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Life Stages for Girls and Women

Age-Related Changes That Improve with Exercise
  • Arthritis and stiff joints
  • Decreased flexibility
  • Incontinence
  • Decreased strength
  • Slower reflexes
  • Slower metabolism
  • Decreased balance
  • Decreased vision
Arthritis is one of the most frequent complaints of aging without known causes other than genetic predisposition, trauma, and wear and tear. Arthritis can decrease your balance, leading to muscle weakness and increased risk of falls. This becomes worse with joint and soft tissue stiffness that occurs as collagen becomes firmer and less stretchy. Conditioning exercises and stretches can prevent most of these changes from interfering with your lifestyle and activity level. Other tips to prevent arthritis from worsening include wearing well-cushioned shoes, having injuries evaluated and treated early to prevent weakness and loss of motion, and avoiding pushing through severe pain in the joints. If arthritis affects your hands, larger, more comfortable grips and vibration absorbing sports equipment can be very helpful.

Balance is an essential component of fitness, as good balance decreases falls and injuries such as sprained ankles. Balance becomes impaired over time due to muscle and joint stiffness and weakness, slower reflexes and nerve firing, and core weakness. Fortunately, balance can be improved with practice. Correcting vision trouble, making it easier to see little bumps in the road, can prevent accidents and injuries. Having good balance can help you right yourself in unstable situations and prevent falls. Therefore, you should work on your balance daily. Walking heel to toe and standing on one leg with your eyes closed are simple exercises that improve balance.

Ways to Improve Age-Related Problems That Affect Balance

Problem Improvement
Stiffness of joints and muscles Stretch daily
Weakness of muscles and bones Strength train
Slower reflexes Train reflexes with ball sports
Weakness of your core Exercise and stretch on a stability ball
Vision problems Have your vision evaluated and corrected
Nerve slowness Nurture them with a B complex vitamin

Exercise is the best way to maintain your health and fitness throughout all stages of life. Learning a new sport or athletic activity challenges your body in new ways to increase its strength, nerve functioning, balance, and endurance. Regular daily activity keeps the heart and muscles strong. Sleep is improved, and metabolism is maintained to accommodate to a healthy appetite and prevent weight gain. Posture is maintained to prevent height loss, and bones are protected from osteoporosis. Be aware of your osteoporosis risk, know your bone density, and take your calcium.

Maintaining a healthy, athletic attitude allows for graceful transitions through more challenging activities. Regular exercise manages the stress that can occur later in life and keeps you in top form to prevent injuries and maintain strong immunity. Being socially involved in teams or sports stimulates your mind and elevates mood. These activities are the most effective ways to stay young.

With regards to exercise and aging, there are no restrictions. You should do what feels good. There are many older women who run marathons, climb mountain peaks, and downhill ski aggressively. Women in their 70s have completed Ironman triathlons, and women in their 80s have completed marathons.


From The Active Woman's Health and Fitness Handbook by Nadya Swedan. Copyright © 2003 by Nadya Swedan. Used by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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