Did you know that people lose 20 to 40 percent of their muscle (and along with it their strength) as they age? Our population is aging rapidly as a result of the huge baby boom in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by declining birth rates in the succeeding decades. Thanks to remarkable advances in medicine and science, however, that rapidly aging population is more physically fit and, in general, destined to live longer than any generation that came before.
As a rule, the importance of proper nutrition and physical exercise does not diminish as one gets older. In fact, it can be argued that staying physically fit becomes more critical the older we get. This helps ward off the effects of aging immune response, circulatory and musculoskeletal systems in our body.
With all the technology and leisure time we enjoy today, it is mildly ironic that Americans sorely lack in regular physical exercise and proper diet, and at considerable risk. Lack of physical activity combined with a poor diet is the second leading underlying cause of death in the United States.
Here are some simple tips for staying healthier as you get older:
- Avoid stress.
- Eat healthy. Eat foods high in Vitamin C (such as broccoli, bell peppers, citrus fruits, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, and strawberries). This will help ward off osteoarthritis.
- Fortified dairy products and fish rich in Vitamin D help preserve your cartilage. Calcium (milk, broccoli, salmon and kale) keeps your bones strong.
- Follow proper guidelines for posture when standing or sitting for prolonged periods of time.
- Get regular physical checkups with your doctor.
- Keep your weight down this reduces force and excessive stress on your body's musculoskeletal system.
- Protect your joints with comfortable yet firm footwear. Use wheeled carts to haul heavy items around the house.
- Do not smoke.
Ask your physician if it is all right for you to exercise, what kind of exercise is best, and whether any medications you are taking may make exercise a hazardous endeavor. In addition, do not undertake any exercises if your physician has consulted you against doing so. Immediately STOP any form of physical exercise if you experience pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or other unusual symptoms. And always remember to breathe normally when performing any exercise.
Choose a type of exercise that you enjoy! One of the reasons many people stop soon after embarking on a form of exercise is that it's too boring, unchallenging, or discomforting. An ideal length is about 30 minutes daily or several days a week.
Types of exercises may include:
- Balance training These kinds of exercises challenge your equilibrium by performing such activities as standing on one foot, then the other, without support.
- Endurance exercising This type involves activity that forces you to breathe harder than you are used to.
- Strength training This helps you tone muscles and lose fat. It also helps to keep your bones strong, which helps you avoid fractures as your bones weaken with age.
- Stretching exercises These help improve your range of motion and flexibility.
A note about posture
Older people should be ever mindful of their posture. Poor posture and its attendant strains on your spinal structures and muscle groups can significantly increase your risk of degenerative arthritis, and muscle and joint pain.
Posture that fails to keep your spine in its natural position can lead to a loss in range of motion, increased pain and discomfort, muscle aches, headaches, jaw pain (from a forward or downward slackening of the head), shoulder, knee and ankle aches and pains, and diminished lung capacity (from the downward pressures of your rib cage against your lower back and hips).