It is an unfortunate fact that as we get older our fitness and mobility tends to decline. This is mainly caused by muscle atrophy or wastage; a steady decline in the amount of muscle that we have. Muscle atrophy has a range of causes including general disuse and wear and tear but it can be accelerated by some conditions such as muscular dystrophy. In addition diseases such arthritis and osteoporosis make movement harder and more risky as the danger of a fall increases. The aim of this post is not to provide a magic bullet but to show you how you can slow this process and what options you have as you get older.
The single thing that will make the most difference is regular exercise. The more you use your muscles the stronger they will get. Exercise doesn’t need to involve pounding away in the gym. Regularly walking can make a big difference as can running and swimming (more on those later). Strength training however does have greater effect, for the simple reason that if done properly it will increase your strength. This doesn’t have to involve lifting weight though. Body weight exercises such a push ups, squats and pull ups will give you all the work out that you need.
You don’t just want to focus on strength though. Flexibility and cardio vascular exercise are just as important. There is little point in being the strongest person alive if you can’t tie your own shoelaces! Flexibility can be easily maintained and performing stretching exercises when you warm up and cool down before exercise, (this will also help you avoid stiffness after training). If you want to increase your flexibility then more strenuous exercise such yoga or martial arts will help.
Cardio vascular exercises like walking, running and swimming will not only keep you moving, but will do a lot to prevent heart disease and control your weight. Cardio can be as simple as walking to the shops and doing gardening and housework, so long as it leaves you slightly out of breath at the end then you are probably benefiting from it.
Diet can also help. There are a huge number of diets and advice out there and it can be hard to know what to do. I found the most useful advice ever uttered about this subject is Michael Pollan’s phrase “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.” Basically try to eat as much fresh and unprocessed food as possible and you will probably be O.K.
If your mobility is restricted then there is a huge range of different mobility aids available; from canes to scooters. If you need them then they can give you a huge amount of help and allow you to maintain your independence. The cost of these devices can be worrying but not only are there several government bodies and charities out there who will help defray the costs, but you can also cut the costs by renting or buying second hand. For example a reconditioned stair lift is not only about a third cheaper than a new one, but just as safe.
Daniel Frank is a UK blogger who is interested in disability and old age issues.