Chronological age is one number. Functional age, on the other hand, is the sum of your physiological, psychological (cognitive) and social advantages or their lack. For example, an active 70-year-old may far exceed the mobility, strength and energy levels of someone who is a sedentary 60. This is called successful ageing.
The biological model of ageing is defined by renowned biologist Leonard Hayflick from the different angles of cellular theories, genetic theories and control theories.
• Cellular theories focus on degenerative changes that occur on a cellular level due to increase in free radicals with age. They increase in number due to biological processes as well as exposure to carcinogenic chemicals (i.e., smoking), radiation and other environmental factors.
• Genetic theories deal with heredity and suggest that cellular degeneration is pre-programmed.
• Control theories indicate that the efficiency of several systems that are critical to our functioning, like the neuroendocrine system, central nervous system and our immunity system gradually reduces with age.
Science hasn’t discovered how to arrest the ageing process. So let us focus on how to slow down the clock.
Physical activity is a lifestyle anti-ageing intervention.
Exercise has shown to have great beneficial effects on the functioning of older adults. The ageing process compromises several key components of our body that are required for efficiently conducting our activities of daily living. Let’s take a look at how we can minimise the impact:
Sarcopenia is defined as the loss of muscular strength with age. More specifically, it is the Type II muscle fibres (required for high intensity activity) that are lost. In fact, research points that reduction in these muscle fibres lead to insulin resistance, a fear of falling and mild cognitive impairment. In order to preserve these muscle fibres, older adults are recommended to include suitable (age-modified) high intensity interval training. Along with high intensity training, increasing muscular strength with weight training is also strongly recommended. Use of resistance bands or light weights to increase muscular load works wonders in the long run.
Cardiorespiratory fitness deals with our stamina to perform activities. Ageing-related loss of cardiorespiratory fitness results in loss of autonomy, frailty and increased dependence. Taking part in a fitness programme that works on stamina can certainly help older adults improve their cardiorespiratory function. Just 20 minutes of cardio exercise 3 — 5 days a week will be a good starting point.
Static and dynamic posture, balance and flexibility deal with the body’s ability to move comfortably within its normal range of motion. Sensory and neuromuscular effects of ageing, loss of muscle strength and elasticity play an adverse effect on all these factors. Loss of balance and falls has been identified as a hazard that many older individuals face. The good news is that regaining motor control is possible through cognitive motor training. Therefore including yoga based exercises (great for flexibility and motor training) in the fitness programme is essential.
Social, cognitive and emotional wellness is known to be adversely affected with age. Engaging in regular exercise immediately relieves anxiety and depression. Improvement in strength, balance and mobility is a strong confidence booster. Taking part in group fitness sessions, interactions with the coach and other participants can be social engagement for many in the senior age group.
The most common problem preventing seniors from participating in an exercise programme is their belief that at their age it cannot be done! This assumption is incorrect. All that one needs to do to break this barrier is to give it a try.
Always consult a professional before starting on a workout.
The writer is the founder of Mike’s Martial Arts, a Calcutta-based martial arts and advanced functional fitness studio. Contact:

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