As we advance in years we’re faced with a set of physical, mental and emotional challenges that are quite different from those we encountered in our younger years. It is, unfortunately, accepted by most people that deterioration of health is an unavoidable part of aging. This belief has been proven largely untrue by people like Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow and New York Times bestselling author who coined the phrase Blue Zone to describe areas of the world where people live much longer than average. Blue Zone first appeared in Buettner’s November 2005 National Geographic magazine cover story, "The Secrets of a Long Life.”
If we don’t live in a Blue Zone there are still a number of key areas in our lives which we can consciously address not just from time to time but everyday in order to ensure a wonderful quality of life that can have us running circles around younger people!
[The information in this article should not be viewed as medical advice as we are not medical professionals. We are shareing information and recommendations from and based on scientific publications and studies that are enumerated in the article’s endnotes. As always, when beginning any new program dedicated to health and which is new for you, first consult your physician.]
There are several keys for thriving with a wonderful quality of life as we advance in years. In this article we are focusing on the first key, a set of interrelated conditions: Posture, Strength, Flexibility, Agility, and Stability, to name only a few.
An erect posture makes us not only look beautiful but feel beautiful and confident in our bodies. Unfortunately, many older peoples’ postures have become compromised over time. There are reasons for posture degeneration as we advance in life.
Osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass and osteomalacia, softening of the bones, are major contributors. Spinal surgery may also cause curvature of the spine and imbalance. As we get older bones may lose some of their minerals and become less dense (a condition called osteopenia in the early stages and osteoporosis in the later stages). Older adults often lose height because of osteoporosis when bones become weak and fracture resulting in loss of height. Older adults also can lose lean muscle mass while gaining fat, a condition called sarcopenia causing weakness and frailty and a decrease in height. You can help prevent height and stature loss by following a healthy diet, staying physically active, and preventing and treating bone loss.
Women more than men tend to experience what is commonly called hunchback or age-related postural hyperkyphosis. It impairs mobility and increases the risk of falls and fractures. All the exact causes of hyperkyphosis are not exactly established but experts believe it generally develops from either muscle weakness and degenerative disc disease (causing vertebral fractures and worsening hyperkyphosis), or from vertebral fractures that occur first in the spine and then precipitate development of a hunched over back.
As soon as we become aware that our posture is not what it should be, no matter what age that is, we should create a program for ourselves to mitigate or reverse poor posture. Along with a diet rich in dark leafy greens to enrich our bone density and health, we should include a weight resistance exercise program and a regimen of stretching exercises (or yoga). Both of these will not only strengthen our musculature but nourish our skeletal system as well.
A good set of consistently practiced core-strengthening exercises must be the foundation of any exercise program. It is a strong core that holds the body up, not the bones or spine. A six-pack set of abs is not the goal although it will probably happen over time. What we are really after is developing the abdominals underneath the surface abdominals (transverse abdominis).
Often, the mere act of getting in to the gym and working out consistently improves our self-image so much that our posture naturally rises. In addition, directing our awareness to our chest area and imagining a string pulling our heart center upward can assist us to be more vigilant with and consciously correct our posture.
Weight resistance training is also very grounding causing us to feel like we’re in our bodies fully. This palpable feeling leads to greater agility and stability. We will fall less, if at all, and seriously reduce, if not nearly eliminate, our risk of bone fractures from falling.
The more flexible the spine is, the greater our health tends to be. Weight bearing and resistance programs should include flexibility exercises for the spine specifically and flexibility in many other areas of the body generally. Many gyms offer equipment to help us improve spinal flexibility and strength. Blending a sensible yoga or stretching practice with weight resistance workouts will synergistically create the heightened level of flexibility we are looking for.
In our next article, we’ll focus on the concept of leanness in older age – how to achieve it and why.
Katzman, Wendy B, et al. “Age-Related Hyperkyphosis: Its Causes, Consequences, and Management.” The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907357/.
Zamon, Rebecca. “Want To Improve Your Posture? Walk Around Barefoot.” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost Canada, 23 Nov. 2015, www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/11/23/barefoot-walking-benefits_n_8629098.html.
Palacios, Cristina. “The Role of Nutrients in Bone Health, from A to Z.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17092827.