By the time many people approach retirement age, they will have (hopefully) done a fair amount of financial planning, including seeking investment advice, so that they can comfortably enjoy the years ahead. However, many of us don’t think of our bodies as “capitol” which must be carefully considered as well. We often take for granted that our bodies will be there for us when we want to enjoy retirement. Many of us want to enjoy both simple activities such as gardening, or more elaborate ones such as a tour of southern France; however, having to abandon leisure plans due to pain or injury can be a reality for many. While you can’t purchase an insurance policy for your body, you can make some key “investments” in your fitness abilities so that you have a better chance of functioning well as you get older. Several main focus areas are important to build in to your overall exercise and wellness routine in order to prevent or delay some of the losses and changes that are not necessarily inevitable.
Some of the progressive losses to function associated with aging can be attributed to the following:
- Cardiovascular function: this decline is more likely to be associated with inactivity than with aging, although by age 65 aerobic power is generally about 30-40% less than that of a young adult. Make sure you do some form of aerobic exercise on most days of the week.
- Muscle loss (sarcopenia): Between the ages of 30 and 70, muscle mass declines by approximately 20% (NIH, 2006.) Make sure to incorporate strength training into your routine, the earlier the better (but it’s never too late.)
- Changes to abilities: Both strength and endurance decrease with chronological age, and therefore older adults often have trouble with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as carrying groceries, lifting boxes, getting up from a chair, or climbing stairs. In addition, a reduced range-of-motion (ROM) be a significant factor in the loss of ADL abilities. The spine and the ankle joints exhibit the greatest losses in flexibility after middle-age and should be specific areas of focus in both flexibility and ADL training.
- Changes to coordination: With advanced age, we experience changes to our neurons, resulting in slowed reaction speeds. Practice skills such as ball tossing, and perform repetitive activities for skills in which improved reaction times are desired.
- Balance changes: Maintaining the ability to balance properly is one of the keys to avoiding falls as we get older. While gait training, and specific mobility, strength and endurance training is important, you can also do simple balance exercises to help improve your abilities. Balance on one leg, on a different surface, or with sunglasses in order to train the different systems of balance.