Time and tide wait for none. Growing older is an inevitable part of our lives. Often, ageing in senior citizens is associated with weakness, loss of energy and mobility. But when there are 70-year-old bodybuilders and athletes healthier and livelier than many people in their 20s and 30s, one could ask – do we have more control over our health in our later days than we realise?
Whether you are fresh into retirement or fresh out of college, understanding how mobility is lost and how it can be preserved can go a long way in improving your quality of life.
How is mobility lost? The role of collagen
Generally, people in their 70s and 80s are more likely to experience certain conditions like osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and neuromuscular disorders, which can severely impact mobility. But the best way to prevent these conditions is to resort to the same medicine for general age-related mobility loss – physical activity.
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Doctors and researchers across the world stress the importance of maintaining a healthy amount of physical activity as it decreases the probability of developing mobility issues later on in life. It may not be a sure guarantee, but it dramatically shifts the odds in your favour, and even if you do experience a condition impacting mobility in your later days, your ability to overcome that condition will be much greater.
General age-related mobility loss occurs due to the breakdown of collagen, a structure that holds water and allows our joints to be fluid and supple. The loss of collagen, therefore, means that the affected joints cannot execute their full range of motion as easily as before. A sedentary lifestyle or lack of physical activity can increase the rate at which this deterioration occurs.
“Often with age, there is a natural degeneration. Joints do not function as they once used to. Sometimes, it’s a vicious cycle – people who are elderly find it difficult to be mobile because of weak joints and bones, and so they choose to be less active, but this only further weakens these points,” says Dr Steve Paul Manjaly, a geriatric specialist at Apollo hospital, Bangalore.
Hence, reduced mobility has as much to do with changing lifestyles as changing bodies, and the primary reason why many people experience reduced mobility in their later years is reduced physical activity.
How to maintain mobility in old age
‘You’re as old as you feel’ may sound factually untrue but it is generally good advice. Many elderly athletes who have remained in great shape share that even after they crossed the 60- or 70-year mark, they did not reduce their physical activity. They maintained their enthusiasm for fitness and sport even if people their age are generally expected to drop these things and turn to a quiet, low-energy lifestyle.
“Being physically active will help keep all the diseases away. So far, I have faced no health issues and I have also developed strong immunity. Every day I work out for an hour; working out has become part of my life,” shares H Ramappa, a resident of Shivamogga and a farmer, in a conversation with Happiest Health about his passion for bodybuilding and how he has been continuing it at the age of 70.
He says that while most people give up their passion for sports after a certain age, it was not the same for him as he was even more motivated to build his body and stay fit. “People would look at me and appreciate my determination for building my body at this age which made me proud. I wanted to inspire people, especially youngsters to change their lifestyles. I tell them that if I could do it at this age then they could as well. If people are not active, they will face mobility issues at a later stage of life. Starting workouts at an early age will keep them fit and they will have no age-related ailments,” he says.
For senior citizens, Ramappa has one piece of advice – it is never too late to start working out. “They could start little by little and this will help them to be more fit and independent. I believe that age is just a number and people above 60 can also start working out even if it is for the first time. But they should do it with the help of an expert’s advice,” he says.
Some tips that may help you in this journey
- Make sure you get enough exercise regularly. Walking is very helpful to keep your knee joints in shape, but remember to exercise those joints and muscles that may not be stimulated by walking.
- If you sit at a desk for work for long hours, ensure that you are maintaining a healthy posture and taking sufficient breaks to move around and stretch your legs.
- Try to take the stairs more often if this is an option.
- Visit your doctor from time to time for check-ups. Detecting health conditions early can reduce their impact and increase your ability to overcome them.
- If you enjoy playing sports or being physically active in some other way, maintain that enthusiasm even when you’re growing older and are expected to drop them.
After all, if something makes you happy and keeps you healthy, why should you let it go? Happiness and health are what make life so vibrant, and so, you are truly only as old as you feel.