This post was featured on Heart on Collective
When we think about aging, we think about decreased mobility, weakness, medications, illness and a lack of independence; however, the truth is that lifestyle is often the culprit, not aging. While there are some exceptions to this statement, for most of us the changes that occur with age are simply the results of years of specific lifestyle habits. If you want to age well, you have to be well … Now!
It is easy for us to put off making the changes we know we should make because we feel like we have time to regain our health. Personally, I want to travel more and more every year. I want to be able to play with my dogs, play with my friends’ children, hike, climb, swim and explore without having to worry about whether or not I am capable. I am also madly in love with my partner, and I would never want him to be held back by my physical inabilities, or to have to put his life on hold to take care of me because I didn’t take care of myself. Life is short, and I want to get all I can out of it. Being physically active is one way to take whatever control we can over the rest of our lives. Making our health a priority simply can’t wait.
Scientifically speaking, we know that many critical aspects of our physical health decline with age. We also know, there are some things we can do to help. For instance, aerobic capacity (our ability to sustain a certain level of aerobic activity for a certain length of time) declines by one per cent every year once we turn 25. If we do not participate in regular aerobic activities to at least break even at the end of every year, then our aerobic capacity will decline until it slips below the minimum amount of oxygen uptake required to live independently. This means that with every passing year, more activities like shopping for groceries, walking up stairs, and even having sex will become harder to do.
Similarly, muscular capacity (the endurance, strength, and power of our muscles) also decreases as we age due to sarcopenia, loss of muscle mass. Research suggests this can begin as early as in our 30s, and the rate of loss increases with every decade, and with menopause. Much like our aerobic capacity, we must participate in muscle building activities to ensure we leave each year with at least the same amount of muscle mass as the year before (if not more). If we do not maintain our muscle mass, daily activities like getting on and off the toilet become increasingly difficult. The inability to perform these daily tasks can mean independence is lost.
So what can you do to prevent the loss of your muscular and aerobic capacity for as long as possible? According to the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology (CSEP), the biggest predictors of healthy aging for women are hip flexibility and grip strength, in addition to current oxygen carrying capacity. For men, the two biggest predictors are grip strength and push up capability, in addition to oxygen carrying capacity. This means both men and women should create fitness plans that target these areas.
Want to know how you measure up? Contact a CSEP trainer in your area for an assessment. This is a great way to create health and fitness related goals focused on healthy aging.