Health Hub

by Robin Gaudette

Age related slowing — some days I feel more like a 100-year-old tortoise than the hare!

Even though I exercise and work on my farm, I still am impacted by age-related body changes.

What is age related slowing exactly? It is physiologic changes in the neuromuscular system, the communication line between the brain and skeletal muscles.

At about age 60, the body experiences cellular-level structural changes causing a loss of the ability to quickly generate force and a loss of functional mobility. There are changes in the actual type of muscle fibers, the response from the nervous system and the processing of movement in the brain. Combined, these changes cause generalized slowing and loss of power.

Many will begin to notice slowing after age 62 (yikes I just turned 62!) initially in their walking speed. Without intervention (exercise), this dysfunction will lead to a higher risk of mortality. Fatal falls due to dysfunction have doubled between 2000 and 2012 and non-fatal falls have increased by 23 percent. Medical costs related to falls have increased as much as 200 percent.

While any kind of exercise — walking, biking or swimming, generally improves muscular strength and endurance and benefit the cardiorespiratory system, now we are tasked with working with the brain and its connections to the muscles.

The exercises target skill development and complex movement patterns, which lead to improved function and quicker reaction time. Needed besides the normal “cardio” work (treadmill, bike, swimming and resistance or weight training) is complex exercises and patterns that will create new pathways in the neuromuscular communication system.

Prevention or intervening in age related slowing will be more patterned and complex than hopping on a treadmill. Working with an experienced exercise professional or in a class designed to stimulate improvement may be necessary. Skill-related exercises should follow a progression in both stability and complexity of performing the specific activity.

Stability would move from stationary, to stability challenged positions, unstable positions and locomotion. Complexity should begin in a predictable situation of a movement that is comfortable and progress (over time) to increasing the complexity with variations and combinations. Removing the predictability of what you are expecting to do also will improve neuromuscular performance. This usually takes being in a class or with a trainer to make the unpredictable truly unpredictable.

To re-energize some of the muscle fibers that experienced age-related change, a trainer/instructor may incorporate high-speed, low resistance power exercises.

The real take-away is just motor activity (lifting a dumbbell) will create new blood vessels, BUT does not create new connections between the nervous system and the muscular system. Each progression and step must be mastered before moving on for optimal development.

Functionally specific exercises have never been more in vogue as they are now, with our aging population concerned with complete physical fitness. If you are interested in finding out more join me at the Cascade Swim Center for FUNctional Fitness. FUNctional Fitness is a broad term meaning a level of fitness to comfortably perform activities of daily living without undue stress or fatigue.

Whether you attend class or exercise independently, this class will help you zero in on the most important exercises for active aging.

— Robin Gaudette is the aquatics wellness coordinator at the Redmond Area Park and Recreation District. Contact her at robin.gaudette@raprd.org .

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