Joni Mitchell famously sang “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”, which I think perfectly sums up our feature this issue about muscle strength as we age (see page 16). Like other aspects of health, we tend to take our strength for granted, until we lose it. The truth is if we don’t work our muscles they decline as we get older.
I remember looking at houses for sale when my mother wanted to move up North and taking a tour around the home of an elderly women who, unusually, was there during the showing.
As soon as she spotted the man in our group, the dear lady grabbed a jar from the kitchen and asked him to open it for her. Who knows how long it had remained sealed up to that point?
For older people, strength means independence. It means being able to open jars and keep up with gardening and housework. Most importantly, building and maintaining muscle mass as we age means a better quality of life for longer.
Muscle weakness and poor balance are two of the contributing factors in falls in older people. Falls are the most common cause of injury in people aged 65 and over and account for two-thirds of ACC claims by over 85s. Unfortunately, around that age, falls are more likely to lead injury, hospitalisation and even death.
These stats are rather grim, so I was heartened to read that it’s never too late to start building and strengthening our muscles. Furthermore, we can maintain our muscle quality with regular exercise over a lifetime. It doesn’t have to be a slog — we just need to move our bodies often and regularly. Even if we’ve never exercised before and we’re approaching a more advanced age, we can build muscle and fitness.
So, if you want the guns and calves of a 20-year-old dust off your dancing shoes, unroll your yoga mat, whip out your resistance band or get into the garden, every day if you can. Your future self will thank you.