For centuries we have tried to escape the inevitable: aging. There may be Botox, but there is no fountain of youth that can stop all of the effects of gravity and time. Luckily for our joints and muscles, we do have exercise. I’m not simply proposing that any random activity or exercise will combat aging — you need to focus exercise on key joint and muscular areas. Mindless stomping, pulling, and pushing in our active lives will benefit the heart, lungs, joints, and muscles, but focus is required to combat the aging process. Normal daily activities won’t keep you from ending up hunched over and unable to get out of a chair without assistance.
As we age our muscles lose elasticity and strength. Our joints become stiffer and compacted. We develop arthritis. These are things that are inevitable and cannot be changed, however, you can decrease the speed at which these events occur and improve or maintain your mobility throughout life by staying active, strong, and limber. Did you know that you can improve your strength at ANY age? Even if you’re 90 years old you can get stronger by doing resistance exercises and lifting weights, even as age is taking strength away!
As a physical therapist, I’ve noticed that there are certain areas of the body that tend to lose flexibility and strength as we get older. Here’s a breakdown of the most common age-related mobility problems I have noticed in my evaluations.
- Inability to Stand Up Straight/ Increased Thoracic Kyphosis
- Another term people use is a “hunched” back, where the upper part of the back is rounded more than normal. This is in part due to poor posture and prolonged positioning, which can lead to a permanent change in spinal and shoulder alignment. Most clients with this problem mention they have to sleep with 2 or more pillows at night due to this change in the spine. This can worsen over time and cause problems at other areas including the neck, shoulders, and low back.
- Inability to Raise Arms Overhead
- Maintaining the ability to reach for things in your cupboard or get a pullover on without straining your shoulder requires good range of motion and flexibility
- Difficulty Getting out of a Low or Soft Chair
- As leg strength decreases this activity gets harder and harder and most people start to rely more on their arms to push themselves up, or to unsafely use momentum to propel themselves up. Also hip inflexibilities can make getting out of chairs much more difficult.
- Waddling Gait
- This may also look like a limp and may be related to arthritis, but when our hips get weak they start to cause a waddling gait which places undue stresses on the hips, knees, and low back
- Feeling unsteady
- As strength, flexibility, and reaction time declines, so does balance, though balance can be improved through exercise. Falls is a serious problem among the elderly, so we should all be working on our balance from an early age to combat the risk of falling as we age.
- Inability to take the stairs or get up a curb
- Weak glutes, hamstrings, and quads in particular will make this activity much harder. Although there should always be a ramp, some places do not have one or it is not conveniently located, so it’s important to maintain this skill to stay safe and prevent falls.
- It’s hard to walk long distances
- Aerobic conditioning is very important to maintain through the golden years to maintain endurance for walking, whether it be for several hours to shop or to get all your errands done in one day. Many of my clients who have this problem have to sacrifice efficiency and plan for much more time to get everyday chores done due to low endurance.
These are the most common problems I have seen in physical therapy related to aging and prolonged inactivity. The good news is with physical therapy I have helped clients overcome these obstacles through customized exercises to improve quality of life and independence. If you have one of these problems, find a physical therapist to get a customized plan to make improvements and prevent disabilities! If you’re looking to prevent these problems and maintain your quality of life, check back next week. I’ll post exercises and tips to help prevent these commonly-seen problems and help you get started on a plan to maintain your independence and mobility for as long as possible!