This past winter I taught a course titled Physical Activity and
Aging. It was a fun course, and really drove home an issue that I’ve
known for a while, but hadn’t previously given a lot of thought: the
impact of aging is identical to the detraining that happens in response
to reduced physical activity and/or increased sedentary behaviour.
Aging is associated with reduced fitness, weaker bones, reduced
insulin sensitivity, reduced muscle strength, and reduced balance. Lack
of physical activity is also associated with all of those things. This isn’t a coincidence – many (probably most) of the health impacts of aging are not really due to aging at all.
You see, there are 2 types of aging. Eugeric aging, which you can
think of as “true” aging. The stuff you simply cannot avoid as you get
older (e.g. hearing loss, or reduced eyesight).
But there is also “pathogeric” aging, which refers to pathological
aging (e.g. aging that’s unecessary/unhealthy). Almost all the really
scary things that we attribute to aging (weak bones, bones, heart,
lungs, etc) falls into this category, and are much more likely to be
caused by too little exercise/too much sitting, rather than aging
I bring this up because I’m concerned that we are currently killing our elders with kindness.
We don’t let them carry their dishes to the sink (“Mom, sit down! I
can get that!”). We won’t let them do chores. We worry if they have to
go up and down stairs on a daily basis. We get angry if they go for a
walk without a chaperone. We force them to sit to conserve their
energy. All of this flies in the face of evidence, and common sense.
Picture the healthiest older adult that you know – do they spend their
day sitting down, or do they spend their days walking, skiing, or
dancing? It’s not a coincidence.
» Stop killing the elderly with kindness