There are so many memes and cliches floating around about ageing, and how we are supposed to feel as we age, and what’s normal – about the aches and pains we should just expect because we are getting older.
Well let me add one more in there for you, that I think you might want to pay more selective attention to:
Ageing is just an accumulation of behaviours!
At the end of our last trail run, Nathan and I met this wonderful couple who were travelling around in their van, doing a Mountain Biking tour of Australia. They were very fit looking, lean, and full of life. Now, if you hadn’t seen the photo, I wonder what image would have come into your mind? A couple of 20-something Swedish backpacker types?
Well, these two were somewhere in their late 50’s to early 60’s, and wow did they inspire me! The smiles on their faces, the spring in their step, the strength in their bodies, and their excitement about tackling some new trails on their bikes where magnetic!
In our chatter they described how lucky they felt, as so many friends their age were full of aches and pains, in bad health, and some even worse… no longer around.
I question how much of it is luck… there’s no denying some luck will be involved, like the parents that life gave us, and making inadvertent choices along the way that may preserve our health and safety. But I think a lot of it is a true return on investment. Make good choices along the way, and you get a compounded return! In fact, these two looked healthier than a lot of people I know who are half their age!
Now, of course ageing has inevitable physiological consequences, and life throws us some curve balls, but I am sure that the choices we make along the way have an incredible impact on the quality of our ageing, and our capacity to make the most out of life. So believe me when I tell you that “ageing is an accumulation of those behaviours”! and if you don’t believe me, believe the two in the picture!!
Only a bloke who’s worked in an office his whole life would think you can work until you are 70!
Seeing this image appear on my Facebook feed made me really think about the implications highlighted by the pictured gentleman. There is no question that we need to think about the national (and global!) financial sustainability of an ageing population and associated pension costs. But surely this can’t just be a financial discussion right?! Do we know what the physical demands and impact of raising the retirement age will be? are we strong enough to cope? Will you carry your strength into retirement?
What we know about strength into retirement age:
Mastering Gravity: How do you improve your balance?
In a previous blog, we discussed how our lack of play and challenge has slowly led to decrements in our balance. Research in the Age and Ageing Journal (2013) has proven that less active lifestyles appear to accelerate loss of proprioceptive acuity and thus would contribute to loss of functional independence and increased falls.
So the question we are to ponder is…. Can we improve our balance after years of not using it?
The easy answer is yes! So how does it work? The best way of understanding how we can approach this issue is looking at the science behind it. To improve overall balance we need to ensure our body is skilled at interpreting what is happening to our body (through taking in sensory input) and then how we can try maintain a position of safety (motor output). For example, as we walk down the street and we trip on a paver. We first need to recognise that we are falling. Physiologically this sensory input is acquired a few ways:
- Vestibular system within the inner ear (the sensations of body rotation, gravitation and movement)
- Somatosensory systems (conscious perception of touch, pressure, pain, temperature, position, movement, and vibration, which arise from the muscles, joints, skin, and fascia)
- Visual system (seeing where our body position is in space)
These signals then travel through nervous system and the brain or spinal chord either create conscious or unconscious motor output which generates a movement. In our example, this would result in a very large sidestep to prevent us from falling. To perform the request we need muscular strength, power and co-ordination.
Training the sensory input and motor output:
- Proprioception exercises: This allows us to train us to recognise where our body is in space
- Co-ordination exercises: This allows us to create the desired movement with the appropriate muscles (to save the day)
- Strength exercises: This allows us the necessary strength to produce the actions
If you would like more information regarding your ability to master your own gravity, I am more than happy to have a chat.
I’m sorry, but I have to get this off my chest. I came across some incredibly irresponsible and short-sighted ‘journalism’ today (Thurs may 20th, 2010) in Adelaide’s The Advertiser. On page 3 of the ‘news’paper the first paragraph of the centre story states that “the secret to old age could have nothing to do with lifestyle and everything to do with genes.” the rest of the story goes on to celebrate a lady who has just had her 101st birthday (a very happy birthday and congratulations to her!), and to report that scientists have identified the “Methuselah genes”, named after the oldest person in the Bible, who lived to be 969.
I guess that perhaps our public is not confused enough about what to believe about their health, so we might as well tell them now that they don’t have to do anything at all! its all out of their control!! after all, these genes are found in only 10% of young people, and in 30% of centenarians – what more evidence do we need for crying out loud!!! and we have all heard of someone who was a fit marathon runner and died of a heart attack! and better still, we all have an uncle Albert who drinks and smokes a pack a day and just turned 92, don’t we?!
Well, I guess this begs the question: how did the other 70% get to be centenarians?? why is it that the highest concentration of centenarians occurs in non-developed Western countries/regions? could it also be that Methuselah’s contemporaries (and she would have had a few!) got to live as long as they did because they weren’t exposed to the stresses of modern western environments, or the processed foods, or the degrees of sedentary behaviour our communities experience? could it be that they experienced a degree of spiritual health not found in our society? could it be that perhaps their lifestyle had something to do with it? Have we wondered why most (if not all) centenarians are thin? maybe its because their overweight counterparts don’t get to live that long?? or wait, maybe its just genetics that keep them thin!! because in the absence of any real genetic shift in humans for thousands of years, our genetic pool has suddenly altered in the last 6 or 7 decades.
My goodness, I hope you excuse my sarcasm, but a pen (or press) can be a very powerful weapon, and we should’t be handing licenses to use them publicly so easily.
So, lets follow on with our journey through the benefits of exercise, and here is one that is going to get you listening! exercise will slow down and even reverse the effects of ageing! and in particular, this is related to resistance training, or the lifting of weights.
We know that when we lift weights we ‘damage and tear’ muscle fibres. this is that feeling of muscle soreness (not to be confused with joint or injury pain) that we get 24-48 hrs post exercise. Our body repairs these muscle fibres in such a way to protect them from being damaged by similar loads again in the future. this is done by building new bigger muscle fibres.
Now, we know that the amount of muscle we carry is imperative to our health. It not only helps us burn more energy on a daily basis but a lack of it is associated with many chronic diseases such as diabetes.
As we age we tend to lose muscle mass, at the age of 60 we tend to lose 1% per year which doubles into our 70s. The great news is that resistance training can help slow this rate of decline and has even been shown to increase muscle mass in 70-80 year olds!
So, not only do we increase the size of our muscle as it rebuilds, but we can actually make it look new again through resistance training.
Lets take a quick detour through micro-biology to better understand this outcome. as we know, all cells in our body are in a constant state of repair and replication, and this happens through the copying of our DNA code. as we age and continue to go through this replication process, the DNA code becomes damaged, so the quality of new tissue is likewise damaged.
There’s a specific structure in muscle fibres called a mitochondria, which is where energy is produced (this is one of the reasons why increasing muscle mass is so important for weight management). as mitochondria replicates, it also degrades in quality through this process, which leads it to produce an increasing amount of ‘damaged’ by-products. Of particular interest are ‘free radicals’, which create a an oxidative (or rust like effect) on cellular tissue, thus further degrading it (this is the reason why we are encouraged to consume ‘anti oxidants!).
So, back to our muscle rebuilding story. when a muscle is damaged, its mitochondria are totally destroyed, so they can’t replicate anymore. So in the new muscle fibres the mitochondria are built using genetically untouched mitochondrial DNA.
It’s effectively like we are using new parts to build our muscle rather than recycling the old ones. Therefore our muscles look younger under a microscope, they function better which makes us feel like we have more energy on a daily basis.
So make sure you include resistance based training into your weekly schedule. The Australian Activity guidelines encourage us to exercise on most days of the week, but the American guidelines also include a recommendation for 2-3 weights sessions a week. make sure you look for registered Exercise Professionals to ensure you get the most out of your exercise sessions!