Age Gracefully by Caring for Muscles, Joints and Bones

As we age, our bones lose density, muscles lose flexibility and joints become worn. This affects mobility and balance, making us more at risk for falling and fracturing bones. Proper care of muscles, joints and bones helps to ensure strength and mobility, and it may mean the difference in growing old gracefully, or not.

Shot of a group of elderly friends enjoying a run together outdoors

The effects of aging on muscles
• As muscles age, they begin to shrink and lose mass. This is a natural process, but a sedentary lifestyle can accelerate it.
• The number and size of muscle fibers also decrease. Thus, it takes muscles longer to respond in our 50s than they did in our 20s.
• The water content of tendons, the cord-like tissues that attach muscles to bones, decreases as we age. This makes the tissues stiffer and less able to tolerate stress.

The effects of aging on bones
• The mineral content of bones decreases, so that bones become less dense and more fragile.
• As bones lose mass, osteoporosis develops, affecting both women and men.
• With less water content, the cartilage becomes more susceptible to stress. As cartilage degenerates, arthritis can develop.

The effects of aging on joints
• Joint motion becomes more restricted and flexibility decreases with age because of changes in tendons and ligaments.
• As the cushioning cartilage begins to break down from a lifetime of use, joints become inflamed and arthritic.

How exercise can help
Talking with a doctor about exercise, especially when engaging in a new activity, is the first step to improve bones, joints and muscles. He or she can recommend appropriate levels of exercise, such as walking, running, swimming and bicycling. This sort of strength training helps retain bone density and muscle mass along with improving flexibility and can increase muscle mass and strength, enabling people to continue their daily routine activities without maximal exertion. Just 30 minutes of moderate activity, incorporated into your daily routine, can provide health benefits.

No matter how old we are, improving exercise habits will have a direct effect on quality of life. As intimidating as it may seem at first, incorporating exercise into our daily routines now will help our muscles, joints and bones continue to function and allow us to get the most out of life in the future. Read more about slowing the progression of age-related changes here: