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  • Nicole Bryant - Physiotherapist (B.Physio

Resist ageing with exercise...

Updated: May 24, 2023

Women boxing with pink dumbbell weights smiling

Some age-related changes, such as wrinkles and grey hair, are inevitable.. or not, depending on the lengths you are willing to go to. It was once thought that changes to muscles, bones, and joints were unavoidable too. However, researchers now suggest that many factors associated with aging are due to inactivity and that performing physical activity can help to reduce or reverse the risk of disability and chronic disease.

"At least half of the age-related

changes to muscles, bones and

joints are caused by disuse."

One in Two Australians is now living with a chronic health condition. The most common conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system, in older people mainly includes Osteoarthritis/Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoporosis/Osteopenia. These conditions can affect the proper functioning of the associated muscles and lead to falls and ultimately a loss of independence.

Muscle loses size and strength as we get older, which can contribute to fatigue, weakness and reduced tolerance to exercise. This is caused by a number of factors. Muscle fibres reduce in number and shrink in size. Muscle tissue is replaced more slowly and lost muscle tissue is replaced with a tough, fibrous tissue. The nervous system loses spinal motor neurons which causes muscles to have reduced tone and ability to contract.

Bone is living tissue. As we age, the structure of bone changes and this results in loss of bone tissue. Bones reach maturity in your early 20s and density begins to decline at age 40. In women menopause triggers hormonal changes which accelerate bone loss. In men, the gradual decline in sex hormones leads to bone density loss. Some people may lose bone density at a greater rate and fall into a level where they are classified as having Osteopenia or Osteoporosis. Low bone mass means bones are weaker and places people at risk of breaks from a sudden bump or fall.

In a joint, bones do not directly contact each other. They are cushioned by cartilage that lines your joints (articular cartilage), synovial membranes around the joint and a lubricating fluid inside your joints (synovial fluid). As you age, joint movement becomes stiffer and less flexible because the amount of lubricating fluid inside your joints decreases and the cartilage becomes thinner. Ligaments also tend to shorten and lose some flexibility, making joints feel stiff. Many of these age-related changes to joints are caused by lack of exercise. Movement of the joint, and the associated ‘stress’ of movement, helps keep the fluid moving. Being inactive causes the cartilage to shrink and stiffen, reducing joint mobility.

Physical activity can help. Exercise can prevent many age-related changes to muscles, bones and joints – and reverse these changes as well. It’s never too late to start living an active lifestyle and enjoying the benefits.

Research shows that exercise can make bones stronger and help slow the rate of bone loss.

Effective exercise will increase muscle mass and strength through muscle-strengthening activities. Physical activity throughout life may delay the progression of osteoporosis as it slows down the rate at which bone mineral density is reduced. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or weight training, is the best type of exercise for maintenance of bone mass. There is a suggestion that twisting or rotational movements, where the muscle attachments pull on the bone, are also beneficial. Stretching is another excellent way to help maintain joint flexibility.

It is interesting to note that Osteoarthritis has been in the news lately as data shows it is on the rise in younger people. Recently published data from the Medibank Better Health Index – which has interviewed approximately 1,000 Australians each week since 2007. The incidence of osteoarthritis has increased from 0.7 per cent to 1.8 per cent among Gen Y, 1.9 per cent to 5.3 per cent among Gen X, and from 7.8 per cent up to 14.7 per cent among Baby Boomers. The data also showed an increase in BMI (Body Mass Index) in each group diagnosed with Osteoarthritis and parallels with an increase in incidence of jogging in Gen X and Y. It's too early to draw direct parallels from that data about direct causes but it is concerning that statistically the incidence of Osteoarthritis is increasing and across a wide range of age groups.

"The take home message however is that

Aussies of all ages should look after their health

by maintaining a healthy weight and ensuring

safe and effective exercise. "

See your doctor or speak to me Nicole Bryant a Physiotherapist before starting any new exercise program. As a Physiotherapist with over 12 years of experience, I am ideally placed to tailor an appropriate exercise program for you.


References: Bennell 2011, Uthman et al 2013, Lange 2008, Ebeling 2013, Kelley 2013,, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare., Medibank research by Roy Morgan Research January 2015 - December 2015

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