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Myth: Age is a heavy burden

Myth: Age is a heavy burden

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Simone Golob

Myth busters

Movement scientist Lex Verdijk would first like to clarify what he means by heavy burden. “That you can no longer carry out certain functional tasks or that it requires great effort. Shopping, climbing stairs, getting up from a chair.” Because, he says, it is undeniably true that ageing is accompanied by physical deterioration. “Sports performance gets less. I believe that the marathon record for centenarians is eight hours, which corresponds to walking at a brisk pace. But the fact that someone of that age is capable of walking a little more than 42 kilometres, tells us something. Ailments can be prevented to a certain extent.”

How should you do that? In the same way in which you see young people improve their fitness: by exercising. “Physically, we are at our best between 25-30 years of age. Then, deterioration sets in. Up to the age of 45, you don't notice it so much, but after that it goes more quickly and from the age of seventy, the decline is rapid. But no matter how old you are, your body will continue to react to stimuli. If you do power and endurance training, your body will adapt and improve.” Verdijk refers to research among nonagenarians living in a care home who were sent to the gym. “After ten weeks, half of them no longer needed walking aids. Their walking speed had also increased by 50 per cent.”

It is true that not everyone will feel comfortable at the gym – although Verdijk hopes that the growing interest in exercising and healthy food becomes a normal phenomenon, also for older people– but it is good to simply keep moving. “Don't move into a bungalow, but take the stairs as long as you can. Each time you do, it is a bit like power training. Embrace every opportunity to move. In doing so, you may not improve your performance, but you will stay fit.”

People who live active lives, have an advantage. “Deterioration happens approximately at the same speed for everyone. But the higher your starting level, the older you will be when deterioration sets in.” Once you find yourself in that position, you can still change things by exercising, but it will take a lot more effort. “Prevention is better than curing. I see people in care homes and I think: if only something had been done sooner, they would have had a better quality of life. ”

Verdijk would like to see more emphasis put on this issue in the education programme. “For all care providers, not just physiotherapists and movement scientists, but also doctors and nurses. Take hospital meals, for example. It is often standard practice to give patients their meals in bed. While some people have no problem walking. Why should they not sit at a table? It gets them out of bed for a while, they have to walk a bit. But to be able to achieve something like that, all parties have to work together. The doctor mustn't find it too much trouble, nurses need to have the time, and management mustn't find it too expensive. You don't change something like that overnight.”

But it is relevant. “We will have more and more older people. We have become very good over the past thirty, forty years at extending lives. But they include many years in sickness. That is a social-economic problem that we now have to solve.”


Mythbusters is a series in which academics shoot down popular myths on complex topics



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