New evidence suggests that being physically active may significantly improve musculoskeletal and overall health as well as minimize or delay the effects of aging. The findings appear in a review of the latest research on senior athletes ages 65 and up in the September issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Researchers have long assumed that aging causes an inevitable deterioration of the body and its ability to function - as well as increased rates of related injuries such as sprains, strains and fractures; diseases such as obesity and diabetes; and osteoarthritis and other bone and joint conditions. And now, this recent research on senior, elite athletes suggests usage of comprehensive fitness and nutrition routines helps minimize bone and joint health decline and maintain overall physical health.
A lot of the deterioration we see with aging can be attributed to a more sedentary lifestyle instead of aging itself, says Bryan G. Vopat, MD, orthopaedic surgeon and lead study author. An increasing amount of evidence demonstrates that we can modulate age-related decline in the musculoskeletal system.
Keys to optimal physical function and health include the positive effects of physical activity on maintaining bone density, muscle mass, ligament and tendon function, and cartilage volume. The study recommends a combined physical activity regimen for all adults that encompass resistance, endurance, flexibility and balance training as safely allowable for a given person.
In the area of resistance training, the study recommends that prolonged, intense resistance training can increase muscle strength, lean muscle and bone mass more consistently than aerobic exercise alone. Moderately intense resistance regimens also decrease fat mass. Sustained lower and upper body resistance training bolsters bone density and reduces the risk of strains, sprains and acute fractures.
In the area of endurance training the study suggests that sustained and at least moderately intensive aerobic training promotes heart health, increases oxygen consumption, and has been linked to other musculoskeletal benefits. These include less accumulation of fat mass, as well as maintenance of muscle strength and cartilage volumes. A minimum of 150 to 300 minutes a week of endurance training in 10 to 30 minute episodes for elite senior athletes is also recommended. Less vigorous and/or short-duration aerobic regimens may provide limited benefit.
In the area of flexibility and balance, flexibility exercises are strongly recommended for active older adults to maintain range of motion, optimize performance and limit injury. Recommended for senior athletes is two days a week or more of flexibility training, which means sustained stretches and static/non-ballistic (non-resistant) movements. Progressively difficult postures depending on tolerance and ability are recommended for improving and maintaining balance.
In the area of proper nutrition for older, active adults to optimize performance, the study recommends a daily protein intake of 1.0 to 1.5 g/kg (grams to kilograms) as well as carbohydrate consumption of 6 to 8 g/kg more than 8 g/kg in the days leading up to an endurance event.
The bottom line is that to improve fitness levels and minimize bone and joint health decline, when safely allowable, patients should be encouraged to continually exceed the minimum exercise recommendations. Regimens must be individualized for older adults according to their baseline level of conditioning and disability, and be instituted gradually and safely, particularly for elderly and poor conditioned athletes, Vopat added.