Normal changes occur in the bones, muscles, and joints as a person ages.
Aging Changes Bone
As a person ages, the cells that produce and absorb bone become
disrupted. As a result, bone mass is lost. This loss is most rapid in women
after menopause, especially in thin, white females. Minerals,
including calcium, are lost. This can lead to osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones are weaker and more
Osteoporosis is worsened by hormonal conditions, such as hypogonadism, which is a low level of sex hormones in men, and
hyperthyroidism, which is a high level of thyroid hormone.
Bones in the wrists, hips, and back are most likely to fracture or break. If a person has
osteoporosis, the weight of the body itself can even cause a
Bone loss may also lead to a loss in height. The vertebrae may become
thinner and more brittle. Between the vertebrae are gel-like fluid-filled
discs that can lose fluid as a person ages. This can cause the spinal cord
to compress and contribute to a curve in the spine. The result is the
"stooped" look often seen as a person ages.
Aging Changes Muscle
The muscles tend to decrease in size as people age. Starting at age 20,
muscle mass or size begins to decrease. By age 40, most people have lost
As a person ages, there is a decrease in the number and size of muscle
fibers. Muscle tissue and strength decreases. More fat is deposited into the
muscles as well. These factors cause the decreased muscle strength that
occurs as people age.
Lack of exercise, poor nutrition, use of alcohol, and a variety of illnesses and diseases may also
contribute to muscle changes.
It is still debated how much of this change represents the natural aging
process, and how much occurs simply because we tend to exercise less as we
Aging Changes Joints
The joints are the areas between the bones that contribute to flexibility
and movement. They consist of fluid, membranes, and cartilage. As a person
ages, the fluid in the joints decreases. This loss of fluid may cause
cartilage to rub together. Joints begin to wear down as a person ages. They
lose some of their function due to changes from
arthritis. These changes can lead to
joint pain, stiffness, and deformity.
The disks between the bones in the spine become less rubbery and more
prone to rupture. This can also cause a decrease in height. All of these
changes can affect a person's coordination and posture. Walking may become
more difficult. Movement is often slower, and falling becomes more likely.
How to Prevent or Slow Down The Changes in Muscles, Joints and Bones?
Bone and skeletal mass forms early in life. Thus, prevention of bone loss
needs to start early too. Almost 90% of skeletal mass is formed by the end
of the teenage years. Lifestyle changes beginning in the teen years can help
prevent or decrease the effects of aging on the bones, muscles, and joints.
Thirty minutes of moderate weight-bearing exercise a day can slow changes
in the muscles, joints, and bones. Weight-bearing exercise includes
low-impact aerobics, walking, running, lifting weights, tennis, and step
aerobics. A person doing moderate exercise can talk normally without
shortness of breath and is comfortable with the pace of the
activity. The 30 minutes a day can be done all in one session or may be
broken up into smaller time periods.
Low-impact aerobics and
water aerobics are examples of exercises that minimize joint
stress in elderly individuals and people with
arthritis. Recent research has shown that people who do
high-impact activities such as jogging have less bone loss as they age.
Individuals can also help protect bones, muscles, and joints by:
However, the positive benefits of HRT in preventing osteoporosis must be
balanced against increased risks of some other conditions. The balance is
likely to be different for each woman. Therefore, each woman should discuss
the risks and benefits of HRT with her healthcare professional.
eating a well-balanced diet, following the food guide pyramid
eating 25 grams of soy protein daily
getting effective treatment for conditions such as hypogonadism and hyperthyroidism
limiting alcohol intake
- taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), for women who have
Elderly individuals who are at risk for bone fractures from falling can
minimize some of the risk by wearing undergarments that have padded shields
at the hips. If there is severe osteoporosis, medications such as
alendronate (i.e., Fosamax) can be use to stabilize and even reverse some of
the bone loss.