Physiotherapy and Ageing

Hello again! This months blog comes at a bit of a tangent from all the recent press around the ‘NHS Crisis’. News articles and TV broadcasters have been quoting figures and stats showing how things are almost at breaking point. The main reason cited for this, is not the quality of care that is delivered (which is predominantly excellent), but the sheer overload on the system. While many people have pointed the finger at the cost cutting (or as the government spins it.. ‘efficiency savings’), Jeremy Hunt has tried to divert this attention to the largely increasing ageing population putting more stress on the services.

This month I therefore want to delve into the topic of ageing. I hope to discuss how it impacts on our health, and how physiotherapy and exercise can help as we get older.


The Physical Effects of Ageing

Apart from the obvious grey hair and wrinkles, ageing affects the body gradually in subtle ways over time. Here are the main physical effects we should all expect as we get older:

  • Bones and joints – Over time our bones reduce in density. Cartilage can wear and our joints can thicken and lose water content. Connective tissue and ligaments around joints can become less elastic. All this can lead to joint stiffness.
  • Muscles and tendons – Due to hormonal, nervous system and metabolic changes, our muscles lose mass and strength over time. Our tendons also become less well hydrated and less elastic, making us less stretchy!
  • Our heart and vessels – Over time our heart becomes less efficient. When we exercise, the maximum blood able to be pumped round our body is less as we age. The overall effect is less oxygen to the bits that need it. This means not being able to exercise as long without getting tired. Our vessels can also stiffen over the years which can cause an increase in blood pressure.
  • Balance and reaction times – Changes in our nervous system can also cause us to react more slowly to things. Balance can also reduce as we age if we don’t work to keep sharp.


So What?

Unfortunately as we go through our lives, this can mean we can pick up niggles, aches and pains. We can also develop other general health problems related to ageing. This can seem like a reason to avoid activity, as you may fear further injury or making these health problems worse. However by making appropriate adjustments and keeping exercise as part of our daily routine, it’s often possible to reap some good benefits to your health, without risk or negative effects.

Here are a few simple things we can do for starters:

  • Choose an activity that is appropriate for you – If you suffer, for example, from osteoarthritis in your hips, knees or ankles, choosing running as your primary exercise (which creates a lot of impact through those joints), might not be most suitable. Looking at something like cycling or swimming or even pilates which are much easier on your joints can be a good alternative.
  • Take more time to warm up and cool down – Pretending you can jump straight onto a football pitch to play your Sunday league game when you’re 50 in the same way you did at 21, might not be the smartest move. Taking time to get the muscles, joints and tendons fully warmed up is more important to keep you injury free.
  • Progress things more slowly – As we age our capacity for recovery also decreases, and our ability to make progress when training for something can be less. If you therefore have the ambition of running a marathon, being realistic about how long it would take to build up the distances, and giving yourself enough time between sessions to recover can help keep you free of niggles.


The Benefits of Physiotherapy

If you have more complex health issues or a history of more serious injury and aren’t confident how to start exercising on your own, going to see a physiotherapist is in my (slightly biased) opinion, is the best thing you could do.

Physiotherapists are excellently positioned to help. Our profession comes from a medical background, and therefore any therapist you see should have to have a good understanding of any health conditions, operations or previous injuries you have, and how to work safely with them. We can often work with your doctor to help you achieve your goals.

Here are a few example of the things physiotherapists can help you with:

  • Osteoporosis – there is a body of evidence that shows exercise and more specifically resistance training can be helpful in the treatment of this condition. Physiotherapist can help start you off going through strengthening exercises that might be helpful, and then help you progress things in a very gradual way.
  • Chronic back pain – a topic I’ve touched on in a previous blog, and one of the most common issues people can stuffer with. Guidance from a physiotherapist can help you choose a form of exercise that is suitable, and get you doing the right amount of activity so that you don’t flare things up.
  • A history of falls – balance and reaction times can be affected as we age, and also made worse if someone is on lots of medication. All this can lead to an increased risk of falls, and is a reason a lot of people stop exercising. Physiotherapy can work on balance and lower limb strengthening to bring this risk down.
  • Osteoarthritis – this can be a real limiting factor for many people. A physiotherapy assessment can often highlight any weaknesses that have developed alongside arthritic pains, and some advice on altering your exercise habits and strategies to help with coping day to day can make this condition a lot more manageable, and exercise possible.

Above are just a few conditions we can directly influence. Indirectly keeping active has a whole host of benefits. This includes reduced risk of various cancers, reduced impact of type 2 diabetes, better digestive function, a positive effect on blood pressure and improved mental function. All this keeps people fit and health longer and can actually help slow down some of the effects of ageing.

Although it might not be on your mind, the knock-on effect of all this is that someone who keeps fit and active is likely need less input from their doctor or their local hospital. The argument for keeping active then, is pretty strong. And if you want any evidence that age is just a number, click this link to see some youtube videos of people doing some pretty amazing things!

Thats it for this month, keep checking back for more content and updates. If you want to enquire about how physiotherapy can help you, give our admin team a call on 0115 956 2353 or email us at

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