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  • Writer's picturePiotr Solowiej

Should an 80 year old be doing this?

We work with a lot of seniors at Team Sapiens Physical Therapy. Many mobility troubles are a result of barely having the capacity to perform activities of daily living:

  • Walk up a flight of stairs and barely make it or only with assistance from the railing

  • Can't get down to the floor, or more troublesome is often getting up from the floor

  • Walk for 10 minutes and get out of breath or tired

There is an age associated decline in strength and physical fitness as we get older. Time never stops, and everyone will reach a point where their potential ceiling starts to descend. No 80 year old will move like when they were 20 or even 40, but that does not mean life at 80 has to be so difficult.

Doing things that are harder than your normal routine (in terms of physical effort) consistently over time, will cause positive adaptations to occur which allow you to live life below 100% effort for basic activities. This may seem counterintuitive.

For example, someone may come to us reporting they are only able to walk for 10 minutes before they get sore or tired and need a break. How would you go about improving that?

One option, that I chose recently was to have the individual push a weighted sled. The combined weight of the sled totals 90 lbs. This is clearly more difficult than taking a stroll around the block.

As they were pushing the sled they asked me if this is something an 80 year old should even be doing? Just because someone is old, doesn't mean things should be taken easy (relatively). So my answer was, of course! (*If there are no contraindicating co-morbidities and it is monitored, at least when first beginning*). I've had people in their 90s pushing sleds. But it is not a "do it because I said so" situation. I explained the same logic I have outlined here.

By imposing higher threshold demands on the body, over time it adapts. Even if you are 80, 90, or 100. Our brains and bodies are in constant states of flux either building up or breaking down. So if you're spending the majority of your days sitting or lounging, it's no wonder over time a point comes where walking is now a maximal effort activity. However, with consistent exercise this pattern can be reversed. Relatively short bursts of difficult physical activity can improve your strength and overall fitness to make the basics less taxing and effortful. Again, your ceiling may be lower than it was 10 years ago but it's never too late to make an improvement.

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