The amazing thing is that these legs may even look quite similar on the outside, but notice the difference once we look into the scans!
As you can see, it is not the age that makes the difference, but the lifestyle. (Never let anyone tell you that you are too old to do something!) Those who maintain an active lifestyle and eat clean, nutritious food is more likely to be healthy, whereas those who are not as active will lose fitness and function more quickly as you age. Losing fitness and function is a huge issue for the elderly, as it will lead to a sharp decline in independence.
As we get older, the cells in our body don’t regenerate as fast or as well as they once did, which results in a longer recovery time. A hamstring strain in a teenager should heal faster than someone in their 40s (presuming they’ve done their rehab correctly). One reason for this physiologically is that elastin – the component that allows tissues to stretch – slows down in production considerably after 40.
As well as having less flexible tissues, lubricant in your joints (known as the synovial fluid) lessens, which reduces the shock-absorbing capacity, increasing the chances of developing Osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, there is no way of reversing the loss of synovial fluid production, it is simply part and parcel of the aging process.
One of the most common issues we see in the clinics is Knee Arthritis, and best way to treat this is to reduce the stress on your joints. This doesn’t mean sitting down all day. On the contrary, it means modifying the exercises you do, and correctly loading the joints by strengthening the surrounding muscles. By strengthening the muscles around your legs, they are capable of accepting a greater load, meaning that less force will go onto the knee.
The American College of Sports Medicine states that the population who benefit the most from exercise are post-menopausal women. Exercise helps to fight against Osteoporosis by reducing the breakdown of bone density, which many post-menopausal women tend to suffer from.
As with all things, prevention is better than cure. So it is essential that you maintain a strong foundation of fitness and health. Rather than playing catch up on your health trying to fight off the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle, it is better and easier to look after yourself throughout your life by maintaining a good level of fitness.
As a rule of thumb, the most important muscles to look after as you get older are your quadriceps at the front of your thighs. They are important to strengthen in order to reduce the risk of arthritic pain as you reach middle age, and for the elderly past their 60s - the strength to stand up and walk independently.
For the “weekend warriors” with desk-bound jobs (which applies to most readers), it is essential that you stretch and mobilise your back before every training. If you are not warming up properly prior to your workouts after sitting for prolonged periods, you will likely be too stiff and immobile, which can lead to compensations and injuries in the upper and lower back, hips, shoulders, and neck.
Here are some simple exercises you can do at home regularly to maintain your strength and mobility: