age related changes - muscles bones joints

In this article, you will find what are the effects of ageing on muscles, bones & joints, why they occur & how to prevent or slow down them.

Certain age-related changes are unavoidable, such as grey hair and wrinkles. At one time it was believed that changes to muscles, bones and joints were inevitable too. However, now new studies have come up advancing the perception that many such factors relating to ageing occur because of sedentary lifestyle. So, they advocate that the physical activities can help to cut down or even reverse the risks of chronic diseases and disability.

Muscle and Bone Changes In Old Age

A majority of the people over the age of 60-65 years suffers some kind of disability. Common medical issues affecting skeleton & the muscles (known as the musculoskeletal system) in older people include:

Osteoarthritis: Cartilage within the joint breaks down, resulting into stiffness and pain

Osteomalacia: Bones become soft, because of problems with the metabolism (absorption) of vitamin D by the body

Osteoporosis: Bones lose mass & become brittle. Risk for fractures increases

Rheumatoid arthritis: Inflammation of the joints

Muscle weakness and pain: Any of the aforesaid medical conditions can impair the proper functioning of the associated muscles.

Age-Related Changes In Muscle

Muscles lose strength and size/mass as we grow older, which can lead to weakness, fatigue & decreased tolerance to exercise. This can occur due to several factors, including:

(i) Muscle fibers decrease in number and shrink in size.

(ii) Muscle tissues are replenished more slowly, and the lost muscle tissues are replaced with harder, fibrous tissues.

(iii) Nervous system becomes inefficient, causing muscles to have decreased tone and diminished ability to contract.

[Read here: What Happens To Muscles As We Muscle Age]

[Read here: Ways To Prevent Muscle Loss]

[Read here: Prevent Muscle Loss In Old Age]

Age-Related Changes In Bone

(i) Bone is living tissue. With age, the structure of bones change – leading to bone tissue loss. Decreased bone mass makes the bones weaker, thereby increasing the risk of fractures from a sudden fall or bump.

(ii) Bones density reduces, as we get older due to many reasons, including:

(a) Sedentary Lifestyle – resulting into bone wastage.

(b) Hormonal Changes – in women, menopause sets off the loss of minerals in the bone tissues. In men, the gradual reduction in sex hormones results in to the development of osteoporosis.

(c) Calcium and other minerals deplete in Bones.

[Read here: Bone Loss Prevention]

[Read here: How To Keep Bones Strong]

Age-Related Changes In Joints

In a joint, bones don’t contact each other directly. They are cushioned by cartilage, which lines the joints (articular cartilage), synovial membranes surrounding the joints and a lubricating fluid inside the joints (synovial fluid). With age, the cartilage becomes thinner & amount of lubricating fluid inside the joints reduces, leading to stiffer & less flexible joints. In addition, the ligaments tend to shrink and lose some flexibility as well, which further increases stiffness in the joints.

Lack of exercise is a major cause for these age-related changes to the joints. Physical movement of the joints, and the resultant ‘stress’ of the movements help contribute a lot in keeping the fluid moving. Remaining inactive causes the cartilage to get stiffened & shortened, decreasing joint mobility.

[Read here: Protecting Joints & Preventing Joint Pains]

[Read here: Ways To Keep Your Joint Heathy & Strong]

How Physical Activity Helps?

Exercise helps avert many age-related changes to our muscles, bones and joints – and can help even reverse these changes as well. It’s never too late to begin living a physically active lifestyle and prevent/slow down these changes.

There are a number of research studies that show:

(i) Exercise helps slow down the rate of bone loss, can even make our bones stronger.

(ii) Older people can gain muscle mass, strength, stamina and endurance through strength/weight training.

(iii) Balance and coordination exercises are a great way to help reduce the risk of falls.

(iv) Physically active lifestyle in later life can delay the progress of osteoporosis because of the fact that it helps slow the rate at which bone mineral density decline.

(v) Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking (in fact it’s a body weight exercise) or weight training, are very beneficial in maintaining bone mass. It has also been shown that rotational or twisting movements that involve pulling of the muscle attachments by the bones are also useful.

(vi) Older people who exercise in water, even without weight, can achieve increase in their muscle & bone mass as compared to the sedentary older people.

(vii) Stretching exercises is another great way to help retain/improve joint flexibility.

Advice/Caution

Check with your doctor before you begin any new exercise program. If you are elderly or haven’t exercised for a long time or have a chronic disease (like arthritis) take the help of a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist to make a safe & appropriate exercise program tailor made to your specific conditions & needs. And if you are suffering from osteoporosis, your doctor may also prescribe to take more calcium. At times, medications are advised to treat osteoporosis.

Take Away

(i) A majority of the age-related changes to muscles, bones & joints occur due to lack of enough physical activities.

(ii) Recent studies have found most of the people don’t do enough exercise to maintain or improve cardiovascular fitness.

(iii) Speak to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

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