Getting older, and what it means for your health
We’re all agreed that ageing is an inevitable fact of life, and getting older can usher in some unwelcome changes. As well as wrinkles and grey hair, our bodies also start to age, resulting in changes to our brains, bones, muscles and joints. All of this can mean that we become less active and less mobile, reducing our overall fitness and quality of life.
But getting older does not necessarily mean you have to be less fit and active. The common belief that ageing alone is responsible for slowing us down is no longer as widely held as it once was. Health experts today believe that the negative changes we see in our bodies as we get older are more likely the result of inactivity and an increasingly quieter lifestyle. To put it simply, as we slow down and become less active, our bodies stop working as well as they should.
The good news is that these same experts believe that keeping as mobile and active as possible could help. Regular exercise and activity may actually help slow down the effects of ageing on your body, though studies are still being carried out to see how much of an effect it could have. In short, when it comes to mobility and fitness, it could be a simple case of ‘use it or lose it’.
In this post, we take a look at some of the issues that can affect your body as you age, and explore whether physical activity may be able to help you slow the effects of ageing and maintain a healthy, happy life.
EFFECTS OF AGEING ON THE BODY
The most common ways in which our bodies are affected as we get older are:
● Age-related brain lesions- these are areas of the brain that can be damaged as a natural result of ageing. The technical term for this is ‘white matter hyperintensities’, which essentially means brain cells are lost as they age. This, over time, affects things like memory, judgement and the ability to think fast. They have also been associated with more serious conditions like dementia, and issues with walking and movement.
● Age-related joint and bone issues, such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes called ‘wear and tear’, osteoarthritis is when the cartilage in your joints degrades with age and makes movement more difficult and painful. Osteoporosis is where your bones become less dense and more porous, meaning they are weaker. Rheumatoid arthritis is when your immune system attacks your joints.
● Age-related changes in muscle - as we age, our muscles can lose mass and strength, like our bones. Lost muscle tissue is then replaced with tougher, more fibrous tissue. This also makes movement and mobility more challenging.
These conditions can be troublesome and impact your quality of life. The good news is that there is research that suggests these effects can be slowed down, and age-related mobility issues can be mitigated to a certain extent.
WHAT CAN I DO? KEEP MOVING, RESEARCH SAYS
Physical activity can really help is the prevailing new theory. Regular exercise that focuses on strength and balance, like pilates, yoga and other body strengthening exercises, can help make bones stronger and improve muscle mass. Research suggests movement may even be able to help with conditions like osteoporosis. We’re lucky here in San Diego, the great weather means we can spend more time exercising for our health.
Pilates, in particular, has been the subject of many scientific studies to help identify the benefits it can have on people of all ages, but, in particular, those in older age groups. This study looked at the effect of Pilates for improving balance in older adults. Improved balance means less risk of falling, which is a common issue as we age. Falls are harder to recover from the older we get, especially if bones are broken. As we mentioned earlier, bones get less dense and more brittle as we age, making recovery from breakages harder. Prevention is better than a cure in these cases, and Pilates could help with this.
Another review of ten different studies to determine the effects of Pilates on older adults (60-80 years of age) found evidence suggesting Pilates improved muscle strength, gait and walking behaviours, as well as promoting an ‘improved quality of life’ and had a ‘positive effect for activities of daily living and mood.’
Other research looked at the effect Pilates had on balance and leg strength, and cognition, with exercise, in general, being found to be very good for the brain.
In short, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that regular movement can help with aging, brain-related mobility issues and other movement problems. Exercise of all types is obviously of benefit to all age groups, but Pilates seems to have particular benefits with helping increase and maintain mobility in the elderly.
If you’re local to San Diego and want to find out more about Pilates and how it can help your health and wellbeing, why not check out one of our classes