As we get older, the main lower back pain causes like degenerative changes in the disks cause their soft nuclei to harden and become susceptible to rupture; joints become worn; and bone-weakening osteoporosis affects four in ten women over the age of seventy-five. Almost every one of us will experience wear and tear or hormone-related changes with age, but disability is not a “natural” product of aging.
“People in America don’t wear out, we rust out,” says Randall L. Braddom, M.D., M.S., professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Indiana University School of Medicine. “Elderly folks in our country tend not to be very active, and as they lose strength are more susceptible to, [for instance,] falling. All of us are always tripping all our life. If you have strength, you can catch yourself before you fall. Without strength, you have no margin for error.
“There is a tendency in our society for the elderly to be weak,” Dr. Braddom continues, noting that a sixty-year-old man will have twice as much body fat and half as much muscle as a thirty-year-old of the same weight. Some is hormonal, some due to aging, he says, estimating that as much as 80 percent might be due to lack of exercise. “It’s a phenomenon of disuse, not aging.”
Not all of the effects of aging can be avoided, but many can be slowed. Here’s some advice on how to maintain fitness as you age:
- Stay active. Physical exercise builds up muscles and bones whereas inactivity allows them to degenerate.
- Stay strong. Don’t forget strength training. “We’re not trying to make Charles Atlases,” says Randall. “Just maintain the strength you had when younger.”
- Don’t be heroic. Use proper lifting and moving techniques. And get help when you need it.
- Watch your weight. Extra pounds present the body with extra stress. And nutritional needs change with age; so should your diet.
- Don’t smoke. In addition to causing other problems, smoking wreaks havoc on the circulatory system and robs the body of nutrients.
- Sit smart. Maintain good posture when standing and sitting.