During our lifetime, the human body is constantly undergoing visible and invisible changes. Spiritual, intellectual, and emotional changes are among the most prevalent due to the experiences we have accumulated over a lifetime. However, one of the most recognizable age-related changes occurs physically as our bodies begin to lose strength as we grow older. Some individuals age beautifully and manage to stay alert and active throughout their entire lives. On the other hand, some experience the symptoms of osteoarthritis and other age-related health concerns.
According to the National Council on aging, falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults and result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually. Most falls are due to a combination of factors but with the high availability of information regarding physical fitness, which type of training will allow you to mitigate fall risks and add more life to your days?
The Effects of Aging
Aging is a natural process we all go through and although aging in and of itself isn’t a problem, it can become one when it begins to affect your overall quality of life. Some of the normal health issues that accompany aging are muscle weakness, skeletal weakness, lower energy, changes in physical appearance, and diminished brain function.
When discussing the improvement of these age-related health issues, flexibility, mobility, stability, and strength training are without a doubt the most prescribed types of training. However, before we can decide which mode of training best suits our needs, it is crucial that we are able to define them.
Flexibility is the absolute range of motion in a joint or system of joints, and the length of muscle that crosses the joint involved. It directly connects with the distance and direction a joint can move (Range of Motion, ROM) and mobility, but does not directly correlate with strength, balance, and coordination.
Though flexibility and mobility sound similar, they are not interchangeable. Mobility within a joint is the degree to which the area where two bones meet is allowed to move before restricted by the surrounding tissue such as tendons, muscle, and ligaments. Think of mobility as the range of uninhibited motion around the joint. A good level of mobility allows a person to perform movements without restriction, while a person with good flexibility may not have the strength, coordination, or balance to execute the same movement. Good flexibility does not always denote good mobility.
Mobility relates to movement while stability relates to control. Stability is defined as the ability to maintain control of joint movement or position by coordinating actions of surrounding tissues and the neuromuscular system. Joint stability depends largely on the shape, size, and arrangement of the joints, ligaments, and muscles.
Strength is the physical energy that you have, which gives you the ability to perform various actions, such as lifting or moving things. Force is the foundation of most physical qualities and strength stabilizes the body and your actions; for example if you are running, stronger muscles will absorb impact, rather than tendons and joints.
Furthermore, the stronger you are, the more efficient you will be at a given movement. Take note that strength is not an action (lifting weights); strength is used to realize muscular actions and any muscular action requiring tension (maintaining balance while walking) requires strength.
Connecting the Dots
Though maintaining flexibility is important, flexibility alone cannot prevent or heal injuries. A person can be very flexible, but lack mobility or stability within a joint. Rather than consider one more important than the other, think of flexibility and mobility as equal partners in creating sound movement patterns and strength is the realization of those movements.
According to studies cited by WebMD, individuals over 30 with a sedentary lifestyle can lose up to 5% of their total muscle mass each decade. This can be cause for serious concern since it could easily impact your mobility, stability, flexibility, strength, and overall quality of life. The loss of strength and muscle mass caused by aging, also known as sarcopenia, can increase response times and reduce water content which makes it difficult to react to and manage physical stress resulting in aging people become less able to perform daily tasks, such as maintaining balance while walking or opening a jar.
Moreover, the heart (yes, this is a muscle) starts to pump smaller quantities of blood to the organs that require nutrients and oxygen to function properly. As a result, older individuals get tired faster and need longer periods of time to recover. A well-balanced strength training plan will help you keep your muscle mass longer and preserve the muscle tone required to hold on to your independent lifestyle, attractive appearance, and youthful spirit for a longer period of time.
As we age, our skeletons tend to become more subject to arthritis, osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis. These can lead to pain, decreased mobility and a higher risk of fractures leading to life-threatening falls. The Arthritis Foundation suggests that lifting weights offers numerous benefits to help manage arthritis pain. Exercise keeps muscles around affected joints strong, lubricates the joints, decreases bone loss and helps control joint swelling and pain. People with osteoporosis and mild to moderate osteoarthritis may be able to avoid surgery if they exercise.
Like muscles, bones become stronger when they are active. Weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones by making them produce more cells. Also, those who exercised reported improved flexibility and ability to perform physical activities compared with those who did not exercise.
In an online article published by Time Magazine, Resistance training can also slow the cognitive decline associated with aging. Where previously positive associations had been seen between aerobic activity, particularly walking, and cognitive health, these latest studies show that resistance training is emerging as particularly valuable for older adults. Lifting weights also improved memory and staved off the effects of dementia as well as attention span and ability to resolve conflicts.
Best Type of Training
While having big muscles might hold some appeal for some of us, it’s your strength that really matters when it comes to functioning well in old age. If you’re training right, getting stronger is relatively easy, even if your body type doesn’t build muscle easily. Note: It is paramount to find the right coach for your needs and if you are having difficulty taking a look at Dr. Chris Holder’s article, 7 Steps To Find The Best Coach For You.
High-intensity resistance training is the best way to increase and maintain muscle function. The best results come from high-intensity interval training, which is lifting weight that’s 80 percent or more of the maximum amount you can physically do. Two, preferably three, sessions a week is ideal and the most important thing is intensity and progression. If you can tolerate it, increase your power as well as strength by performing high-velocity, high-intensity movements, an example of that would be lifting a heavy weight quickly, then slowly lowering it down. If you don’t have arthritis or other joint problems, adding high-impact movements, like jumping, improves bone density, can help to prevent osteoporosis.
Strength training specifically can help combat many of the physical problems associated with aging. It will help maintain muscular strength giving greater mobility and helping avoid the risk of falling. Strength training will also keep your bones strong, helping to avoid the risk of fractures that lead to expensive hospital bills.
Finally, it improves your brain function as well as maintain a physically attractive appearance. Although the number of birthday candles on your birthday cake can equal to the number of things that stop working, remember that strength is never a weakness and your birthday candles will equal the things you can do instead of the things you can’t.
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2. Important Facts about Falls | Home and Recreational Safety | CDC Injury Center. Cdc.gov. 5 May 2018.
3. Falls Prevention Facts. NCOA. 5 May 2018.
4. Sifferlin, A. Mind Your Reps: Exercise, Especially Weight Lifting, Helps Keep the Brain Sharp. TIME.com. 5 May 2018.
5. You don’t have to give in to aging: How strength training can make you younger. The Globe and Mail. 5 May 2018.
6. Sarcopenia With Aging. WebMD. 5 May 2018.