Is Active Aging Realistic? 4 Ways Physical Therapy Can Help You Live an Active Life

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Active aging is every senior’s dream come true. It’s a promise of leading a complete and engaged life, when the effects of aging don’t stop you from living to the fullest.

But is active aging realistic? Yes! Contrary to popular belief, getting older doesn’t have to set you on a downward spiral into declining mental and physical health. Many signs regarded as a “normal” part of aging can be minimized or even prevented.

Physical therapy is one tool for helping to turn back the clock and make you feel like your more youthful self again. When we break down the typical decline, we can manage the pieces one by one: 1) mobility, 2) endurance and 3) strength, all contributing to 4) independence.

1. Mobility

About 35 percent of people over age 70 have an abnormal walking pattern, also known as gait, and virtually all of those 85 and older have gait disorders. This ranges from simple hesitation and slow movement to limping, staggering, dragging and abnormal posture.

Balance and gait disorders are the most common cause of falls in older adults, according to a review of research (click here to view), which found that both exercise and physical therapy are effective interventions. Physical therapists create individualized plans to target common mobility concerns caused by conditions like arthritis, diabetes, congestive heart failure and more.

2. Endurance

According to the International Council on Active Aging, a key part of active aging is being able to completely engage in life within all wellness dimensions. Unfortunately, a natural part of aging is muscle loss and a decrease in the heart’s fitness level. As a result, older adults can quickly become tired when completing even routine activities.

In this area, again, physical therapy can help. Your physical therapist can prescribe an endurance training regimen customized for your challenges. In one recently published study that you can read about here, researchers found that endurance exercises performed for 30 minutes, three times a week, for just nine weeks resulted in a 16 percent increase in the person’s ability to take in oxygen and a 35 percent increase in the person’s capillary density. Capillaries are important, because they transport waste-rich blood away from the body and exchange it for oxygen and nutrients—helping you do more while getting less winded.

3. Strength

The same study showed that a 6- to 30-week physical therapy regimen increased muscle mass by 5-15 percent in the elderly. Older women, especially, had promising gains with marked improvement in upper leg muscles in as little as six weeks.

The most remarkable results were seen in people who were considered to be frail. Frailty is characterized by poor endurance, overall muscle weakness and loss, and unintentional weight loss. Frail subjects were able to improve their leg muscle outcomes by 220 percent (!) when doing three sets of eight repetitions at 80 percent of the maximum weight they could lift. They did this three times a week for 10 weeks. Click here to learn more about how muscle strength declines as we age, and what you can do to reverse it.

4. Independence in and outside the home

Improving your mobility, endurance and strength can allow you to lead an active life not only outside the home, but also inside your home, where everyday challenges can be tough for seniors. A study you can view here indicates that physical therapy addresses frailty and vulnerability, two major reasons seniors decide they can no longer live by themselves. The study showed that physical therapy and exercise significantly improved risk factors that contribute to frailty, such as lack of flexibility and strength, as well as poor balance.

Get moving for a stronger and healthier you! Call Heather Lane Physical Therapy at (720) 507-3962 for your individualized, preventative health PT program.

(Image by Eddy Klaus for Unsplash)

Citations:
Brown, M., Sinacore, D. R., Ehsani, A. A., Binder, E. F., Holloszy, J. O., & Kohrt, W. M. (2000). Low-Intensity exercise as a modifier of physical frailty in older adults. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 81(7), 960–965. doi: 10.1053/apmr.2000.4425

Cadore, E. (2014). Strength and Endurance Training Prescription in Healthy and Frail Elderly. Aging and Disease, 5(3), 183. doi: 10.14336/ad.2014.0500183

Camicioli, R., & Rosano, C. (2012, April). Understanding Gait in Aging – Part 1. Retrieved from https://www.movementdisorders.org/MDS/News/Online-Web-Edition/Archived-Editions/Series-on-Gait—Part-1.htm

Salzman, B. (2010, July 1). Gait and Balance Disorders in Older Adults. American Family Physician. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/0701/p61.html

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