Exercise and the Aging Population

Paula Allia

Everybody tends to be aging chronologically but the key is how to combat that fact. Isn’t the idea to have a fulfilled life with family, friends, and fun? Well, one of the known facts is that exercise combats the aging process.

Learning about the aging process is important for you so that you can participate in programs to allow quality of life to continue with energy and less injury.

Currently more than one of six people in America are over the age of 65. By 2030, 20 percent of the population will reach 65 (1 in 5 people). Florida already has that percentage of older adults. Many are trying to fight the aging process. There is never a time like the present to do the right things to keep you fighting for yourself to remain younger and healthy.

As mentioned, exercise is a key component to combat the effects of aging. Exercise depends upon muscles to create purposeful movements. These muscles attach to tendons which go into the bones. Over time with overuse or with poor joint mechanics, tendons can get inflamed (tendinitis) and eventually break down the collagen within it (tendinosis). The condition of these muscles is what dictates the ability to perform these movements in a safe and efficient manner.

There are different types of muscle fibers within a muscle and these need to be stimulated and challenged. Commonly, aging causes a decrease in type 2 muscle fibers, decreased strength, power, and even causes bone problems such as osteopenia which can lead to osteoporosis. Tendons may breakdown or weaken. This makes it harder to gain strength as mobility decreases. The aging population becomes more at risk for frailty and thus, falls.

There are movements that shorten muscles whereby the muscle fibers actually approximate together while contracting. This is called the concentric or positive part of the contraction. Conversely, there is a lengthening component where the muscle actually is still contracting but is lengthening. This is the eccentric or negative contraction. All exercise is important but the eccentric contractions are particularly important in aging.

Here is an example of both concentric and eccentric in the upper and lower body. Lifting a box up is concentric in the arms while putting the box back down uses the eccentric contraction. In the legs, standing up from sitting is concentric while squatting and sitting back down uses eccentric work.

Eccentric contractions are involved in motor control. They are used to gain strength, improve mobility, and reduce injury. Muscles shorten by overcoming a load in the form of concentric but then the eccentric controlling component actually absorbs energy by this load. When aging, the eccentric control tends to diminish so the person has trouble controlling this portion of exercise and this can lead to injuries. A common example of this is a controlled squat for functional movement. When someone stands up, they use the concentric portion to shorten and straighten the legs up to stand. When sitting back down, the same muscles need control of the eccentric portion to be steady and sit with ease. If this is lost, falls and balance control issues can occur.

The time to combat these changes is now. It is never too late. People try by taking supplements to assist but the real need is to participate in an exercise program to stimulate the body to maintain or regain its mobility and strength.

There are an amazing amount of processes occurring when exercising muscles that are taken for granted until issues in strength and balance become evident. All exercise is important but understand that an exercise program to combat aging MUST include eccentric training. This portion of exercise is the controlling portion of functional movements.

Exercising with eccentrics 2-3 times a week will help improve the muscle at the cellular level. Thus, it will build functional strength, increase the passive stiffness (which is good), stimulate bone health and overall improve the quality of each days’ functional performance.

Whether you are an athlete or an aging individual that wants to keep your function optimal, add regular exercise to your schedule that includes both concentric but particularly eccentric components. Focus on the quality of your future.
Here’s To Your Health!

Fitness Together

335 14th Ave South, Naples, FL 34102



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