Protecting Your Mobility in Old Age

By Richard Asa @RickAsa
December 14, 2016

The key to maintaining the ability to get around is movement.

"Use it or lose it" is definitely true for mobility in old age, a study says about older people’s ability to get around. 

“Consequently, it is important to find ways to increase or maintain the active mobility of older people. Promoting mobility should happen at the community level as well as at an individual level,” the study says.

Community planning minimizes environmental and social barriers to mobility as well ensuring equal opportunities if you have functional limitations. Even with those limitations, you want to get up and move around to your fullest degree.  


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“Physical exercise classes should be adapted to the possible special needs of older people, the classes should be inexpensive, and exercise facilities should be accessible, so that all have an equal opportunity to participate,” the study continues. 

There are so many different aspects of maintaining your mobility in old age to consider. 

Maximizing your mobility as you age can begin with staying active when you’re younger, in your 50s and 60s. In most patients (55 to 65) who are otherwise healthy, “there is some gradual progressive decline in joint range of motion and endurance as well as strength associated with entering middle age. In addition, this a common time for many patients to develop early signs and symptoms of wear and tear of arthritis,” says Todd Sheperd, MD, from Bayside Family Medicine.

Begin to eat more plant-based foods, move more often, and have good sleep habits, Sheperd says of those entering older middle age.

“The good news is that many changes in the musculoskeletal system can be offset by moderate amounts of physical activity,” Shepherd said. “It’s true that hormonal shifts tend to reduce muscle mass starting at about age 30. However, these changes are only responsible for about 10 to 15 percent of muscle mass loss over an adult’s lifetime. The rest of the loss of mass is related to disease, immobility, or both.”

So, one secret to protecting your mobility in old age is to keep moving.

Another is to protect your joints. Mainly you need to respect pain and push yourself only to the point of slight fatigue or discomfort, according to the Hospital of Special Surgery.

Other joint advice includes planning ahead to balance your activities, distributing work over your entire body (emphasizing the strongest joints first), using joints in their most stable position, using adaptive devices and techniques, maintaining correct body posture, and controlling your weight. 


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“Never forget that stiffness begets stiffness. Keeping your joints mobile is key to reducing stiffness and pain,” Londoner Sarah Jarvis, MD, told Patient. “That can be easier said than done if every movement hurts. Low-impact bending and stretching — including cycling (for knees) and stretching exercises at home — keep discomfort to a minimum but prevent seizing up.”

Make sure you start slowly, and only do exercises you’re comfortable doing. If you feel pain, you should stop. As always, make sure you talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Regular exercise also helps balance, another key to maintaining your freedom to move about for as long as possible. 

Each year, one in three Americans age 65 and older falls. Balance begins to degrade in your 20s, author Scott McCredie told The New York Times, and that continues unless steps are taken to preserve or restore this “delicate and critically important ability to maintain equilibrium.” McCredie is the author of “Balance: In Search of the Lost Sense.” 

The book was prompted by his seeing his otherwise healthy and active 67-year-old father suddenly fall from a cliff, with little more damage than to his pride. 

“While certain declines with age are unavoidable, physical therapists, physiatrists and fitness experts have repeatedly proved that much of the sense of balance can be preserved and even restored through exercises that require no special equipment or training,” writes Jane E. Brody. “These exercises are as simple as standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or walking heel-to-toe with one foot directly in front of the other.”

Maintaining regular exercise will also affect the brain directly, according to University Health News. That, in turn, helps maintain motor function that normally begins to decline as you reach older age. 

One study looked at small deficiencies — called white matter hyperintensities — that happen in the brain as you age. Among study participants the normal impairments associated with these deficiencies were fewer in those who exercised most regularly. 

“However, participants who exercised the least showed significant motor function problems associated with their deficiency levels. In other words, physical activity seems to preserve mobility, even if the normal age-related brain damage is present.” 


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April 07, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN