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Characteristics of Aging Bodies

The take-home message is aging bodies have much less margin for error: With increasing age the line between constructive exercise and physical abuse becomes much easier to cross.

Everyone knows about the increased prevalence of day-to-day joint pain, joint injuries and corrective surgeries aging adults experience. But of equal concern are underlying silent (non-painful) degenerative changes to aging joints and spines, as these changes create the potential for pain and injury with the wrong kind of physical stress. This concept is brought into sharp focus if you’ve ever read a lot of joint/spine MRI reports, as I have. From these reading experiences, I can say it’s truly remarkable how much aging bodies can have “wrong” with them without being painful! But the “silent” degenerative changes indicate the potential for pain is always there, so appropriate caution is in order.

The negative physical changes that aging initiates can be further exacerbated by gravity, disuse, prolonged sitting, individual personal habits and repetitive activities. Physically, when compared to the young, older adults have less muscle (sarcopenia); less bone mass (osteopenia/osteoporosis); less leg strength; less flexibility/ mobility (ability to move joints/limbs through a range of motion); and less stability and balance. With activity, aging adults also demonstrate different recruitment patterns for lower body muscles compared to the young. Older adults also have less energy and stamina to devote to physical fitness and also tend to recover more slowly from physical challenges and often require a more gradual transition from rest to strenuous exercise.

All of the above physical changes of aging need to at least be considered and factored in when training aging adults, if not specifically assessed and addressed. That’s why older adult fitness requires a constant focus on optimized risk/benefit analysis which is translated into thoughtful and appropriate exercise choices, body-respecting movement techniques and gentle exercise progressions.

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