Summer fun for everyone – keeping active as you age
Who says that the sun-filled, longer days of summer are only for athletic activity of the young? Getting active means staying active, and I tell my patients that this is particularly true in the senior population. What better time than summer to embark on some new, active pursuits that ultimately lead to longer years of independent living and overall improved well-being?
Older patients frequently come to see me complaining of problems in the muscles, joints and bones. Regular exercise can slow the loss of muscle mass, strengthen bones and reduce joint and muscle pain. Research has shown that just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity provides benefit. I emphasize that this does not need to be vigorous — low intensity is better than nothing. In my view, the key is to do something that can be enjoyed and then try to do it on a regular basis.
Walking and swimming are terrific ways to stay active and provide minimal stress on the joints. Even doing yardwork or walking rather than riding when playing golf can have healthy benefits. It is never too late to start, and strength training becomes more important than ever in the older population. Strength training helps to improve strength and overall functional ability.
A significant percent of the senior patients I see in the office suffer from arthritic pain in which the smooth cartilage surface of the joint is worn from years of living or, sometimes, from trauma or hereditary factors. Osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in people over the age of 55. I tell my patients to stay active because exercise strengthens the joints and the surrounding muscles. It helps to reduce stiffness and associated pain.
A major public health problem is fragility fractures — particularly in women. In postmenopausal women, lack of estrogen production leads to a precipitous drop in bone density and risk for subsequent osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercise — like walking, jogging and weight-lifting — helps to stimulate bone growth and, ultimately, makes the bones healthier. Stimulating bone growth and preventing osteoporosis through exercise should be an important part of the senior lifestyle. Once activity is stopped, benefits disappear quickly.
It’s not unusual for people to stop exercising when they develop soreness after starting a new program. The key is to start out slowly and maintain the activity. Sometimes soreness develops in the early stages and then disappears as exercise becomes more regular. My advice is that, if one activity causes consistent pain or seems to aggravates an arthritic joint, switch to something else. Of course, stop if swelling becomes severe or significant pain develops.
So, take advantage of the beautiful summer weather and start moving. Start small, but be consistent — live your life! Preserved independence and healthier senior years will be the reward.
Learn more about Arthritis of the Knee.
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AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.