It's Bone and Joint Health National Awareness Week

With the passing of time, you gain a little something, let’s call it wisdom. However, you lose a little something as well, it’s called muscle mass. As people age, reduced muscle mass can actually make them shorter, arch their back, and make walking more difficult and balance harder to maintain. Joints and muscles are critical to balance and movement and Bone and Joint Health National Awareness Week is a great time to pay attention to them.

In a joint, bones do not directly contact each other. They rub against cartilage and synovial membranes around the joint, which are surrounded by fluid. Bone mass, also called bone density, is lost as a result of aging, and reduced levels of calcium and other minerals in the body. This is especially true for women after menopause. While coordination comes from the brain, changes in the muscles and joints due to age can affect the execution of the brain’s commands.

Vertebrae are the bones that make up the spine and can become thinner with age due to the loss of their mineral content. Additionally, the “disks” – the gel-like cushion between each vertebrae, lose fluid gradually over the years and become thinner. This can cause the spinal column to curve as the vertebrae compress and become more tightly packed together. This is why some older people look like they have actually gotten shorter; their spine is showing the effects of the aging process and the compression of its disks.

With age, lean body mass decreases. This is partly due to the loss, or atrophy, of muscle tissue. While the speed and degree of muscle changes are believed to be caused by genetics, they commonly begin affecting men in their 20’s and women in their 40’s. Normal aging means changes in the muscle tissue. Muscles become rigid with age and can lose their tone, even with regular exercise, because they are less able to contract. Cartilage between the bones may begin to wear away over the years, and mineral deposits can collect around some joints, a condition known as calcification. However, some joints, like the ankle, usually change very little with aging.

The fact of the matter is that with age, bones become more brittle and break more easily. The breakdown of joints may lead to inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Almost all elderly people suffer some sort of joint discomfort, whether it’s minor stiffness or severe arthritis.

What’s the key to keeping bones and muscles as healthy as possible? Exercise. A balanced diet. Women need to make sure they get enough calcium and Vitamin D as they age. Both men and women should focus on a well-balanced diet with plenty of calcium, added to a regimen of exercise that will keep muscles supple, and joints healthy.

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