Lessons of the Third Age …

Gayle’s Uncle Kel is a bike rider. I last caught up with him two or three years ago when he passed through Maryborough on the Great Victorian Bike Ride. That’s a multi day event that takes a different route each year. Completion is quite an achievement at any age let alone for a nonagenarian. Kel is 95 now and still riding. I’m hoping he will find the time to contribute a guest blog at some point.

For my parents  and most of their generation physical activity at an advanced age was virtually unthinkable. Sports rarely lasted beyond school age. Old age began at retirement. The boomers saw things differently and perhaps for the first time since the agricultural revolution a good proportion of them participated in exercise for an extended period. First we had the jogging boom and then the triathlon boom and now we’re chugging into retirement but not quite ready to accept old age. It’s the Third Age, a concept that’s been around since about 1990, a period of health, leisure, personal fulfillment and independence. Amen.

The Fourth Age, of course, starts where the healthspan stops. Just as your body weight is part good – bones, muscles, brain – and part just baggage your lifespan consists of a healthspan plus a period of frailty and dependence.

The most pertinent lessons of the Third Age are :-

  • It’s better than what comes next.
  • It’s worth the effort to extend it.

Mens sana in corpore sano is not a new concept. The modern translation could easily be “Use it or lose it”.

So how will the elderly body respond to the indignity of unaccustomed exercise?

Abstract

Muscle dysfunction and associated mobility impairment, common among the frail elderly, increase the risk of falls, fractures, and functional dependency. We sought to characterize the muscle weakness of the very old and its reversibility through strength training. Ten frail, institutionalized volunteers aged 90 +/- 1 years undertook 8 weeks of high-intensity resistance training. Initially, quadriceps strength was correlated negatively with walking time (r = -.745). Fat-free mass (r = .732) and regional muscle mass (r = .752) were correlated positively with muscle strength. Strength gains averaged 174% +/- 31% (mean +/- SEM) in the 9 subjects who completed training. Midthigh muscle area increased 9.0% +/- 4.5%. Mean tandem gait speed improved 48% after training. We conclude that high-resistance weight training leads to significant gains in muscle strength, size, and functional mobility among frail residents of nursing homes up to 96 years of age.

Even in the fourth age the muscles still respond. The authors of the study go on to say …

The major finding of the study is that a high-intensity weight-training program is capable of inducing dramatic increases in muscle strength in frail men and women up to 96 years of age. The increase in lower-extremity strength ranged from 61% to 374% over baseline,with subjects demonstrating a threefold to fourfold increase on average in as little as 8 weeks. Because muscle strength decreases by perhaps 30% to 40% during the course of the adult life
span it is likely that at the end of training these subjects were stronger than they had been many years previously.

Shame they didn’t start sooner. The institution where that research was conducted now offers its residents Restorative Exercise so if you’re in the vicinity of Boston, Mass and looking for somewhere to spend your dotage hit the link.

I once passed a caravan with a mission statement on the back …

From Here to Dementia

The Last Great Adventure

May the journey be a long one.

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