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Your Muscles and Bones at 70 Plus

What to expect for your joints, height and structure

an illustration of a man thinking about yoga

Peter Arkle

As people age, their skeletal muscles begin to deteriorate, a process known as sarcopenia.

The good news in your 70s: Your weight needn’t be your enemy.

The reality check in your 70s:  Keeping muscles and bones healthy is a top priority. 

  • You’re rethinking the way you approach your weight. First, losing weight without trying is not a healthy sign, though 1 in 3 older women and men thought it was, in one recent survey. If you start dropping pounds, see your doctor — losing more than 5 percent of your weight without trying in six to 12 months could signal nutrient gaps or be a warning sign that you have a health condition that needs treatment.  
  • In fact, a few extra pounds can be good. While 37 percent of adults age 65-plus worry about their weight at least some of the time, a healthier approach is to focus on pampering and strengthening your muscles with a nutritious diet and a comfortable amount of regular exercise. Carrying some extra weight after 70 could help you live longer, suggests an Australian study that tracked more than 9,200 women and men age 70-plus for a decade. "Since my 70th birthday, I’ve made it a goal to log 5 million steps per year," says Steven N. Blair, 78, emeritus professor of exercise science and epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of South Carolina. "I get about 7,500 on my daily walk and the rest by taking advantage of opportunities throughout the day. I’ll walk to the drugstore, to my favorite grocery store, and on campus I’ll walk to a restroom on another floor or even in another building so I can log 600 to 1,000 steps each way. Every little bit counts. I’m short and stocky. I eat a healthy diet, but I’ll never be tall or slim. I know from research that men who are somewhat overweight and are physically active are healthier than skinny men who never exercise.” 
  • But being severely overweight is still a problem. Every pound of body weight exerts 4 pounds of pressure on your knees with each step. Losing 5 to 10 percent of your weight if you’re overweight can slow down the degeneration of cartilage, a major 2017 study of 640 women and men in their 40s to early 70s showed. 
  • Your joints are a little stiffer. Your tendons, the tough tissues connecting muscles to bones, become less flexible because their water content drops by as much as 55 percent between childhood and late adulthood. As a result, they become more injury prone with age and can leave you with an overall feeling of stiffness. 

Learn what to expect for your health and wellness in your 50s, 60s and 70s in this series from AARP The Magazine. 

  • Your biceps aren’t as big. As people age, their skeletal muscles begin to deteriorate, a process known as sarcopenia. On average, people lose about 30 percent of their strength between ages 50 and 70, and after that they lose another 3 to 5 percent of what’s left per decade. But then again, the “average” person doesn’t exercise much.
  • You should be working out. Yoga addresses both flexibility and muscle strength. Pilates, resistance training — anything that works your entire body — will preserve muscle and bone mass and protect you from injuries and falls.
  • You should make your feet a priority. Why? Nineteen percent of men and 25 percent of women have chronic foot pain. This doubles the odds that you’ll have trouble exercising and increases your risk for balance problems and falls. But think twice about headline-grabbing foot-pad injections. Trendy injections that pump in cushiony material may sound great, but podiatrists warn that they’re not ready for prime time. “The material shifts around and doesn’t stay in place,” says podiatrist Andrew Shapiro, a spokesman for the American Podiatric Medical Association. “A firm gel insole for your shoes that distributes the pressure across your whole foot when you walk is a better option.”
  • Treat yourself to some new shoes. Our feet grow as we get up in years. Up to 20 percent of older adults limp around in shoes that are too short or narrow. Find an old-fashioned shoe store that still measures feet and get a proper measurement; in one recent study of 120 older adults, switching to right-size, supportive shoes significantly cut foot pain and the use of pain relievers. 
  • Your bones are getting thinner. One in 5 women and 1 in 25 men in their 70s have osteoporosis; by age 80, 1 in 2 adults have brittle bones. That boosts your odds for a fracture. All those supplements aren’t helping. Older adults are popping more calcium and D supplements than ever before, but a recent JAMA analysis of 33 studies involving 51,145 women and men age 50-plus revealed that supplements don’t guard against brittle-bone breaks. What does: weight-bearing exercise (such as walking and strength training), plus calcium from foods like dairy and canned salmon (with the bones). Leafy greens contribute, too. Ask your doctor about a bone-density scan; 80 percent of older adults who have a fracture due to weak bones have never been tested or treated. 
  • It’s not your imagination, you are a bit shorter. Between your 50s and late 70s, you may lose up to three inches in height. Much of this vertical drop can be blamed on age-related factors such as the flattening of the disks that cushion your spine. Again, strengthening muscles and keeping limber are essential.

Next Story:

Your Looks at 70+

 

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