As we age, our bodies change in many ways. Some of us age well, remaining active throughout our lives with physiologic age remaining younger than chronological age.
Others may experience the effects of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, which can diminish their ability to maintain an active lifestyle. Knowing what changes occur in the tissues of the musculoskeletal system can lead us to take steps to counter the effects of aging.
As muscles age, they naturally shrink and lose mass. The number and size of muscle fibers decrease, and they take longer to respond. The water content of tendons, the tissues that attach muscles to bones, decreases as we age. They become stiffer and less able to tolerate stress. The heart becomes less able to propel large quantities of blood quickly to the body, so we tire more quickly. The body’s metabolic rate slows, which can lead to obesity.
Throughout life, bones constantly change through a process of remodeling. As we age, the balance between bone absorption and bone formation changes, resulting in a net loss of bone tissue. The mineral content of bones decreases, so that bones become less dense and more fragile. Osteoporosis develops as bones lose mass, effecting both women and men and is responsible for most hip fractures in the elderly.
Joints change as well. Ligaments, connective tissues between bones, become less elastic, reducing flexibility and restricting motion. Cartilage, which provides cushioning between bones, loses water content, making it more susceptible to stress. As cartilage degenerates, arthritis can develop.
Every year, thousands of Americans visit their physician for problems related to arthritis. There are two major types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Typically, weight-bearing joints, such as the knee, hip, and spine, are involved in osteoarthritis, while rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects joints in the hands, wrist, feet and ankles.
In some cases, joint replacement becomes necessary, which is performed thousands of times yearly. The most frequent reason for performing a total joint replacement is to relieve the pain and disability caused by severe arthritis.
Most total joint replacements involve hip and knee joints; however, total joint replacement also can be performed on joints in the ankle, shoulder, fingers, and elbow. Individuals with a total joint replacement can still lead active lifestyles.
Exercise – the Key to Slowing the Decline of our Musculoskeletal System. . .
Many of the changes in our musculoskeletal system result more from lack of use than from simple aging. Relatively few Americans participate in regular exercise, and the most sedentary group is older than 50 years of age.
Stretching is an excellent way to help maintain and gain joint flexibility. Weight training can increase muscle mass and strength, enabling people to continue their daily routine activities without maximal exertion. Consistent physical activity can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease.
Long-term regular exercise may slow the loss of muscle mass and prevent age-associated increases in body fat. In addition, regular exercise strengthens bones and helps maintain the body’s response time, as well as its ability to deliver and use oxygen efficiently.
Moderate intensity exercise, including walking, swimming, and bicycling are all examples, and as little as 30 minutes of regular exercise can be very beneficial. Even low intensity activity offers benefits when the alternative is no exercise at all.