Effects of ageing on
muscles, bones and joints
Changes to the muscles, bones and joints were once
considered to be inevitable too. Researchers now suggest, however, that many
ageing-related factors are due to inactivity, and that performing physical
activity can help reduce or reverse the risk of disability and chronic disease.
Muscle and bone
conditions as we age
Disability is very common as we get older. In older people,
common conditions affecting muscles and the skeleton, or the musculoskeletal
Osteoarthritis – Cartilage breaks down within
the joint, causing pain and stiffness
Osteomalacia – Bones become soft due to
metabolism problems with vitamin D
Osteoporosis – the bones become fragile and lose
mass. Fractures are more likely
Rheumatoid arthritis – joint inflammation
Muscle weakness and pain – any of the conditions
mentioned above may affect the proper functioning of the muscles in question.
Muscle loses size and strength as we get older, which can
lead to tiredness, fatigue and decreased exercise tolerance. This is due to a
number of factors which work together, including:
Muscle fibres are decreasing in number and
diminishing in thickness.
The muscle tissue is more slowly replaced and
the missing muscle tissue is replaced by a tougher and more fibrous tissue.
Changes in the nervous system contribute to
decreased tone and decreased ability to contract.
Changes in bone
related to age
Bone is the fabric of living. When we age, the bone
structure changes and this contributes to bone tissue loss. Small bone mass
means bones are thinner and risk breaking from a sudden bumps or falls.
Bones are getting less dense when we age for a number of
An inactive lifestyle causes wasting to the
Hormonal changes – menopause in women triggers
mineral loss in bone tissue. In men, the gradual decline in sex hormones can
lead to osteoporosis.
Bones lose calcium and other minerals.
Alterations in joints
related to age
Bones in a joint do not touch one another directly.
Cartilage that line your joints (articular cartilage), synovial membranes
around the joint and a lubricating fluid within your joints (synovial fluid)
cushion them. The joint movement becomes stiffer and less flexible as you age
because the amount of lubricating fluid inside your joints decreases and the
cartilage becomes thinner. Likewise, ligaments tend to shorten and lose
flexibility, making joints feel stiff.
Many of those age-related joint changes are due to lack of
exercise. Joint motion, and the associated movement ‘stress,’ helps to keep the
fluid moving. Being inactive causes the cartilage to shrink and stiffen, thus
reducing mobility in the joint.
Exercise can prevent numerous age-related changes in
muscles, bones and joints – and also reverse those changes. It is never too
late to start living and enjoying the benefits of an healthy lifestyle.
Exercise can strengthen the bones and help to
reduce the rate of bone loss.
Older people can increase muscle mass and
strength through exercises that strengthen the muscles.
Exercises of balance and coordination, such as
Pilates, can help to reduce the risk of falls.
Physical activity may delay the progression of
osteoporosis as it slows down the rate at which bone mineral density decreases.
Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or
weight training, is the best sort of exercise for bone mass maintenance.
Twisting or rotational movements, where the muscle attachments pull on the
bone, can also to be beneficial.
Older people who exercise in water (which is not
weight-bearing) may still experience bone and muscle mass increases compared to
older sedentary people.
Stretching is another excellent way to help keep
the joints flexible.
You should always consult your healthcare professional or
your doctor before beginning any new physical activity programme. If you
haven’t exercised for a long time, are elderly or have a chronic condition
(such as arthritis), your doctor, or physiotherapist may help you customise an
appropriate and healthy exercise plan. If you have osteoporosis, it might be
best to take more calcium, too. Medications are often needed to treat
If you have any further questions about any aches or pains
or advice, please contact the clinic on 028 92666959, or email
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