Normal musculoskeletal changes as one ages involve connective tissue structures, cartilage, bone, muscle and discs in the spine. These changes can lead to changes in function including:
- general joint stiffness
- increased compression of joints
- increased fracture risks
- postural changes
- increased muscle fatigue
- decreased muscle endurance
- decreased muscle mass
If not controlled these changes can lead to osteoporosis, fractures, arthritis and posture dysfunction.
Normal cardiac changes in the aging body include increased stiffness of the heart wall, thickening of valves of the heart and increased thickness with decreased diameter of blood vessels. These changes lead to a decrease in maximal heart rate, increased resting blood pressure, quick drops in blood pressure when standing, and decreased maximal endurance of the heart muscles.
Changes in respiration muscles, airway, lung tissue and chest wall are normal, resulting from increased work of breathing. Functional implications of these changes include increased fatigue with increased levels of work. If these changes become uncontrolled, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia and lung cancer could develop.
As we age, the speed of our nerves sending messages to the muscles gets slower. As a result, reaction time slows down and muscles don’t fire in sync. This can lead to complaints of unsteadiness and other balance issues.
Although the changes described above are normal parts of aging, they can be slowed by weekly exercises that target these systems and negative consequences can be avoided.