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5 Things That Make Us Old

Yesterday I was out making a purchase when I noticed a sign advertising the store’s senior discount. I asked the cashier what age qualified you for the price cut. Good news: I’m not there yet, but it did get me thinking about getting older. It’s happening to all of us, continually, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Yet why do some people seem to age better than others? Genetics surely has something to do with it, but are there other factors besides the clock and our genes? The answer is…yes!

Based on observations during my 25 year (so far!) career as a physical therapist, here is my list of the top 5 things that make us feel old. And best of all? Each of these causes is changeable by YOU!

1. Smoking: This had to be number one. Smoking increases blood pressure, damages lung tissue, and decreases cellular elasticity (including that in your blood veins), which means your cardiopulmonary system must work increasingly harder to do the thankless task of keeping you alive. It also discolors teeth, wrinkles skin, and yellows fingernails, so you will look much older than you actually are. Step one towards the fountain of youth? Kick the nicotine habit (get support here).

2. Moving Less: As kids, we ran around and played. As adults, we sit on the porch watching the kids run around and play. This is accepted as a very natural part of aging, but it is in fact the root of oldness (items 3, 4, & 5 on this list are directly linked to decreased activity levels). When we reduce our movement and become more sedentary, we set ourselves up for weight gain and lost physical fitness – a negative double whammy that contributes toward statements like, “I just can’t do (insert activity here) like I used to.”

3. Shrinking Muscle Mass: Muscle strictly adheres to the “use it or lose it” principle, so one of the direct consequences of an increasingly sedentary lifestyle is decreased muscle mass. The less muscle you have, the weaker you will be. The weaker you are, the less you can do things for yourself. The less you can do things for yourself, the less likely you will be able to live independently in your senior years. For everything from picking up your grandkids to carrying in your own groceries, you need muscle mass.

4. Inflexibility: When many people think of flexibility, they might think of the old bend-down-and-touch-your-toes test, but flexibility encompasses much more than that. Can you reach your back in the shower? Can you look over your shoulder while driving? Can you complete your daily activities without trouble? It’s true that muscles and tendons do shorten as a result of aging, but this is exasperated by being sedentary. A further danger of inflexibility is an increased risk of injury as your body is not prepared to withstand any sudden or unexpected motion.

5. Painful Joints: After a lifetime of use, it’s only expected that the body’s natural cushioning for your joints (called cartilage) should begin to break down. This is called arthritis, and though it may seem counter-intuitive, moving painful, arthritic joints is actually the best thing for them. Check out our FREE arthritis article here.

Aging is a somewhat arbitrary thing. You’re only as old as you feel, or so the saying goes. Yet some people run marathons into their 70s and 80s while others resign themselves to rocking chairs by 50. You don’t have to be part of the former group, but don’t let yourself join the latter. Fight aging by addressing these top 5 “feel old” causes, and you may just give your grandkids a run for their money. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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