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At what age are you too old to exercise?

Blog written and presented to you by Clinic Manager Jason Dodd and member of the Physiotherapy Department at Bodylogics The Sports Therapy Clinic.

Exercise and age are two things we speak to people about in our clinic on a regular basis.  We often here catastrophic beliefs that exercise can cause arthritis and damage your joints and in people who already have these conditions that exercise can increase the degeneration and lead to further complications. 

The issue is, none of these beliefs are based on scientific evidence.  Most common beliefs like this come about from what people believe is a logistical reasoning pattern and from age-old related beliefs that have ingrained themselves into society. 

Lets take the arthritis of the knee, one of the most common modalities of arthritic conditions within the U.K.  It’s important to understand what arthritis actually is before we go any further.  Arthritis is a degeneration of cartilage tissues which is designed to prevent friction and help absorb shock.  This degeneration can occur in anyone.  People often believe that the cartilage ‘wears’ away and the constant rubbing together of the knees (or whichever joint you wish to refer to here) is what leads to the loss of cartilage.  Whilst this is logical and makes sense, the complexity of the issue is far greater than the simplistic idea that bone just rubs together and wears away, leaving us in a painful state.  It has been shown that MRI scans which highlight a degeneration of cartilage tissue in one individual may not actually create or cause any pain associated with arthritis, whereas on the other hand, a patient with no radio-logical signs of arthritis on imaging, may in fact suffer from the pain and symptoms commonly associated with arthritis.  The point here is that arthritis as a disease is not a straight forward process of ‘wear and tear’.

At what age are you too old to exercise? Bodylogics
This image shows a simplified version of what arthritis may present like in the knee There are many more factors which can influence this and this image is for explanatory purpose only.

There are a number of pre-defining things that can lead to increased chances of arthritis, such as increased body mass, previous surgery, long-standing history of it within families, etc…. BUT in this list, exercise is not often found as a contributor to risks of arthritis.  If anything, lack of exercise is most likely going to cause this issue as bone cells are reproduced under load and if you do not load your skeletal system sufficiently and regularly then you run the risk of a slower bone cell turnover and there a slower rate of repair from any dead bone cells.

The only known times when we would say that exercise can increase the risk of arthritis is in elite marathon runners.  HOWEVER, we need to bare in mind that elite marathon runners can accumulate anything up to 150 miles per week.  This would go above the bodies natural capabilities and be described as an ‘abnormal’ load which is most probably the reason why these findings have emerged.

We recently produced a short blog looking at the effects of running on developing knee arthritis which you can view here. The image below is the supporting visual we added to it and can help summarise the paper.

At what age are you too old to exercise? Bodylogics

But exercise has a wider reaching impact on an individual, especially so in older age.  Although the benefits of exercise can be attributed to any age group, it is of particular importance for the older generation to actively take part as it is in this group of people that long-held beliefs of damage caused by activity are so high.  We need to start showing people that activity, no matter your age, is vitally important to sustaining higher levels of well-being and happiness as well as the added benefits to the physiological aspects of the human body.

Check out our blog here on the exercises you MUST include in every workout .

The text below is a quoted transcript from the Copenhagen Consensus statement 2019: physical activity and ageing.  It aims to change beliefs and fears associated with exercise and attempts to prove that taking part in regular physical activity is in fact vital to sustained levels of health.

Theme 1: functional capacity and health

Being physically active is a key factor in maintaining health and in normal functioning of physiological systems across the life-course.

Physically active older adults, compared with older inactive adults, show benefits in terms of physical and cognitive function, intrinsic capacity, mobility, musculoskeletal pain, risk of falls and fractures, depression, quality of life and compression of disability.

Physical inactivity in older adults is associated with a trajectory towards disease and increased risk of premature all-cause mortality. The conditions and diseases (and their key risk factors) include metabolic dysfunction, cardiovascular diseases, some types of cancer and sarcopenia. Together this translates into increased years of ill health.

In older adults who have not previously been active, evidence shows that multiple physiological systems will be improved by increasing physical activity and undertaking exercise training programmes. In addition, exercise can be used to improve functional capacity, as an adjunct treatment for many diseases and for rehabilitation.

Compared with inactive older adults, lifelong physically active older adults have higher levels of physiological function. This includes the metabolic, skeletal, cardiovascular and immune systems.

Emerging evidence suggests that the benefits for older adults (eg, better physical function and reduced premature mortality) can be realised at lower volume and lower intensity than the often-used guidelines of 150 min of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity per week. There is, however, a positive dose response with regard to volume and intensity of the exercise.

The heterogeneity among older people means that tailored strategies for physical activity and/or exercise are likely to be required for physiological benefits.

Sedentary behaviour may be an independent risk factor of health for older adults. However, evidence is needed on the health benefits of replacing sedentary behaviour with activity.

It is unclear whether previously inactive older individuals who undertake physical activity/exercise programmes will be able to reach the levels of physiological function of lifelong exercisers.

In acknowledging the heterogeneity of the older adult population, we agreed that further research is required to determine the precise exercise modality, for example, resistance, balance, flexibility, aerobic exercise, or a combination of modalities, and what durations and intensities of exercise will be required for optimal benefits.

Theme 2: brain health and cognitive function

Physical activity has proven benefits for cognitive and brain health in older adults.

Observational studies provide consistent evidence that age-associated cognitive decline and neurodegeneration (also observed in eg, Alzheimer Disease, Parkinson’s disease) may be slowed or delayed in physically active adults.

Acute moderate-intensity physical activity for older adults (eg, of 10 min duration) results in short-term benefits for cognitive performance and functional brain responses.

From randomised control trial studies with older adults that typically involve around 3 hours of training/physical activity per week over periods ranging from a few months to a year, there is modest and growing evidence for improvements in brain structure and function, and cognitive, perceptual and motor skills.

From randomised control trial studies in older animals, the molecular and cellular brain mechanisms underpinning physical activity benefits are more clearly elucidated; these involve functional and structural brain plasticity.

Interventions with older adults often employ aerobic type activities, so more evidence is needed on other types of physical activity including resistance training, balance, postural control, active games and a combination of these.

Theme 3: behaviour change, intention and habits

Self-efficacy, intention, depression (negative), objective and self-reported health are consistently associated with physical activity for older adults.

Physical activity behaviour change interventions with older adults result in modest increases in behaviour in the short term (up to 6 months). Longer term sustainability of these changes in physical activity has yet to be established.

Interventions with older adults that are based on established behaviour change theory produce more consistent effects.

No one behaviour change theory is more effective than any other in promoting physical activity in older adults.

Interventions with older adults that combine both behavioural and cognitive behaviour change techniques are more effective than interventions that only use one.

Emerging evidence suggests emotion and habits are also important correlates of regular physical activity for older adults. Future research needs to examine the potential of targeting these factors in promoting physical activity.

The effectiveness of physical activity behaviour change interventions for older adults generalises across mode of delivery, setting and professional background of the person delivering the intervention.

Physical activity is an individual behaviour that is influenced by interpersonal, environmental and policy factors.

Theme 4: sociological perspectives

Social and structural inequalities influence levels of participation in the practices of being physically active among older adults.

Lifelong subjective experiences of physical activity shape older adults’ understandings and practices of physical activity.

When physical activity is meaningful to them, older adults are more likely to continue participation.

Older adults can remain or become active where there are supportive physical, social and cultural environmental features.

Safe, walkable and aesthetically pleasing neighbourhoods can afford older adults the opportunity for participation in physical activity.

Lifelong physical activity experiences and habits have an influence on participation in later life. More studies are required and these should include natural experiments which pay heed to the way’s subjective experiences across the life course, including transitions between life-situations, shape physical activity routines in old age.

How can Bodylogics The Sports Therapy Clinic Help?

As trained professionals in injury diagnosis and management, we are able to offer evidence and factual based advice to each individual. We have a team of Physiotherapist’s, Osteopath’s and Sports Therapist’s who are able to help diagnose if there are any risks/concerns regarding injury and we then have an outstanding Injury Rehabilitation Department and new Personal Training service which can help ensure you are exercising safely and also effectively.

If you would like to discuss any of our services mentioned above then please call us on 020 8368 9220 or alternatively complete our contact form here and a member of the team will come back to you shortly.

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