Use it or lose it

Physiotherapist Jane Banting explains why it’s even more important to ‘move your body’ when you’re over 45 – particularly if you’re a woman.

When it comes to physical fitness, ‘moving it’ involves exercising your musculoskeletal system (muscles, bones and joints) and cardiovascular system (heart). Failure to exercise can cause serious damage to these systems. So why do some people stop exercising, particularly in their mid-40s? One excuse is that they’re ‘time poor’; another is a longstanding dislike of sport stemming from their youth. The motivation to exercise can also be reduced by depression or high fatigue levels.

What do you have to lose?
Failure to exercise not only affects your general fitness, it can exacerbate conditions such as arthritis and heart disease that are commonly associated with growing older.

Joint action
In the case of arthritis:

• if you stop moving joints, the cartilage that lines the joint surfaces does not receive regular nutrients. It can then become brittle and lose its shock-absorbing ability, causing roughening of the bony surfaces of the joints which leads to creaky, painful joints that lack mobility

• if you stop using muscles, they lose strength, flexibility and size (with knee arthritis, wasting of the quadriceps muscle on the inner side of the knee is obvious). You are at greater risk of joint strain when the surrounding muscles are weak.

Heart health
With a healthy heart, your heart rate increases with activity. More blood is pumped out of your heart with each heartbeat and, so you can maintain normal blood pressure, your body compensates by relaxing and hence widening the blood vessels. However:

• if you stop aerobic exercise, the ability of the blood vessel walls to relax and widen is affected, which increases your risk of higher blood pressure and heart disease

• your heart muscle, like other muscles of the body, needs regular exercise to keep strong, and to be able to cope with the demands of the body in times of stress.

Calling all women
With menopause, there is a significant lowering of the levels of oestrogen in the body, causing a loss of muscle and bone mass (on average, up to 10 per cent of normal bone mass in the first five years after menopause). Failure to ‘move your body’ aggravates these effects:

• lack of regular exercise causes a greater loss of muscle mass and makes it more difficult to regain muscle mass
• lack of regular weight-bearing exercise causes a greater loss of bone mass, increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis, where the bones become softened and weaker, hence increasing the risk of fractures.

What can you do about it?
A combined exercise program is the best strategy for protecting yourself against ‘losing it’. Ideally your ‘moves’ will include:
• aerobic exercise (for heart fitness) three times a week; this can include a variety of exercise including walking/ running, cycling, rowing, deep-water running, swimming or boxing
• strength and conditioning at least twice a week, ideally done either as part of a gym workout or in a class and using machine and free weights and elastic bands
• a daily home exercise program that includes general strengthening and mobility exercises plus any specific exercises prescribed by your treating therapist.

For further information on maintaining and improving fitness visit: (click on ‘Healthy Living’, then ‘Physical Activity’) (click on ‘Arthritis Today’, then ‘Fitness’) (click on ‘Prevention’, then ‘Exercise’)

For queries and advice, contact Jane Banting.
Email [email protected]

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