Benefits of Exercise in the Ageing Population

I recently spent three days at the NZ Musculoskeletal Medicine Conference in Christchurch, which was specifically focused on aches and pain in the ageing population. This was quite a fitting theme, given that musculoskeletal disorders are the leading cause of disability in New Zealand. With lower levels of physical activity, obesity and an aging population, the impact and cost to society of musculoskeletal disorders will only increase.

One of the take home messages from this year’s conference was ‘exercise for pain management’, ‘exercise for improved bone and muscle health’, and ‘exercise for improved brain function’.

Until very recently, it was accepted that we simply become frail and lose muscle mass as we age. In fact, from around age 40, we typically lose about 8% of muscle mass per decade. So from age 40 onwards, we can loose around 40% of our muscle mass. However, recent studies who looked at athletes in their 70’s and 80’s found that they had similar muscle mass as athletes in their 40’s. We have assumed that we will always lose muscle mass as we age; however significant muscle mass loss is now more likely to be caused by inactivity and lack of exercise as we grow older. Basically ‘Use it or lose it’ – which was one of the main sentiments from the conference.

Exercise is also important as it can reduce the risk of many health conditions, ranging from cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, dementia, and depression.

Elderly and Balance
As we age, our balance can be challenged due to a decrease in our senses including vision, touch and proprioception. This can increase the risk of falls which can have a detrimental effect on health by causing injury, fractures or brain injuries. Approximately 1/3 of people over 65 will fall each year in New Zealand. Exercise, therefore, should be viewed as a necessity in older age, to improve balance, co-ordination, and bone density and to maintain muscle mass and function. And it is never too late to begin exercising!

Exercise Programmes
Programmes should consist of strengthening, mobility, balance training and aerobic activity. Some elderly people are afraid that they will injure themselves exercising, so they should always seek advice from their osteopath, or GP if they have any concerns.

Preparation for Exercising
Often we see patients who avoid exercise due to pain. Many patients often accept that pain is part of aging when really this should not be the case. In order to prepare for an exercise programme, a visit to your local osteopath would be highly recommended so that all aches and pains can be eased, and any injuries can be addressed prior to exercising.

Take a look at the video below which shows seniors in Australia lifting weights to improve bone and muscle mass.


1. Chronic exercise preserves lean muscle mass in masters athletes. 2011. Wroblewski AP1, Amati F, Smiley MA, Goodpaster B, Wright V. Phys Sportsmed. Sep;39(3):172-8. doi: 10.3810/psm.2011.09.1933.

2. Keeping older muscle “young” through dietary protein and physical activity. 2014. Moore, D.R. Adv Nutr. 2014 Sep;5(5):599S-607S.

3. Skeletal muscle protein balance and metabolism in the elderly. 2011. Fry, C.S. and  Rasmussen, B.B. Curr Aging Sci. Dec;4(3):260-8.

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Better Health Osteopathy
Better Health Osteopathy
Lorraine Herity is the Clinic Director of Better Health Osteopathy in Christchurch, New Zealand. She previously worked in Osteopathic clinics in London and Ireland, before moving to New Zealand. Lorraine trained at the British School of Osteopathy in London, where she gained her Master of Osteopathy (M.Ost). Lorraine is a dedicated and passionate Osteopath. Her main aim is to help her patients regain their health, and to return her patients back to their everyday activities, in as quick a time as possible.

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