It’s no secret that our bodies change as we get older, but the effects of aging can be different for each individual depending on their lifestyle. Those who participate in frequent exercise may have a different experience than those with a more sedentary lifestyle. These changes in our musculoskeletal system result more from disuse than from just aging alone.

HOW OUR MUSCLES RESPOND

As we age, our muscles lose mass and begin to shrink. This is a natural process but can be accelerated with an inactive lifestyle. Our muscle fibers will shrink in size and numbers making it harder for our muscles to respond as we get older. This also leads to a decrease in water content in our tendons (the cord-like tissues that attach our muscles to bones), thus creating stiff tissues. You may also notice your handgrip strength begin to weaken, making simple activities like opening a jar more difficult.

HOW OUR BONES RESPOND

Our bones begin to lose mineral content causing them to become less dense and more fragile. As they lose their mass, they become more susceptible to fracture. It is common to develop osteoporosis, which can cause crush fractures of the vertebrae and hip fractures in both older men and women.

HOW OUR JOINTS RESPOND

The changes in our tendons and ligaments cause our joint motion to become more restricted and lose flexibility. Over time, our cartilage begins to break down, resulting in our joints becoming inflamed and arthritic.

OFFSET THE EFFECTS OF AGING

Knowing what to expect and taking the right steps to counteract the effects of aging can help you maintain a strong and healthy body. Maintaining a healthy diet and participating in daily exercise helps to slow the loss of muscle mass. Stretching and weight training are great ways to help maintain flexibility and muscle. Your exercise program doesn’t need to be strenuous in order to be effective. Just 30 minutes of activity a day such as walking, biking, or swimming can provide long-term health benefits.