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Fitness for Older Adults: part two - Skeletal Health

Last week we looked at how to define the "Older Adult" and concluded that this should be a definition of ability more than age.

This week we'll look more scientifically at the effect of ageing on our skeleton. We'll discuss some of the common issues which arise from the ageing process and how activity can help prevent and manage these conditions. First, some facts:

After the age of 35 we start to experience skeletal deterioration due to a lack of calcium being deposited within and around our bones. Women are seen to lose more calcium than men as they age. Women lose around 1% of bone mass per year whereas men lose around 0.5% of bone mass per year. Following the menopause, women can experience greater losses of approximately 3-5% per year.

There are other age related changes that occur to the skeletal system, these include:

• Decreased bone density

• Reduced mineral content

• Decreased joint flexibility

• Increased risk of osteoporosis

• Increased risk of arthritis

• Increased risk of fractures

This makes for depressing reading, however much can be done to prevent and mitigate against these changes. For example, here are some changeable life factors which increase the risk of osteoporosis (a condition which leads to the weakening of bones leaving them at a higher fracture risk):

• Poor diet low in calcium, vitamin D

• Sedentary lifestyle

• Smoking

• Alcohol Intake

• Caffeine

• Carbonated drinks

• Long term corticosteroid use

Simply by limiting these modifiable aspects in your life from the age of 35 you can reduce the chance of osteoporosis as you age. Similarly, research suggests if women exercised for 20 mins, 4 times a week over 10 years before onset of menopause, osteoporosis would be unlikely. Update - May 2022: More recently, the guidelines for exercise with osteoporosis have changed. To find out more about how you can best manage your bone health, CLICK HERE

But what about if it's too late?

Exercise in the form of jogging, tennis, biking and vigorous walking is considered relevant for those with osteoporosis. Swimming is also a beneficial form of exercise for improving strength. In addition, Pilates is good for improving core stability, strength, endurance and flexibility. Studies found that golf and gardening did not reduce hip fracture rates, however 1 hour of exercise a day can reduce hip fracture risk by 50%.

When it comes to osteoarthritis (a condition where bone is laid down unevenly on the end of the joint, causing inflammation, grinding and pain), a lot of people think that because it is a wear and tear condition they should not exercise. However, evidence supports that physical activity and exercise does not make the condition worse. In fact, it is suggested that strength training can actually decrease pain by 43%. Plus exercise is good for posture, improves functional movements and reduces the likelihood of falls.

It is important that we focus on protecting the joint. Therefore, low impact activities such as swimming, cycling and walking are highly recommended. It is essential that a program gradually increases in intensity to allow the joint time to warm up and adapt to the demands being placed on it. Continue to slowly increase the range of movement and flexibility of the affected joints throughout a session too. If you are unsure of how to achieve this safely, please get in touch and we'll write a program together based on what your body needs.

When it comes to managing bone health, start early and keep going. If you are considering joint replacement, we'd love to read your story at the Making Change Stick Facebook group.

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