Does exercise really help slow down aging?

by Lee-Anne Wann on July 28, 2021

Some age-related changes, such as those pesky wrinkles, the wisps of grey hair, are inevitable. It was once thought that changes to muscles, bones and joints were inevitable too. Research today strongly suggests that at least half of the changes to bones and muscles are because they are simply not used often enough.

We often don’t think about the effect minimal movement has on the body especially as we age and as a true believer in knowledge being power, below is a quick overview on what can happen and some start out movement options for you.

What actually happens as we age?

Muscle loses size and strength as we get older. This is caused by a number of factors working in combination, including:

  • Individual muscle fibres shrink in size.
  • Muscle fibres reduce in number.
  • Lost muscle fibres are replaced by non-functioning fibrous tissue.
  • The energy ‘powerhouse’ within each muscle cell reduces its output.
  • Enzyme changes within each muscle cell reduce the amount of available energy.
  • The nerve impulses that control muscle cells aren’t transmitted as efficiently.

Bones start to lose mass during middle age. This process accelerates after the age of 50 years, particularly for women. About one in four women over the age of 80 years is at risk of fracturing her hip. Bones become less dense as we age for a number of reasons, including:

  • A sedentary lifestyle causes bone atrophy.
  • The hormonal changes of menopause trigger the loss of minerals in bone tissue.
  • In men, the gradual decline in sex hormones leads to the later development of osteoporosis.
  • Loss of muscle tissue is associated with reduced bone mass.
Most of the age-related changes to joints are caused by lack of movement. You don’t have to go to the gym or even break a sweat to reap the benefits. Lee-Anne

Cartilage doesn’t have a blood supply, and relies instead on synovial fluid moving in and out of the joint to nourish it and take away wastes. This requires joint movement and some joint stress. A sedentary lifestyle causes the cartilage to shrink and stiffen, reducing joint mobility.

THE EASY SOLUTION – Move a little often

It’s never too late to start living an active lifestyle. Research shows that:

  • Older people can boost their muscle size and strength, just like younger people, through exercise.
  • Exercise improves muscle strength and the speed of muscular contractions.
  • Falls are less likely if muscle strength and reaction times are improved.
  • There is some evidence that older people with osteoporosis can increase their bone mass through weight bearing physical activity, more so in women (in the hip and lumber spine) than in men.
  • People with arthritis can improve their symptoms through regular exercise.
  • Exercise can actually help reduce the rate at which we age by positively influencing our chromosomes

Remember it does not have to be a lot of exercise or challenging to be beneficial

  1. Start small and try some home-based exercise such as chair squats, modified knee press ups or even a walk around the garden or to the store.
  2. Try a little something every day and focus on consistency with movement, you may be surprised at how quickly you improve and how much easier things become.
  3. Make your home movement friendly; get rid of the TV remote, place your rubbish bin in the laundry instead of the kitchen, put away the laundry in batches – create an active routine from your daily tasks.