Aging Gracefully: Caring for Muscles, Joints and Bones
Muscles, joints, and bones are vital to movement. They enable us to accomplish complex feats such as downhill skiing and simple tasks like writing with a pencil. Bones provide our basic body structure, joints allow flexibility of movement, and muscles hold them together to make it all possible. It is important to pay attention to these body parts all the time, not just when they hurt, and to care for them as we age. Proper care of muscles, joints, and bones now helps ensure strength and mobility as we age, and it may mean the difference in growing old gracefully, or not.
As we age, our bones lose density, muscles lose flexibility and joints become worn. This affects mobility and balance, making us more at risk for falling and fracturing bones. Seniors are especially prone both to falling and to diseases such as osteoporosis and arthritis, which can impose limitations on the most basic activities of life.
Even if they are not afflicted with a disease, the older our joints, bones, and muscles become, the more important it is to know how to maintain these parts in order to preserve our basic mobility. Experts say healthy eating habits and moderate exercise can improve and maintain joint mobility, muscle mass, and bone strength.
What to Eat and Why
A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D helps maintain bone density. Vitamin D also acts as an anti-inflammatory in regards to joint pain, as do the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as tuna and salmon. Maintaining a healthy weight decreases the pressure on our joints and prevents inflammation of joint tissue as it degrades over time. Limiting fat intake from other sources will not only aid in maintaining a healthy weight, but it also keeps fatty tissues from developing in muscles, which weakens them.
Exercise and Why It Helps
Talking with a doctor about exercise, especially when engaging in a new activity, is the first step to improve bones, joints and muscles. He or she can recommend appropriate levels of exercise and may recommend strength training, which helps retain bone density and muscle mass. This improves flexibility, which has a direct effect on balance and posture. Strength training is shown to prevent osteoporosis and keeps the disease from getting worse if for those who already have it. Strength training consists of weight-bearing activities such as walking, jogging, lifting weights, using a stair climber or another activity that moves our bodies against gravity. Moderate aerobic exercise helps ease the pain of arthritis and includes bicycling at less than ten miles per hour, water aerobics, and brisk walking. Yoga, Pilates, and tai chi stretch our muscles and keep them flexible.
No matter how old we are, changing our eating and exercise habits for the better will have a direct effect on the quality of life we lead as we age. As intimidating as it may seem at first, incorporating healthy food and exercise into our daily routines now will help our muscles, joints and bones continue to function and allow us to get the most out of life.