Most humans dread the thought of getting older and facing the music when their body starts to break down and words like joint replacement, osteoarthritis, joint degeneration, or “age related changes” start to get thrown around. The human body is designed to last 100 years without breaking down if you take care of it and treat it with respect. This article will talk about how age related breakdown of our bodies seems to have become normal and is seen as an inevitability we are powerless to fight and how that’s false. Healthy aging doesn’t involve some voodoo magic – knowing what you need to do and being consistent is all it takes. Getting older without breaking down has several elements that each need equal respect and attention in order to maintain your flesh machine so that when you stop punching in the clock working every week you can actually enjoy the fruits of your work career instead of being stuck with a body that wont function and fails on you.
The joints in your body are points in your skeleton where two bones meet and articulate against one another with the help of the muscles crossing them. The ends of each bone are coated in a smooth and shiny layer of cartilage which acts to reduce friction and keep the joint lubricated. In order for joint health to be maintained, joints need to move and articulate as intended and be exposed to forces that stimulate the constant delivery of nutrients to the dynamic system of cartilage that continues to replace itself like a conveyor belt. Problems arise for several reasons: 1) When joint mechanics are altered resulting in increased load being placed on one portion of the surface and this added friction degrades the cartilage at a speed beyond what the body is capable of repairing. 2) Joints aren’t loaded enough to stimulate nutrient delivery to the cartilage which keep it healthy. 3) When muscles across the joints become so tight that they start to create more pressure against the joint surfaces and wear down the cartilage. Solution? make sure you stay moving, are moving with mechanics that load your joints evenly as intended, and that you work on controlling muscle tension with maintenance exercises like foam rolling.
Three major elements that contribute to joint breakdown coming from too much friction at a joint: 1) sitting, 2) footwear, 3) increased muscle tension.
How to fight the big 3
Sitting has some nasty effects on your body (see our article about sitting less: http://optimizeottawa.com/better-quality-life-two-words-sit-less/). The choice is simple: spend time everyday reversing the harmful effects of sitting by doing maintenance work on your body – OR – transition to a lifestyle where your daily sitting volume is reduced to 2hours or less. That means eliminating optional sitting at home and transitioning to a standing workstation if you currently sit at work.
Footwear (heeled shoes in particular) is another nasty contributor in developing muscle tension and poor movement patterns. Putting a wedge under your heel prevents you from standing with a neutral alignment and creates changes in muscle length and tension in your calf and quad. Having been in heeled shoes your whole life (not just high heels – literally any shoe with a heel that is higher than forefoot – aka almost every shoe), it’s a massive problem that many people don’t realize is negatively affecting their feet and joints (see our article about feet and footwear for more detail: http://optimizeottawa.com/feet-footwear-setting-record-straight/). Spend more time barefoot and make sure that the shoes you wear are zero drop (heel and forefoot are at the same height), have a wide forefoot and have a thin non-cushioned sole. Check out our new project on intsagram @thefootcollective for daily foot maintenance and foot health education.
Increased muscle tension is something that increasingly develops as we age and needs to be kept in check. In the clinic I tell people that muscles are like obedient pets – they do exactly what they’re told if you are consistent with keeping them well behaved. Maintenance exercises like doing some daily self massage on yourself with basic tools like a foam roll, softball, lacrosse ball are invaluable tools that need to be used to prolong joint health. We get regular oil changes and alignments done on our vehicles to make sure they don’t break down but we forget to do maintenance work on the one thing we can’t replace – Our bodies. Don’t know where to start? Start with your quads and calves – because of sitting and heeled footwear you can guarantee they are tight spots. If you need some guidance see a competent physical therapist that can show you areas you should be prioritizing and how to work on them.
Strength and mobility
Another few inevitabilities that happen as we age: we lose mobility and we get weaker. Because of this, working on your mobility and increasing muscle mass are two major elements in healthy aging. yoga, tai chi, pilates – there are tons of disciplines that allow you to work on mobility within movements – pick one and make it a regular routine. Mobility is the ability to move your joints through full range of motion and requires both strength and enough muscle length to do so.
Think of muscle mass as a protective armour for your skeleton. The more you have – the more protected you are from injury. Prioritize a regular strengthening program with basic functional exercises like squats, deadlifts, overhead press, farmers walks and see a massive change in your ability to stay moving and offload your joints.
Have a good team
Having a competent team of healthcare professionals to help you on your journey to healthy aging can be a huge help. Sport & exercise medicine physicians are specialized in dealing with muscle/bone/joint related issues and (some) physical therapists are experts on the human body as it relates to movement, mobility and maintaining your body. At optimize, our team of sport medicine doctors and physical therapists work together to make sure our patients get the best possible guidance in avoiding injury and maintaining a healthy body as they age. Our job is to tell you what you NEED to hear, not always what you WANT to hear. Make sure your team has your best interests in mind because unfortunately, many clinics attach you to machines and neglect teaching you how to maintain your body in favor of booking in as many people as they can to maximize profits. See our article http://optimizeottawa.com/re-think-physical-therapy/ for information on how to spot good vs bad physio and to understand the profound potential of a competent physical therapist guiding you to better health.
-Your body is designed to last 100 years. Take care of it and it will take care of you
-Joint breakdown can be prevented. Be informed on the major contributors to Osteoarthritis and become immune to it with regular maintenance work on your body
-3 Big reasons for joint breakdown: poor movement mechanics, not enough movement, too much muscle tension
-3 hazards to joints: sitting, poor footwear, tight muscles
-Know the value of maintenance exercises, keeping your mobility and continuing to build muscle mass with functional movements
-Have a good team of sport medicine doctors and physios that can help guide you on your journey to healthy aging. Take ownership for your health – its nobody’s job but yours. A good team can give you the right guidance but end of the day its your life and you need to make the decision to work towards better health.
Neglecting your body won’t kill you immediately but over the course of years an decades it takes a toll. Put the work in now and reap the benefits in your older years. Don’t retire with a body that fails on you or prevents you from doing things you have worked your whole life to be able to do. Be informed and take ownership for your body – you only get one.
I hope this article has given you some useful information on maintaining a healthy physical body. Best of luck on your journey