The key to successful ageing

Thursday, 29 March 2018

It is no secret we are living longer than at any other point in history. Global life expectancy has increased by six years since 1990, with Australia continuing to have one of the highest in the world. In fact, a boy and girl born in 2010–2012 can now expect to live to the age of 79.9 and 84.3 years respectively, compared to 55.2 and 58.8 years a century earlier.

Approximately three million Australians (14 per cent of the population) are currently aged 65 years or over, and this number is expected to more than double by 2050. While this is great news what it doesn’t tell us is whether the increase in life expectancy is matched by good health.

How we define ‘successful ageing’ or ‘ageing well’ may differ depending on who you talk to, but I think we can all agree that it would be ideal to have a minimal levels of disability and a high level of mental and physical function in our later years.

A key component in maintaining independence into later life relates to our muscle function. Strong muscles are critical for supporting our joints, enabling us to carry out everyday tasks and go about our lives independently.

Unfortunately, as our age increases, our muscle mass declines and as a consequence, our strength levels reduce. This process of losing muscle mass as we get older is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is a highly prevalent condition affecting 30 per cent of people over 65 years, and more than 50 per cent of people over 80 years. It can have debilitating effects, leading to reduced mobility, slower walking speeds, an increased risk of fatigue and falls, reduced overall quality of life, in addition to an increased risk of developing chronic diseases, including diabetes.

Muscle acts as our body’s engine room where approximately 80 per cent of glucose disposal occurs. Muscles also act as a storage house allowing glucose to be stored out of the bloodstream for when it’s required for later use. It makes sense to maintain our muscle mass and strength into later life, to help in managing diabetes and reducing the risk of complications.

So how do we combat sarcopenia, slow the ageing process and ensure we age well?

The antidote is simple… exercise – more specifically resistance training! This is the most logical solution given that a loss of muscle mass and strength is at the core of the problem. Research shows that long term strength training is capable of ‘off-setting’ 20 years of muscle loss (sarcopenia). Results found that 85-year olds participating in resistance training had similar maximal muscle strength as 65-year olds who didn’t perform strength training.

Resistance training doesn’t need to be complicated either, it could be as simple as performing some exercises from home or at a local park with resistance bands. We have a useful resistance training resource that is available through our website.

Lifting weights or using exercise bands as little as two to three times per week can be enough to improve the way in which our bodies control blood glucose levels. Aim to perform eight to 10 exercises incorporating major muscle groups from the upper and lower body. Perform two to three sets of 10-15 repetitions for each exercise.

If you are starting a new exercise or have injuries or illnesses that need to be taken into consideration, always consult your doctor and/or seek the advice of an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

You don’t need to be an athlete, you just need to move a little more than you did yesterday.

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