Healthy Aging: Caring for Bones, Muscles, and Joints

by | Oct 16, 2018


Effects of Aging on Bones, Muscles, and Joints [1]

As we age, bone mass and density decrease due to the lack of calcium and minerals.  These decreases in mass and density cause bones to become brittle and sometimes curved or compressed.  In addition, joints become stiff and less flexible as fluids in the joints decrease. Consequently, cartilage in the joints may rub together and wear away.  In regard to muscles, muscle mass decreases due to lack of muscle tissue. Instead, fat begins to be stored in the muscle tissue and muscle fibers shrink. With all these changes, bones become brittle and can be broken easily.  These changes may also be visible in some body parts, such as hands, as they may appear thin and bony.

Bone, muscle, and joint changes can lead to pain and inflammation (such as arthritis).  As previously mentioned, these changes can be visible. For example, movement, especially in the walking pattern, slows and shortens.  Strength and endurance also decrease, leading to less energy and heightened exhaustion.

Common Bone, Muscle, and Joint Problems [1]

  • Osteoporosis is very common in older adults.  This causes bones to break more easily and reduced mobility.
  • Arthritis is a common joint problem in adults.  Click here to learn at-home tips for managing arthritis.
  • Fasciculations, or involuntary movements, are caused by muscle tremors and are more common in the elderly.  

Tips To Help Maintain Bone, Muscle, and Joint Health [1][2]

Exercise and diet play very large roles in maintaining bone, muscle, and joint health.  Your client’s doctor will determine the best exercise regime for your client, but these exercises typically promote strength, balance, and flexibility.  Strength, balance, and flexibility are significant as they reduce pain, inflammation, and the likeliness of falling.  Examples of musculoskeletal-promoting exercises include:

  • Tai chi
  • Gentle yoga
  • Light strength training
  • Walking
  • Light water aerobics
  • Some senior centers offer healthy-bone classes where seniors perform healthy-bone exercises under the supervision of a professional.   

Diet also influences musculoskeletal health.  Again, your client’s doctor will help determine their dietary needs.  However, diets that promote bone, muscle, and joint health usually consist of a calcium and vitamin D-rich foods.  It is recommended that seniors over the age of 70 should take 1,200mg of calcium each day, and 800 international units of vitamin D each day (your client’s doctor may recommend otherwise, so be sure to check with them).  Calcium and vitamin D can be ingested through certain foods (see below) or corresponding supplements.

Check with your client’s doctor before engaging in any exercises or diet changes.  Advocating diet and exercise to your client is important as it will allow them to stay at a healthy weight.  A healthy weight decreases bone, muscle, and joint pressure on areas such as the hips and knees.  It also decreases the likeliness of falls, which can cause serious injury in older adults.

Calcium and Vitamin D-Rich Foods That Promote Bone, Muscle, and Joint Health [3]

It’s important to note that your client’s doctor will recommend how much calcium and vitamin D your client should get.  

Calcium-rich foods include:

  • Cheddar cheese
  • Fortified oatmeal
  • Nonfat milk
  • Plain, low-fat yogurt
  • Cooked soybeans
  • Firm tofu with calcium
  • Orange juice fortified with calcium
  • Raw broccoli
  • Soy or rice milk

Vitamin D-rich foods include:

  • Cooked salmon
  • Cooked swordfish
  • Tuna fish that’s been canned in water and drained
  • Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
  • Nonfat milk fortified with vitamin D
  • Swiss cheese

For recipes that encourage musculoskeletal health, take a look at this list from the International Osteoporosis Foundation here. Some recipes in this list include “Blue Cheese and Chicken-Stuffed Baked Potatoes” and “Blueberry and Yogurt Pancakes.”

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