Age is NOT a disease. I can not tell you how many times I have heard my clients blame a current ailment on age. It’s not turning 50 that is making your balance worse, it’s not turning 60 that’s making your back hurt and it’s not turning 70 that’s making you need that walker to go out grocery shopping. It’s most likely weakness and muscle atrophy that is the culprit, not age. Remember – AGE IS NOT A DISEASE!
As a society we are very quick to accept a loss of functional independence, impaired balance, muscle weakness and aches and pains as “part of getting older”. The media, drug companies and even doctors are all guilty of perpetuating this completely inaccurate information. Research shows that lean muscle mass and power can be preserved as we age. That loss of muscle mass is NOT an unavoidable part of the aging process. There are even studies out demonstrating that people in their 80’s can GAIN muscle mass with strength training activities. And yet, the majority of people in this country demonstrate significant strength, mobility and functional deficits starting as young as 40 years old.
Why? Is it because we are trained as a society to accept age as a disease process? I’m not sure. Is it because it takes a lot of hard work to stay strong and healthy? Possibly. All I know is that aging can look different than popular opinion would suggest. Lets look at Joseph Pilates- He passed away at age 83 from emphysema (most likely the result of a lifetime habit of cigar smoking) but was living like up until then just as he had in his 30’s and 40’s. His obituary in the NY Times read like this:
“A white-manned lion with steel blue eyes and mahogany skin, and as limber in his 80’s as a teenager.”
Joseph Pilates was working, exercising and completely independent all aspects of his mobility well into his 80’s and would have likely continued had lung disease not taken his life prematurely. He maintained the same level of strength and function in his early 80’s as he had in his 30’s. Another example of a person who embodied many of the same principles as Joseph Pilates and was also well ahead of his time is Jack Lalanne- he passed away at age 96 after he succumbed to pneumonia after a heart valve replacement 4 months prior (per his family’s report he did his 2 hour exercise routine up to the day before his death). He was stronger and more vibrant in his 90’s than most 40 year olds I know! What do these men have in common? They maintained their lean muscle mass throughout their lives. They refused to accept that age was a disease and fought to maintain their strength, independence and ability as they aged- and did so very successfully.
“We retire too early and we die too young, our prime of life should be in the 70’s and old age should not come until we are almost 100.”
– Joseph Pilates
So, think about what you want your middle and old age to look like… do you want to “roll down the hill” towards disability starting in your middle years? Experience a gradual loss of function, increase in pain, loss of balance, fear of falling and all of the other challenges many of our aging population face? I hope not! Do you instead want to maintain every ounce of strength, function, independence and pain free movement that you had at your most healthy and vibrant through the last years of your life? I hope so! And the good news is- Pilates can help, and it can help at any age and any fitness level.
“Dying is easy. Living is a pain in the butt. It’s like an athletic event. You’ve got to train for it. You’ve got to eat right. You’ve got to exercise. Your health account, your bank account, they’re the same thing. The more you put in, the more you can take out.”
– Jack Lalanne
I encourage you to fight for your health and for your muscle mass. Fight for your independence and mobility. We are happy to go into battle with you and I assure you- this is a battle that can be won!
Stephanie Sprout DPT
WHO/HPS Geneva 2000
Wroblewski A, Amati F, Smiley M, Goodpastor B, Wright V. (2011). Chronic Exercise preserves lean muscle mass in master athletes. The Physician and Sports Medicine, 39 (3), 172-178
Melov S, Tarnopolsky MA, Beckham K, Felkey K, Hubbard A. (2007) Resistance exercise reverses aging in human skeletal muscle. PLOS One, 2(5), e465
Frontera W, Hughes V, Fielding R, Fiatrone M, Evans W, Roubenoff R. (2000). Aging of Skeletal Muscle; A 12 yr longitudinal study. Journal of Applied Physiology. 88, 1321-1326