By Dr. David Rideout
What is mobility and why does it decline with age?
Mobility is simply the physical ability to move. Mobility allows us to participate in all kinds of activities inside and outside of our homes and promotes healthy aging.
All humans, regardless of age, are wired for physical movement. At the most basic level, the ability to walk is primary for remaining mobile. In our youth, walking is something that we do not even think about. But with advancing age, certain physiological changes take place that can affect mobility. Some of these include the loss of lower extremity strength and postural balance.
Another factor that can impact mobility is impaired sensory functioning such as sight and hearing. This sensory feedback plays an important role in safe walking. Due to impaired mobility, about one-third of all seniors fall each year. Sometimes, the fall only results in a bruised ego, but often the consequences are serious such as broken bones or concussions. If you have fallen, don’t be embarrassed, but be pro-active and visit a walk-in medical clinic to check for a possible injury.
How your physician can help?
If you are concerned about balance and falling, speak with your primary care physician. He or she can exam you and run certain qualitative tests to assess your mobility. Factors to be looked at can include an assessment of your gait and gait speed to determine if there is any impairment, and to what extent it affects your mobility. Another important test would be a simple balance test. Muscle strength can also be assessed. Since good eyesight and hearing play a role in preventing falls, it is important to make sure that you have yearly exams and that your corrections are up to date.
How you can protect your mobility.
The old saying “use it or lose it” really rings true for maintaining mobility. Because our balance starts to decline in our 50s as a natural part of aging, exercises that focus on balance can help keep this natural decline at bay. Exercises such as yoga and tai chi are excellent ways to improve balance. There are many exercise classes that are specifically designed for beginners or seniors. Some of these classes focus on building and maintaining core and lower body strength, again important for walking. These classes are readily available at local community centers, YMCAs and private health clubs. It is also important to just keep moving. Walking and recreational hiking are excellent low impact activities. Another great option for seniors — especially if you have joint issues such as osteoarthritis — is swimming.
It offers cardiovascular benefits and strengthens all the major muscle groups, including the core. Exercising at a moderate pace, with a goal of three-to-five times per week, will go a long way to ensuring ease of movement and the ability to maintain mobility. Clear it with your doctor before starting a regular program.
Dr. David Rideout is the lead physician at Doctors Express in the Saugus Center, one of 10 eastern Massachusetts offices, offering seven-day walk-in urgent medical care. Visit the Doctors Express website at www.DoctorsExpressBoston.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.