I have a question for you.
When you read something about the cost to the health care system for the treatment of injuries due to a fall, who do you picture as the victim of the fall?
Chances are you see an ‘old person’. You see a senior, in a nursing home. You see someone maybe 70, 75 or older.
But guess what? Being at risk for a fall is NOT related to your age, it is related to your fitness level, particularly your strength and balance.
Prevent Falls AND Prevent Aging
We become a fall risk, NOT because we are getting older, but as a result of inactivity. Inactivity causes us to lose our strength and balance – and that ultimately affects our mobility.
I have a couple of friends who are close to or over 60 and who have the fitness level of 35-year-olds.
Now that is a statistic I would like to brag about!
If you really want to know your true age, don’t pull out your birth certificate. It may lie. Your chronological age is related to how many times the earth has orbited the world since the day you were born – but nothing else (unless of course you consider it also tells you the day you become of legal age to vote!)
Focus on Your Functional Age, Not Your Chronological Age
On the other hand, your functional fitness level or age will give you a lot of rich information, and describe far more accurately the ‘real you’.
Your functional fitness age is a measure that reflects your overall physical ability to complete daily tasks such as climbing stairs and performing various household chores.
Overall fitness is related to muscle strength in upper and lower limbs and changes in body fat percentage, flexibility, agility and endurance.
Typically, we refer to the ‘effects of aging’ as if getting older (your chronological age) was the one and only indicator and the cause of a decrease in one’s strength, flexibility and endurance.
But the 60 or 70-year-old who stays active and makes an effort to increase activity as they get older rather than becoming more sedentary can reverse the effects of aging and decrease their functional age.
Consider my mother. When she was 60 she was ‘old’. I am 60 and I am NOT old! She was becoming less and less mobile and let herself become a victim of chronic obstructive lung disease. (Yes, she had been a smoker).
The less she did, the more short of breath she became upon exertion. The more short of breath she became – the less she did. As a result, she needed an oxygen tank much earlier than she should have – and if she had stayed active, she may never have needed it. Her endurance and strength decreased dramatically.
In addition to letting the COPD dictate her activity level, she also began to lose muscle strength in her legs and upper body. Her balance was poor. As a result, she had no ability to recover in the event that she tripped. Her risk of falling and seriously injuring herself increased dramatically.
Where my friends are chronologically 60 but only 35 at a functional fitness level, my mother was 60 – but likely closer to 85 at a functional fitness level.
If you have not read a previous blog called “The Truth About Aging” you can go back and read it as it applies to this topic of functional age. I referred to research by Sir Muir Gray, Director of the National Knowledge Service and Chief Knowledge Officer to the National Health Service, UK.
His current work is focused on demonstrating how the problems of aging can be pushed past our 70’s and 80’s and well into our 90’s with the right lifestyle choices. He said, “The older you get, the MORE action you have to take in order to stay healthy. Getting older is NOT the problem – reducing the amount of exercise and activity is the problem. Loss of fitness is the issue.”
Your Age does NOT Define your Ability
The bottom line – your age does NOT define your physical abilities and the speed at which you are aging. But the amount and type of exercise you engage in does define your true functional age. And the most important factor – you have the power to decrease your functional age, even as your chronological age creeps up.
Get involved with an exercise program that will help you improve your strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance. These are all vital components required to develop coordination, prevent falls and reverse aging. You may be getting older but you can look, feel and act a lot younger!
Let’s get away from making a judgment about someone’s abilities and their risk of falling based upon their chronological age. Think instead of their functional age. Think about YOUR functional age – and consider what you need to do to decrease it.
You Have the Power to Turn Back the Clock
And remember, you do have the power within yourself to get younger, regardless of what your birth certificate says.
Exercise is the only proven way to turn back the clock.