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How to Take Control of Your Aging Physiology

Senior couple doing yogaa

By Eve Anderson 

People live longer today. Most of us want to look and feel our best at any age. Questions about how to take control of your aging physiology are often discussed with friends, doctors, and physical therapists. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), a physical therapist can play a significant role in the process of healthy aging.

As a specialist in maximizing healthy body function, the physical therapist has the knowledge and experience many need to maintain or improve their functionality. That’s because it’s sometimes difficult to grasp the fact that a person may be considered medically well and functionally ill. Most of us want to become optimally functional. Here is some information that will help you achieve that.

How to Maximize Your Body’s Functionality

Have you noticed that some older people seem quite youthful while others suffer from many aches and pains? Debilitating arthritis and other inflammatory conditions aren’t inevitable with time. Power wheelchairs and newly designed walkers for the elderly are in demand but wouldn’t you rather walk strong and tall without them?

The United Nations projects that by 2050, more than 430 million people on earth will be 80 years or older. This figure is about three times the number of octogenarians alive in 2017.

Modern medicine continues to prolong the lives of people with chronic diseases, disorders, and other comorbidities that might have presaged early death in decades past. With prescription medicines, it’s possible for millions to continue to live unhealthy or sedentary lifestyles even with the emergence of, or predisposition for, serious diseases. Although both men and women are living longer today because of these medical advances, they have lost bodily function.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports that death rates from falls have gone up 30 percent (2007 – 2016) in people aged 65 or older. The CDC predicts that if falls in the elderly population continue to rise, approximately seven people will die each hour from falls by 2030.

In the same way that allopathic medicine evolved to manage disease, physical therapists know that modern physical therapy supports healthy aging to avoid needless and sometimes deadly falls in our elder population.

According to Bridge Physical Therapy, a physical therapy clinic based out of Ogden, Utah, there are many benefits that physical therapy can provide for both the young and the elderly populations. These benefits include better mobility, balance, and injury prevention.

What’s “Functional” In Healthy Aging?

Today, many of us mistakenly believe that, as we age, it’s normal and okay to move less. This fact may have been true when our parents and grandparents retired. On average, the retired worker of that day lived an average of only 10 post-retirement years.

An older person today may accept aches and pains without question. Unfortunately, pain leads to greater immobility. Immobility leads to less daily walks and less aerobic function. The man or woman who limits their movement throughout the day may also stop drinking enough water to avoid the need for bathroom breaks.

Ultimately, aches and pains may result in staying firmly upright or maintaining one’s balance. At that point, the individual may need a walker or power chair. Unfortunately, typical walkers cause the user to hunch over, so it’s even less likely for the man or woman to improve their mobility. Soon, family members may feel that their loved one needs the assistance of a nurse’s aide to remain safely at home. If the older person can’t find the right helpmate, assisted living may be the next step.

How to Break the Circle of Immobility

Physical therapists are familiar with the circle of immobility. Many older people become immobile over time and lose their independence because of what seems normal now. Beginning physical therapy at the start of “aches and pains” is critical. All too often, medical providers don’t mention physical therapy until after the older person suffers a fall.

It’s a medical fact that changes in physiology can affect the aging process, including

  • cognitive strength
  • heart health
  • muscle fiber repair
  • bone metabolism

None of these medical and physiological discoveries are “new.” These unfortunate changes in physiology have been considered a normal part of the aging process. As physical therapists and athletes know, it’s essential to “use it or lose it,” and that’s the reason these physiological changes and others shouldn’t be considered the norm.

Targeted physical therapy is often a simple fix. It’s possible for a person to improve the above and other areas of health with movement. Simple physical activity is the good news. Of course, for people who haven’t enjoyed regular physical movement for months or years, a physical therapist can make the difference in navigating any obstacles. It’s even possible to prevent the physical and functional obstacles by making physical activity a regular part of daily life.

Physical therapy is invaluable to improving older adults’ function. Whether the individual needs exercise guidance or educational improvements and intervention, your physical therapist is your healthy aging consult. We have the tools to help you live a healthier, more functional life in spite of normal or abnormal experiences in the aging process.

Function vs. Nonfunction in Aging

We view the aging process as functional vs. nonfunctional aging. As we age, it’s more important to feed the body. Along with healthy physical activity, sleep and nutrition are crucial components of improving your functional self. During physical therapy sessions, it’s important to discuss the development of muscle mass and healthy eating habits.

If you can’t get up from a recliner chair without help, or don’t have enough energy through the day because of poor sleep, simple movement won’t succeed.

We should look at physical therapy as the combination of everything that contributes to healthy functional aging. From increased muscle functionality, increased flexibility, healthier diet and a more stable sleep regimen, physical therapy can be the road map to improve all aspects of your physical health. It is the ultimate goal of a physical therapist to improve their patients’ quality of life and their perspectives about healthy living.

Eve Anderson is a quirky, sharp, and meticulous copywriter with a bachelor’s in communications from Washington State University. She loves exploring antique stores, roaming redwood forests, and critiquing the absurdities of modern civilization.


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