The Myth of Aging
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard people say things like…”I’m too old for that”…”I think pain is just part of getting older”…”I have arthritis so there is nothing I can do”...or referenced the way people should “slow down” as they age. This hurts us to our core to hear and it couldn’t be further from the truth! Did you know that among people with significant arthritis in their neck only 10% have pain? In people over 30 who have a shoulder muscle tear only 1 in 3 even experience pain or activity limitation? Only 50% of people with arthritis in their knees actually have pain. We could go on, but you get the picture. The point is that many of these joint and tissue changes are to be expected and are considered a normal part of aging, much like wrinkles on our skin. However, it doesn’t always equal progressive pain and limitation as we age. Most of the time these tissue changes don’t affect us at all, we just go through our day without any clue they are there. We also have much more control over how we experience aging than most of society would have us believe.
Here’s the kicker though…if you don’t USE it you LOSE it. Adults over 50 years old who are sedentary will lose up to .4lbs of muscle per year and research has shown that the most important factor in somebody’s function is their strength capacity. This means the stronger you are, the more likely you are to live an independent, high quality life. This also means the more sedentary you become the more likely you are to experience the opposite. The good news? No matter how old you are or how many years it has been since you worked out or participated in a physical activity (if ever), it is NEVER too late to start. A review article by U-M researchers, published in The American Journal of Medicine showed that after 18-20 weeks of strength training an older adult can add up to 2.42 lbs of muscle mass while increasing their strength by 25-30%! If you are coming off a long hiatus or are new to strength training you can start by using your body weight alone and still experience these gains so don’t be intimidated by the thought of a busy gym.
If you need some inspiration we recommend checking out and following @trainwithjoan on instagram. This is a beautiful example of a woman who decided at the age of 70 years old, to take control of her health and demand her quality of life back. She was a typical retired American, experiencing health issues related to carrying 60 extra lbs after years of poor nutrition and lack of exercise. She was inspired by her daughter, who worked in the fitness industry, and when she began feeling better she was hooked. She can now run, jump, and lift all kinds of heavy weights! Not to mention she looks amazing, which is really just the cherry on top when it comes to improving your health.
There are many other examples of women and men like Joan who refuse to allow the passing of time to dictate their limits. This article particularly inspired us as we were doing more research to back up our claims: https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2019/inspiring-older-athletes.html
It highlights the stories of men and women who picked up sports in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and even one man in his 90s who is still running! These people chose to defy the odds and learn something new, one woman even became a trapeze artist in her late 70s! The point isn’t to tell you that you need to learn to fly from ropes in the air. The point is our bodies are incredible and adaptable at all ages. We never lose the capacity to improve our health, learn new skills, and generally have fun with life. It’s usually our mindset that needs changing.
But, I am in pain you say! Well, we have more good news for you. Research shows that people who exercise regularly experience 25% less pain as they age than their less active counterparts. When it comes to knee arthritis there is research to support that regular, moderate exercise can reduce pain and disability. People with chronic neck and back pain have also been shown to benefit from regular exercise. Furthermore, the type of exercise doesn’t seem to matter as much as the consistency of performing it, so you can pick what you like!
If you have had pain for a long time we understand that it may be hard and even scary to get going. That’s why we recommend working with a qualified health professional who understands how pain works and how the body functions as a whole in order to get exercising again safely. Neither the length of time you have been in pain nor your age should stop you from doing the things you love, but it is often wise to have guidance when you are trying to figure out how, especially if you are experiencing chronic pain.
We hope that this has opened your eyes to aging, maybe even gotten you a little excited about it. After all, there are still so many possibilities and opportunities ahead. The next time you think to yourself, “I am too old for that”, or find yourself dismissing pain as something you just have to live with as you age, we encourage you to stop and reframe these thoughts. Don’t let these pervasive myths stop you from living your best life!
- Why Do I Hurt Workbook, Adriaan Louw PT, PhD
- University of Michigan Health System. "Older and stronger: Progressive resistance training can build muscle, increase strength as we age." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 April 2011. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110331163539.htm>.
- BioMed Central. "Exercise Helps Reduce Pain In Old Age." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 September 2005.https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/09/050919082432.htm
- Knapik, Joseph & Pope, Rod & Orr, Robin & Schram, Ben. (2018). Osteoarthritis: Pathophysiology, Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Exercise for Reducing Pain and Disability. Journal of special operations medicine : a peer reviewed journal for SOF medical professionals. 18. 94-102. 10.55460/V9VN-I71T.
- Hospital for Special Surgery. "Exercise program in senior centers helps decrease participants' pain and improve mobility." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 November 2015. .