As we age, we can experience physical changes affecting the function of several key body systems that interact to allow us to remain healthy and mobile. These include our muscles, joint and bone system, our vision, our hearing, and our balance systems. These age related changes can contribute to the development of chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease and dementia. Fortunately, many of these changes in our bodies can be minimized by simple strategies such as appropriate regular exercise and Physiotherapy care, when indicated, thus avoiding a downward spiral of pain, inactivity, balance impairment, and eventual immobility and illness.
Osteoarthritis is a condition of the joints and surrounding tissues. It is the most common type of arthritis, typically affecting the knees, hips, hands and spine. Osteoarthritic changes result in the breakdown of the smooth cartilage covering our joint surfaces, which leads to pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced range of motion. These changes can significantly impact our ability to get around easily. The antidote to this is physical activity – the RIGHT type of physical activity. A physiotherapist can guide you in safe and non-aggravating exercise that will reduce your pain and increase your strength, which will provide increased support to the joints and improved range of motion. Motion really is lotion!
Osteoporosis is a bone disease resulting in low bone mass and increased bone fragility. It leads to increased risk of bone fractures. The most commonly broken bones due to osteoporosis are the hip, spine, wrist and shoulder. Osteoporosis is known as the “silent thief” because bone loss occurs without symptoms and is only diagnosed after a fracture. Together with specific medical management and supplementation, appropriate exercise is vital for those of us at risk for, or with existing osteoporosis. The right exercises, guided by a physiotherapist, will build muscle mass and strength, improve balance and coordination, all of which can help prevent falls and fractures, protect the spine, and improve posture.
Heart Disease is a broad term describing a number of conditions that have many causes, most often occurring as a result of lifestyle issues. Key to prevention of most types of heart disease is maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially including regular physical activity. As little as 30 minutes of brisk walking per day can be enough to limit the effects of heart disease and prevent it from worsening.
Dementia/cognitive decline: Dementia is a general term that describes a range of symptoms caused by deterioration in brain cells. This deterioration results in a decline in mental ability that is eventually severe enough to interfere with daily life. There is good evidence that one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of developing dementia is to engage in physical activity, particularly exercise that increases your heart rate for at least 30 minutes/day.
Nervous System Degeneration: Our nervous system also changes as we age, resulting in a slowing of reflexes, decreased coordination and changes in sensation. These effects can alter our hearing, our sense of balance, our posture, and our confidence when walking, especially outdoors and/or over uneven surfaces. Eating well and keeping active can slow down this degenerative process and maximize our function.
If you are noticing any of these types of degenerative changes associated with aging, you can take steps to improve your situation. Consult a physiotherapist who can advise you and guide you in an appropriate exercise program, as well as treat the underlying causes of your issues. At Best Health Physiotherapy, our physiotherapists have many years’ experience and post graduate training helping people with their pain, physical limitations and mobility challenges.