Fitness

Age is just a number

KEEP MOVING: It is the key to longevity.  

Many changes take place in physical abilities as we age.

Try as I may, I simply can't swim as fast at 69 as I did at 39, 49 or even 59. Nor am I as steady on my feet. I can only assume my strength has waned as well as I'm finding bottles and jars harder to open and heavy packages harder to lift and carry.

But in August, I hiked in the Grand Canyon, prompting my 10-year-old grandson Stefan to ask, “Grandma, how many 69-year-olds do you think could do this?” The answer, of course, is “a lot”. And the reason is that we work at it. For my part, I exercise daily, walking three miles or biking 10, then swimming three-quarters of a mile. In spring and summer, heavy-duty gardening strengthens my entire body.

But now that my physically stronger spouse is gone, I see that I need to make some improvements. With no one handy to open those jars or lift those heavy objects, I've begun strength training so I can remain as independent as possible as long as possible.

In a newly published book, Treat Me, Not My Age, Dr. Mark Lachs, director of geriatrics at the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System, discusses two major influences (among others) on how well older people are able to function.

Delaying bodily decline

The first, called physiologic reserve, refers to excess capacity in organs and biological systems. We're given this reserve at birth, and it tends to decrease over time. In an interview, Lachs said that as cells deteriorate or die with advancing age, that excess is lost at different rates in different systems.

A secret of successful aging is to slow the loss of physiologic reserve.

Likewise, we are born with billions of brain cells we'll never use, and many if not most of them can be lost or diseased before a person experiences undeniable cognitive deficits.

Muscle strength also declines with age, even in the absence of a muscular disease. But healthy people do not become incapacitated by lost muscle strength until they are 80 or 90. Thanks to advances in medicine and overall living conditions, many more people are reaching those ages, Lachs writes: “Today millions of people have survived long enough to keep a date with immobility.”

The good news is that the age of immobility can be modified. Lifestyle choices made in midlife can have a major impact on your functional ability late in life, he emphasised. If you begin a daily walking programme at age 45, he said, you could delay immobility to 90 and beyond. If you become a couch potato at 45 and remain so, immobility can encroach as early as 60.

“Minor interventions that may seem trivial such as lifting small weights with multiple repetitions can lead to dramatic improvements in quality of life,” Lachs said.

Supportive environment

As with your body, your environment can be tweaked to enhance life in the upper decades. You can make adjustments at home to anticipate medical problems you are likely to face as you get older allowing you to keep your independence, remain in familiar surroundings and minimise the risk of injury.

His colleague Rosemary Bakker and author of AARP Guide to Revitalising Your Home: Beautiful Living for the Second Half of Life says that most dwellings and equipment today were designed for youngsters, and she has listed a set of issues that can jeopardise older people's ability to function safely on their own:

Windows or doors that are hard to open.

Poor lighting, especially in crucial areas such as the bathroom and kitchen.

Rugs, irregular floors and other tripping hazards.

Tubs and showers that are hard to use if you have arthritis.

Stair widths or heights that are difficult to negotiate if you have neurological troubles.

Appliances and utensils that are challenging to handle if you have limited manual dexterity.

Poor layout of rooms, like a bathroom far from the bedroom, that can be a problem when you walk slowly.

NYT NEWS SERVICE

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2021 6:14:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/fitness/Age-is-just-a-number/article15798259.ece

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