Top 10 Tips on Aging Well, from a PT


Aging well? Can you? YES!

Over the course of my physical therapy career (30 + years) I have learned a few things from my clients who have aged well. In fact I have learned A LOT. I have also given a lot of advice about how to handle the aging body and think I can offer you some good advice. So I’ve narrowed this down to my top 10 tips on aging to live your life to the fullest and manage the body changes we all go through. (There are probably a lot more tips that I could give you but I’ll limit it to 10 for now)

1.You can strengthen at ANY age!

YES you can lift heavy weights as you get older. Done are the days of “I’m too old for weight lifting”. Research has shown repeatedly that you can see muscle changes and strengthening at ANY age. Starting at age 30 you will lose 3-5% per decade of muscle. This is called sarcopenia. This is a natural process but can lead to decreased stamina, frailty and increase risk for falls. You can help this with 2 things- 1. Diet. You need about .45 grams of protein per pound of body weight to build muscle. Protein is critical and diet often suffers as we age. Of course you also need healthy carbohydrates which are an energy source for the body as you exercise. 2. Exercise- specifically weight training 3 times a week – (we will talk about cardio in a minute). And I mean heavy weights. Not the 2-3 pound free weights in your closet. A study at the University of Michigan showed that muscle mass could be increased an average of 2.5 lbs in just 5 months. Not only did weight training reverse age –related muscle loss, it actually built lots of new muscle tissue. YAY that’s good news!

2. You can gain flexibility at ANY age!

Flexibility is SO important. Your body needs full range of motion in its joints to move well and help keep your posture in check. Improvements in flexibility can happen at any age. Studies show that regular stretching and mobility training can change muscle fiber length and cause you to move freer and with greater ease. It also helps you feel better and releases stress related tension. Pilates is a great program for strength with length, incorporating in strengthening along with flexibility.

3.  Pain is not the BOSS of you! ( say it again)

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 50 million US adults experience chronic pain. This contributes to increase medical costs, lost time at work, depression and poor quality of life. You can learn to manage, and even eliminate pain with the right guidance from a health care professional. Many people do not even ask to see a physical therapist during a doctors’ visit for pain. The doctor often will just prescribe medication as a first step. Finding the causes of your pain via, testing, postural analysis, strength testing, body mechanics analysis and more can often change pain or get rid of it for good. DON’T assume there is no help and that it’s just a part of aging. Not true, not true.

4.  Try PT first before drugs, injections, or surgery for back pain!

The last point leads me to this one! Low back pain is often treated first with medication. Despite the overwhelming research that shows that physical therapy intervention can be as effective if not better than surgery- with much less risk. I can already hear you all saying “but I have herniated discs, I have arthritis, I have a pinched nerve.” Etc. Doesn’t matter! (Unless you have a disc rupture, which does require surgery.) The fix will not be quick. You need to have a proper posture and strength evaluation done to see what exactly is going on. Physical therapists get a lot more training in evaluating this than your primary care physicians. We will spend time analyzing movement, your alignment, looking at the deep muscular strength and a lot more. And a great PT will be the private investigator  that can tell you where ALL your weak links are. Injections, strong meds etc. will only put a Band-Aid on the problem. And is why we see patients repeatedly over the course of time for the SAME recurring back pain.

5.  You can stave off disease with exercise!

Yes- there is the pandemic. But we have a pandemic of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in this country. 30 million Americans have diabetes. 21 million do not know they have it. One person dies every 37 seconds in the US from heart disease.   We know that regular cardiovascular exercise can lower your risk for all those problems. A 30-40 minute daily walk can help. So move!

6. Your heart wants you to exercise!

See above 🙂 Just like the muscles in your body. The heart is a muscle. It is a pump. You work it harder you increase cardiac muscle mass. Thus you get a better pump. More blood pumped out with each beat and then less work on the heart. It’s as simple as that.

7. Your spine wants you to exercise!

Joseph Pilates said “A man is only as young as his spinal column”. Posture is key to spinal health. Pilates is a core strengthening, postural focused and spinal mobility exercise program. It’s the reason I got into it. I saw what the research was showing with regards to people with low back pain and how they eliminated that back pain. Strengthening the deep muscles that support the spine from the inside out, removing pressure from the discs and facet joints, alleviating stiffness and improving mobility all help you feel better- younger. Another benefit is the improvement of circulation to better distribute nutrients through the body and the discs. So get to a class. Give it time to work. It takes time.  Even your PT, 3 times a week for 4 weeks is not going to change you significantly. Its a start. This is a process, a journey, a retraining, and something that needs to continue. You didn’t get your posture or back pain overnight, and it’s not going to be an overnight fix either.

8. Your brain wants you to exercise!

Studies have shown that one of the benefits of exercise on the brain is a possible decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A quick gym session every other day can increase blood flow to your brain- which helps to boost brain cell production, and thus improve brain health. Also regular exercise will help your mood significantly. You are only one workout away from a good mood. And starting a new movement science is a nice challenge for the brain to develop new nervous pathways to stay healthy.

9.  Balance exercises are a must!

Balance exercises improve your ability to control and stabilize your body’s position. This type of exercise is particularly important for older adults. In fact, 1 in 3 adults aged 50 and over dies within 12 months of suffering a hip fracture. Your ability to know where you are in space, called proprioception- gets worse as we mature and can lead to falls, fractures etc. Adding balance exercises to your routines is crucial and improvement can be seen at any age. Many people cannot even get up off the floor once they are down there. So practicing getting up from the floor as an exercise because it can help with strength and balance too.

10.  You don’t have to pee when you sneeze!

You don’t have to wet your pants when exercising, coughing, laughing or sneezing. More than 13 million women and men in the US have bladder leakage. Did you know that there are physical therapists that have special training in pelvic floor dysfunction? Yes- you can be assessed, and learn exercises and retraining techniques for leakage, urgency, pain, and more. Don’t just jump to surgery and especially not drugs. Again – the problem will remain. It’s better to find out what’s going on and make the necessary changes. NO shame in the game with this. Talk about it. Many of these issues can be resolved with training.

So did you notice a theme here with regards to all 10 tips?  YES -EXERCISE! To quote Joseph Pilates again-“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness”. Wise words. My advice is to find what you like or maybe try something new and challenging. Go out of your comfort zone. Go to a class with a friend virtually or in person when safe. Make a chart to follow a schedule ( be accountable) and track progress and watch how things can change.   You can age well and feel great! You CAN do it!!

Want to join Donna for a class?  Hit the link to see what’s on the schedule !