By 2050 there will be 80 million people in the U.S. over the age of 65. Twenty million of those will be over the age of 85. In that population range, you will have very different levels of physical capacity and function. There might be 90-year-olds who are still very active and fit, while you might find 60-year-olds who cannot stand and walk across the room. In consideration of this, which of the following two options would you choose? Option A: You live to be 90 years old, but during your last 10 years you cannot care for yourself and must rely on family members, friends, aides and health care workers to complete daily activities. Option B: You live to be 90 years old, but you are fully independent and capable of caring for yourself until the day you die suddenly in your sleep. Which option do you choose? I have never had anyone choose option A, and don’t expect to see it happen anytime soon. If you choose and demand to live well as you age, then the rest of this article is for you.
Father Time is undefeatable; we will all inevitably grow old. Such is the circle of life. Yet, we all want to be able to do what we want as we age, without fear of injury, pain or physical limitations. While we cannot stop the innate aging process, how well we age is up to us and is determined by the decisions we make in our youth. How active we stay, our nutritional choices, our peer group, self-care, and limiting exposure to chemicals, drug use and dangerous situations will determine if we are old and feeble or fit and active later in life. Managing these lifestyle factors now when we are 30, 40 and 50 will determine what our personal aging trajectory is.
For most people, aging is a slow and insidious process that includes becoming reluctant to engage in vigorous activities. Individuals in their 40s, 50s and 60s perform leisure activities such as walking, golfing and gardening but they rarely engage in maximal exertion activities. They fail to realize their functional ability is declining, and are blissfully unaware of the downward spiral of their physical health. The Nagi Model of Disability helps in understanding this common pattern. The Nagi Model states that disease, pathology and inactivity lead to inactivity, which in turn leads to impairment and functional limitations, and eventually disability.
For a better understanding, read this example. Betty is 60 years old and suffers from arthritis (disease/pathology). As a result of her arthritis, she no longer plays tennis with friends and has gradually become less active. Betty’s arthritis continues to get worse and due to her inactivity, she is gradually becoming impaired as she loses physical qualities such as muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, cardiorespiratory endurance, speed and reaction time. Betty was unaware that her physiological reserves were declining until she noticed that it was becoming increasing difficult to complete everyday activities. She first noticed it when she would get out of breath climbing the stairs and had difficulty handling heavy pots and pans in the kitchen. Soon that led to difficulty with getting up off of the couch or toilet and Betty had to install a grab bar for assistance. Finally, as her physical condition declined further, she became unable to take care of herself on her own, and required assistance to complete activities such as bathing and getting dressed. She also had a terrible time with her balance and was often at risk of falling.
We have all seen a loved one or family member experience a decline like this. Betty’s issues began with a disease state, which led to inactivity. Her inactivity caused the aging process to speed up. Betty could have prevented this decline to great extent and could have added years to her life, but more importantly she could have added quality years had she made a few changes to her lifestyle. My main point of emphasis for Betty would be her routine in her 30s, 40s and 50s. Did she lift weight regularly with a focus on progressive overload to build lean muscle mass, strength and increased bone density? Did she eat well and manage her weight to minimize the wear and tear on her joints, protect her heart, and lower her risk for diabetes? Did she interact with a positive and vibrant group of friends who routinely challenged her physically and mentally? Did she abstain from drug and alcohol use? These are the choices we all have, and these are the decisions that will ultimately determine if we age gracefully and enjoy high levels of function, or if we experience a rapid physical decline.
I know this does not paint a bright picture on the aging process, but it is the reality we all face. In my next article, I will give you a guideline for how to properly combat the aging process and ensure that you age well and stay strong and vibrant well into your 70s, 80s, 90s, and for some, your 100s. If you would like a plan for managing the aging process, please contact us at Wilmington Performance Lab. We will be happy to help create a customized plan for you.
Chris McAbee is the founder and co-owner of Wilmington Performance Lab, a state-of-the-art personal training facility that offers a full range of services including nutritional counseling and corporate wellness. Wilmington Performance Lab was founded on the belief that personal training is not only about making physical improvements, but also building long lasting, quality relationships with partners you can trust. For more information, visit http://wilmingtonperformancelab.com or call 910-399-5441.
Emma Dill - Nov 27, 2023
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