Is Physical Frailty Inevitable as we Age

November 16, 2011 by  
Filed under health

body-well
Last week I had a discussion with two of my middle-aged co-worker friends. The topic was how do we keep ourselves fit into our later years and is physical frailty inevitable when we get into our 80″s and 90’s. The two men I was having this discussion with are in their early 50’s . Both men are the father’s of new born babies this past year (I plan to write another blog post about this subject as well) and want to be around to see their babies grow up as adults. Health is a popular topic with both of these men.

Whenever I get to this topic with these two friends I usually end up bringing up my mother ( see The Green Buddha video ) and the subject of the first oomph short documentary subject Jack Kirk ( see Jack Kirk video ) as role models of positive aging.
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I know my mother and Jack Kirk are exceptional people in exceptional shape for their age, but they do provide realistic role models for all of us in our middle age?

Yesterday I came across the results of an interesting study published last month in the journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine (I have reported information in this very respected journal in previous blog posts)

In the current findings, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh recruited 40 competitive runners, cyclists and swimmers. They ranged in age from 40 to 81, with five men and five women representing each of four age groups: 40 to 49, 50 to 59, 60 to 69, and 70-plus. All were enviably fit, training four or five times a week and competing frequently. Several had won their age groups in recent races.

They completed questionnaires detailing their health and weekly physical activities. Then the researchers measured their muscle mass, leg strength and body composition, determining how much of their body and, more specifically, their muscle tissue was composed of fat. Other studies have found that as people age, they not only lose muscle, but the tissue that remains can become infiltrated with fat, degrading its quality and reducing its strength.
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There was little evidence of deterioration in the older athletes’ musculature, however. The athletes in their 70s and 80s had almost as much thigh muscle mass as the athletes in their 40s, with minor if any fat infiltration. The athletes also remained strong. There was, as scientists noted, a drop-off in leg muscle strength around age 60 in both men and women. They weren’t as strong as the 50-year-olds, but the differential was not huge, and little additional decline followed. The 70- and 80-year-old athletes were about as strong as those in their 60s.

“We think these are very encouraging results,” said Dr. Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon and founder of the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who oversaw the study. “They suggest strongly that people don’t have to lose muscle mass and function as they grow older. The changes that we’ve assumed were due to aging and therefore were unstoppable seem actually to be caused by inactivity. And that can be changed.”

In multiple earlier studies, people over 50 have been found to possess far fewer muscle motor units than young adults. But that wasn’t true for the sexagenarian runners, whose leg muscles teemed with almost as many motor units as a separate group of active 25-year-olds. Running, the scientists wrote, seemed able to “mitigate the loss of motor units with aging well into the seventh decade of life.”

Of course, the volunteers in both Dr. Wright’s and the Canadian study were, for the most part, lifelong athletes. Whether similar benefits are attainable by people who take up exercise when they are middle-aged or older “isn’t yet clear,” Dr. Wright says, “although there’s no reason to think that you wouldn’t get similar results no matter when you start.”
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Until recently, the evidence was disheartening. A large number of studies in the past few years showed that after age 40, people typically lose 8 percent or more of their muscle mass each decade, a process that accelerates significantly after age 70. Less muscle mass generally means less strength, mobility and among the elderly, independence. It also has been linked with premature mortality. But a growing body of newer science suggests that such decline may not be certain. Exercise, the thinking goes, and you might be able to rewrite the future for your muscles.

Perhaps the role models of my own mother and of Jack Kirk are not that exceptional after all. And perhaps injecting a little oomph into our own lives we can be exceptional too.

It’s Never too Late to Have oomph

February 2, 2011 by  
Filed under health

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I just watched “The Green Buddha” video again for the first time in few months, and am still struck with how my 81 year old mother, Jeanne Dowell, still skis, hikes and travels with great agility and flair. My friends still ask how she is able to stay that active. I always say it’s probably do to her genes, but also the fact that she has kept active all her life. There are scientific studies that back this up.

In a newly published book, “Treat Me, Not My Age”(Viking), Dr. Mark Lachs, director of geriatrics at the NewYork Presbyterian Healthcare System, discusses two major influences (among others) on how well older people are able to function.

The first, called physiologic reserve, refers to excess capacity in organs and biological systems. We’re given this reserve at birth, and it tends to decrease over time. In an interview, Dr. Lachs said that as cells deteriorate or die with advancing age, that excess is lost at different rates in different systems.

The effects can sneak up on a person, he said, because even when most of the excess capacity is gone, we may experience little or no decline in function. A secret of successful aging is to slow down the loss of physiologic reserve.

“You can lose up to 90 percent of the kidney function you had as a child and never experience any symptoms whatsoever related to kidney function failure,” Dr. Lachs said. Likewise, we are born with billions of brain cells we’ll never use, and many if not most of them can be lost or diseased before a person experiences undeniable cognitive deficits.

Muscle strength also declines with age, even in the absence of a muscular disease. Most people (bodybuilders excluded) achieve peak muscle strength between 20 and 30, with variations depending on the muscle group. After that, strength slowly declines, eventually resulting in telling symptoms of muscle weakness, like falling, and difficulty with essential daily tasks, like getting up from a chair or in and out of the tub.

Most otherwise healthy people do not become incapacitated by lost muscle strength until they are 80 or 90. But thanks to advances in medicine and overall living conditions, many more people are reaching those ages, Dr. Lachs writes: “Today millions of people have survived long enough to keep a date with immobility.”

The good news is that the age of immobility can be modified. As life expectancy rises and more people live to celebrate their 100th birthday, postponing the time when physical independence can no longer be maintained is a goal worth striving for.
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Gerontologists have shown that the rate of decline “can be tweaked to your advantage by a variety of interventions, and it often doesn’t matter whether you’re 50 or 90 when you start tweaking,” Dr. Lachs said. “You just need to get started. The embers of disability begin smoldering long before you’re handed a walker.”

Lifestyle choices made in midlife can have a major impact on your functional ability late in life, he emphasized. If you begin a daily walking program at age 45, he said, you could delay immobility to 90 and beyond. If you become a couch potato at 45 and remain so, immobility can encroach as early as 60.
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“It’s not like we’re prescribing chemotherapy, it’s walking,” Dr. Lachs said. “Even the smallest interventions can produce substantial benefits” and “significantly delay your date with disability.”

“It’s never too late for a course correction,” he said.

I certainly agree to Dr. Lachs. I have my own mother to observe as a living example. My mother no longer runs at 81, but she does walk a lot and keeps her active yoga practice. The whole idea here is to keep moving no matter how young or old you are.

“The Twist” Yoga Position for Stress

October 9, 2010 by  
Filed under oomph! to go videos

“The Twist” Yoga Position from oomphTV on Vimeo.

“The Bridge” Yoga Position for Stress

October 5, 2010 by  
Filed under oomph! to go videos

“The Bridge” Yoga Position from oomphTV on Vimeo.

The Green Buddha

August 10, 2010 by  
Filed under people oomph! videos

The Green Buddha from oomphTV on Vimeo.

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