Time ravages living organisms. It’s a fact of life. Bones become brittle, spines slowly shrink, walking becomes more taxing and precarious, joints become stiff and less flexible, and muscles lose tone and strength with each passing year.
According to the learned folks at Mount Sinai: “Bones become more brittle and may break more easily. Overall height decreases, mainly because the trunk and spine shorten. Breakdown of the joints may lead to inflammation, pain, stiffness and deformity. Joint changes affect almost all older people. These changes range from minor stiffness to severe arthritis.
“The posture may become more stooped (bent). The knees and hips may become more flexed. The neck may tilt, and the shoulders may narrow while the pelvis becomes wider. Movement slows and may become limited. The walking pattern (gait) becomes slower and shorter. Walking may become unsteady, and there is less arm swinging. Older people get tired more easily and have less energy.
“Strength and endurance change. Loss of muscle mass reduces strength.”
Unfortunately, these changes are natural and will eventually overcome all of us, but there are ways to slow the ominous passing of time. A recent addition to the staff of Spine & Sport Bermuda, Dr Katelyn Trenouth, outlined how our bodies change as we age, and how the encroachment of time can be best managed:
“As we age, we tend to lose lean muscle mass, and develop more brittle bones and stiffer joints. Our muscles demonstrate a loss of tone partly due to an increase in fat deposition and may become more rigid. Lubricating fluid within the joints decreases, which tends to accelerate cartilage degeneration, especially in the spine, hips and knees. Some bones may thicken or undergo mineral deposition, creating visible nodules around the hands and feet, for example.
“The most effective and well-researched way to keep our musculoskeletal system healthy is through exercise. A combination of aerobic activity, strength/resistance training, and mobility/stretching is incredibly effective in combatting age-related changes. Hydration and a well-balanced diet with adequate macro- and micro-nutrients are also critical in fueling proper musculoskeletal function.”
Lifestyle, diet and mobility are directly affected by musculoskeletal health throughout our lives – so taking care of your body now will go a long way toward slowing the deterioration ahead, no matter your age.
Dr Trenouth espoused the virtues of science in helping to maintain a strong musculoskeletal system: “While diet and exercise are critical in maintaining the health of our musculoskeletal system, there are additional avenues to explore in reaching optimal function. For example, there are programmes available that can accurately analyse a person’s lean muscle mass, body fat percentage, visceral (organ) fat percentage, hydration level, electrolyte balance, risk of bone/muscle loss, and more. These metrics may help to identify any areas that require improvement. Functional blood tests through a medical professional may also be beneficial to identify pre-existing conditions or risk factors in the development of conditions that affect bone and joint health.”
The folks at Mount Sinai also recommend exercise, and offer some precise advice on calcium and Vitamin D consumption for seniors as well:
“Exercise is one of the best ways to slow or prevent problems with the muscles, joints and bones. A moderate exercise programme can help you maintain strength, balance and flexibility.
“It is important to eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of calcium. Women need to be particularly careful to get enough calcium and vitamin D as they age. Postmenopausal women and men over age 70 should take in 1,200 mg of calcium per day. Women and men over age 70 should get 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily.”
Another area to consider when we look at musculoskeletal deterioration is genetics. Dr Trenouth analysed the intersection of genetics and lifestyle in relation to an ageing musculoskeletal system:
“Genetics greatly influence the development and maintenance of muscles, bones and joints. Genetic susceptibility to age-related changes in the musculoskeletal system varies from individual to individual, however lifestyle factors do play a mitigating role. Some diseases of the musculoskeletal system are strictly inherited, but most conditions that affect this system arise from an interplay between our genes, and our lifestyle. This concept is referred to as ‘epigenetics.’ Epigenetics is the study of how the environment and our behaviours influence the expression of our genes. While we cannot control our genetics, we can be diligent about maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle in order to give our body the greatest chance at success.”
In this context, giving one’s body a greater chance at success means allowing oneself to enjoy an extended period of pain free, functional mobility. Of course, being blessed with good genes can touch every aspect of a human life – but even the lucky ones won’t defy the passing of time for long.
Natural supplements can give us a hand up where genetics may have left us hanging. Dr Trenouth closed by championing the many benefits of natural supplements and other specialised musculoskeletal treatments:
“There are many natural supplements that can aid in the maintenance of a healthy musculoskeletal system. Of utmost importance, however, always consult your doctor or health care provider to ensure that the supplements in question are appropriate for you.
“A critical vitamin in bone and joint health is Vitamin D, a compound that has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. Other natural anti-inflammatory supplements that can help combat discomfort related to muscle and joint aging are Curcumin, Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils) and Boswellia. Other supplements that have demonstrated efficacy in supporting joint and cartilage health are Collagen and Glucosamine Chondroitin. Finally, Magnesium Bisglycinate has shown to be effective in muscle recovery and energy production and has additional benefits such as improving sleep.
“Above and beyond diet, supplementation and exercise, it is strongly encouraged to see a manual care provider such as a massage therapist, chiropractor or physiotherapist for a thorough assessment. These health care practitioners are trained in the management of musculoskeletal conditions and can assist in identifying possible risk factors, treating pain conditions or optimising performance.”