It has long been believed that aging causes an inevitable deterioration of the body and the body’s ability to function. There has been a widely held belief that aging causes increased rates of injuries such as:
- sprains, and strains and fractures,
- diseases, such as obesity and diabetes; and
- osteoarthritis and other bone and joint conditions
But new research focusing on seniors and top athletes suggests that this is not the case. Decades of research now seem to indicate that age-related deterioration of the human body is not the result of aging itself, but the result of a sedentary lifestyle and the development of medical conditions. A growing body of evidence suggests that a lifestyle of comprehensive fitness and nutrition helps in minimizing a decline in bone and joint health, and that a lifetime of fitness and good nutrition are factors that maintain our overall physical health, even in old age. Watch and see for yourself:
So, is exercise the new fountain of youth? Evidence seems to be pointing in that direction. According to lead study author and orthopedic surgeon, Bryan G. Vopat, M.D.:
“An increasing amount of evidence demonstrates that we can modulate age-related decline in the musculoskeletal system.” “A lot of the deterioration we see with aging can be attributed to a more sedentary lifestyle instead of aging itself.”
The study found that the positive effects of physical activity on maintaining bone density, muscle mass, ligament and tendon function, and cartilage volume are keys to optimal physical function and health. In addition, researchers and doctors recommend a combined regimen of physical activity for all adults including seniors, which involve resistance, endurance, flexibility and balance training, “as safely allowable for a given person.” Dr. Vopat goes on to say, “Regimens must be individualized for older adults according to their baseline level of conditioning and disability, and be instituted gradually and safely, particularly for elderly and poorly conditioned adults.” To improve fitness levels and minimize bone and joint health decline, when safely allowable, patients should be encouraged to continually exceed the minimum exercise recommendations.
Resistance training. Prolonged, intense resistance training can increase muscle strength, lean muscle and bone mass more consistently than aerobic exercise alone. Moderately intense resistance regimens also decrease fat mass. Sustained lower and upper body resistance training bolsters bone density and reduces the risk of strains, sprains and acute fractures.
Endurance training. Sustained and at least moderately intensive aerobic training promotes heart health, increases oxygen consumption, and has been linked to other musculoskeletal benefits, including less accumulation of fat mass, maintenance of muscle strength and cartilage volumes. A minimum of 150 to 300 minutes a week of endurance training, in 10 to 30 minute episodes, for elite senior athletes is recommended. Less vigorous and/or short-duration aerobic regimens may provide limited benefit.
Flexibility and balance. Flexibility exercises are strongly recommended for active older adults to maintain range of motion, optimize performance and limit injury. Two days a week or more of flexibility training—sustained stretches and static/non-ballistic (non-resistant) movements—are recommended for senior athletes. Progressively difficult postures (depending on tolerance and ability) are recommended for improving and maintaining balance.
In addition to regular exercise, the study also recommends “proper” nutrition for older, active adults to optimize performance. For senior athletes, a daily protein intake of 1.0 to 1.5 g/kg is recommended, as well as carbohydrate consumption of 6 to 8 g/kg (more than 8 g/kg in the days leading up to an endurance event).
Who doesn’t wish for a fountain of youth? Magical youth-restoring springs exist only in legend, but science does point to a few simple, healthy habits that can help extend your life. They are:
- Eat a balanced diet
- Keep your mind and body active
- Don’t smoke
- Get regular checkups
- Practice safety habits to avoid accidents and prevent falls
- Stay Connected. When family moves away and friends move on, you can lose touch and get isolated. Don’t let that happen. Build a support network through your doctor, community center, or religious organization.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “Lifetime of fitness: Fountain of youth for bone, joint health? 27 August 2014. Newsroom.aaos.org/media-resources/Press-releases/lifetime-of-fitness-a-fountain-of-youth-for-bone-and-joint-health.htm.
G. Vopat, S. A. Klinge, P. K. McClure, P. D. Fadale. The Effects of Fitness on the Aging Process. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2014; 22 (9): 576 DOI: 10.5435/JAAOS-22-09-576.