while others may be due to the accumulating effects of many years without exercise. If you don’t move joints and muscles, they become less flexible.
Tissue stiffness makes our tendons more vulnerable to injury and reduced flexibility means less mobility. Both of these factors will have an impact on pain and quality of life.
Solution: Get moving! Increased mobility through exercise, stretching, and strength can improve tissue mobility. Manual therapy techniques such as massage and spinal manipulation also will help to keep your tissues from getting too stiff. Our kinesiologists can assist in safely introducing and progressing your exercise program.
Exercise is a stress on the body. It uses energy, creates waste products, and frequently causes microscopic damage to muscle and tendon fibers. It is important to recognize that the adaptations to exercise which make us fitter and stronger occur in the hours and days after exercise. Recovery is when your body removes the waste products, repairs the damage of exercise, and (this is the last part but the best part) makes you stronger than before. The harder the workout, the longer the time needed for recovery. If you don’t properly support recovery then there are two main consequences:
1) You don’t fully repair the damage of the last exercise session and the next one causes more damage. Repeat this cycle too many times and you’ll have an overtraining injury.
2) You fail to make the progress you have been striving for because you stressed the body before the “get stronger/fitter” part of recovery had a chance to work its magic.
The above paragraph is true for any age, but the further we get past 40 the slower these natural restorative processes become placing us at heightened risk of overuse injury and overtraining.
Solution: As we age we must be able to adapt both our training volume and our recovery times to ensure we are functioning optimally. This can be a very difficult thing to target and you will benefit from discussion with our sports chiropractors or physios to help fine-tune your training and recovery. Furthermore, we must pay special attention to factors that support our recovery such as proper nutrition, meal timing, hydration, full sleep, reducing alcohol, and quitting smoking or vaping.
Reduced bone density (osteoporosis)
Osteoporosis is a bone condition in which your bones lose calcium and become more porous. This results in weaker bones which increases your risk of a fracture (broken bone). Osteoporosis is not painful at all, broken bones are. You will not feel osteoporosis until it results in a broken bone.
There are several factors that contribute to osteoporosis risk:
- being female
- genetics (family, frame size, European and Asian descent)
- health conditions such as hyperthyroidism
- having your ovaries removed before menopause
- steroid medications
- lack of exercise
- excessive alcohol
- poor nutrition
Solution: Prevention is the most important aspect of preserving bone density. Note that the last several points are lifestyle-related and therefore can be modified to reduce your risk. Taking calcium alone will not make your bones strong, no sooner than eating protein will make your muscles grow. In both cases, exercise is required to stimulate muscles and bones to strengthen. Proper guidance on how to safely increase exercise without overtraining is vital and our kinesiologists at MSK Clinics can assist you in safely introducing and progressing your exercise.
Bone density tests are recommended for everyone over 65 years of age and potentially for those who experience a fracture over the age of 50. Other health risks may also influence this decision. Your medical doctor can assist you in this process. If you are deemed to have reduced bone density (osteoporosis) then your doctor will provide medical advice and may prescribe medications to help preserve bone strength. Make sure you discuss the appropriateness of exercise with your doctor before starting any new exercise programs.
Reduced cardiovascular fitness
Like the other areas above, our heart’s capacity also diminishes with age. This is true even for healthy athletes as they age. Just look at the most basic calculation for estimating your maximum heart rate with exercise: 220 – your age. This means that there is a direct (but approximate) relationship between your age and how fast your heart can effectively pump during exercise, regardless of health and fitness level. Your fitness will determine how hard you need to exercise to get your heart rate to climb to its training zone, but your maximum capacity will reduce with age. There are also age-related diseases that affect the heart and lungs with age such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Solution: There is almost no age at which appropriate levels of cardiovascular exercise won’t improve your health and energy while reducing some health risks. The key is to match the intensity to your ability. Make sure you discuss your health with your doctor to ensure you’re properly managing any health conditions and that it is safe for you to do cardiovascular exercise.
Even if you’re healthy, you need to learn your age-appropriate heart rate goals during exercise to maximize benefit and avoid undue stress on the heart. Our Kinesiologists can guide you in choosing the appropriate exercise intensity to maximize cardiovascular benefits as safely as possible. If necessary they can also communicate with your physician.
2880 West 4th ave. #101
Vancouver, BC V6K 1R2
1033 Davie Street, Suite 410
Vancouver, BC V6E 1M7