As it turns out, that depends much more than you think on two basic elements: an intact body structure and good cognition. Being able to move and think are critical to independent living, a condition valued over all else by individuals older than 70. Independence means living without the daily assistance of family or staff, often living in one’s own home. And, hopefully, it includes being able to travel and to contribute to family and community.
Aging takes its toll on our muscles. They fail in size and in strength. In occasional exercisers, more than half of your strength is lost by age 80. The situation is even worse for those who are sedentary.
Fortunately, most of this loss of strength can be prevented if we start early. Use-it-or-lose-it is the key. Regular strength exercisers can preserve 75% of their muscle mass to benefit them in late life. But starting early in life is important. After 65, it is very difficult to generate new muscle fibers.
Better strength means better mobility, better balance, and better protection against bone fractures.
Bone strength falls with age, leading to more frequent osteoporosis, and more disabling fractures, in women and men. It can be preserved with proper diet and weight-bearing exercise.
But it is much more difficult to regain bone strength then to keep it, so bone density measurements and bone-preserving actions need to begin early in life.
Short term memory is best when we are about 40, and it begins to fall after that. Fortunately for most of us, it doesn’t fall too far. But for those with severe declines, or with underlying illnesses like Alzheimer’s or stroke, memory loss can be debilitating.
But great progress is being made in measuring memory function and in finding the biochemical and genetic predictors of dementia. We monitor those as needed. And memory training can help create a functional reserve to rely on as we age.
The brain changes as we age. From age 40, short-term memory slowly falls off, leading eventually to minor problems with recall of names and events, and word finding difficulties. More worrisome are brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s that lead to significant and rapidly progressive impairment. So far, treatments to improve memory are ineffective, but strategies exist to maintain what you have. The Modern Physical helps to incorporate those preservation strategies into daily life. Our understanding of dementia is improving. Tests to determine genetic susceptibility to dementia are available through the Modern Physical. And brain imaging to measure the accumulation of dementia-related proteins in your brain is not too far off. The Modern Physical helps to detect emerging problems, and promotes an active maintenance approach for brain function.
Bone density falls with age, and with it resistance to fracture declines. Bone mass is highest at about age 35 and falls progressively thereafter in women and men. The rate of bone loss is critically dependent upon calcium intake, vitamin D levels and weight-bearing exercise. The Modern Physical begins to track bone density in the early forties and continues throughout life. Early action to minimize bone loss is the best defense against later life osteoporosis.
Muscles atrophy as we age. An inactive individual loses about three quarters of bone mass between ages 35 and 65. Fortunately this is a use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon. Regular resistance exercise over the same period preserves all but one quarter of muscle mass. The later life consequence of muscle loss is significant, because rebuilding muscle is very difficult after age 60. Low muscle mass leads to instability and falls, more fractures because muscles protect bones, and faster joint wear. And, of course, less strength limits activity and independence. The Modern Physical takes your muscle mass seriously. Your muscle strength is measured, beginning early in life, and remedial action is prescribed to improve muscle mass while that is still possible.
Normal joint function is essential to optimum mechanical function. Worn joints lead to pain and restricted range of motion. Because joints contain sensors that help the nervous system to sense position in space, joint wear leads to loss of balance and slower muscular responses. The Modern Physical includes an assessment of the mechanical stresses regularly placed on your joints in the course of daily activities, and it helps to develop an action plan to minimize joint degeneration.
Explore the intricacies of the Modern Physical’s detection and prediction methods in the links below.