Skip to main content
Home » Your Later Life » Growing old is inevitable, growing strong is a choice
Your Later Life 2020

Growing old is inevitable, growing strong is a choice

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Mladen Zivkovic

Katie Hayes

Chartered Physiotherapists, Member of Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists 

Edel McDaid

Chartered Physiotherapists, Member of Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists

Ageing well is like a pension plan. It will match your investment. Pension plans save small amounts over long periods to futureproof your financial self


Society considers pensions so important that many sectors operate a mandatory pension contribution scheme. Yet, as much as we prepare for future loss of income, we rarely consider a loss of strength. Rather than financial futureproofing, why not think about functional futureproofing? There are small ‘contributions’ we can make to our body strength over our lifetime that will accumulate into a bounty worthy of ‘interest’.

The ageing muscle and improving functional ability

At the age of 45, we are generally thinking about our pensions and financial security for later life. But this is also a critical time for your muscles. From the age of 45, the quality and quantity of muscle mass in our body begins to reduce in size, strength and power. Although this is a normal process, it may have a significant impact on our ability to function in our later life.

The benefits translate into all aspects of everyday life; lifting your grandchild with ease, taking all the shopping in one go. It allows you to channel more energy into doing the things that mean something to you.

Functional ability is being able to do essential parts of daily life e.g. get up each day, take care of yourself and others, walk and enjoy your hobbies. The rate at which we are affected depends on our activity levels: inactivity can accelerate the decline.

This age-related loss of muscle is called ‘sarcopenia’, which in Greek means, “poverty of strength.” Sarcopenia is associated with the challenges we strive to combat in later life: reduced balance, loss of independent living and death. But, no need to despair, we’re not saying your muscles are going to go broke and declare bankruptcy. They are just prone to losing some value over time; but you can have the power to change that. 

Boost your muscle bank with resistance training

The answer is within the problem. The ‘poverty of strength’ can be replenished with resistance exercise. If you haven’t already, it’s time to open a muscle bank account. By making deposits (exercising) throughout your lifespan you can slow down the process of sarcopenia.

Research has shown that there are no ‘non-responders’ to resistance exercise so, no matter what your level or exercise history, you can gain from this simple pension contribution. In fact, research shows that, in some cases, resistance training reversed the signs of ageing in muscle, even in the very old.

Along with this delay in the ageing process, resistance exercise is empowering. Confidence blossoms from knowing that you are stronger than you were yesterday. It can strengthen the sense of self. The benefits translate into all aspects of everyday life; lifting your grandchild with ease, taking all the shopping in one go. It allows you to channel more energy into doing the things that mean something to you.

The role of physiotherapists in muscle matters

In this analogy, physiotherapists would be the pension planner, here to tailor the exercise plan to your specific needs, abilities and goals. When looking at strengthening and building up the weight tolerated over time, it is individual to each person and can often be dependent on other health issues. This is where the physiotherapist as an exercise specialist can guide you.

Together with the physiotherapist you can find the plan that works for you. Like all health commitments it needs to be individualised, sustainable and enjoyable. The interest rates are very attractive as resistance training not only combats ageing muscles but also strengthens your bones. Twice the return for a single investment.

A take home message to take to the ‘bank’

Pay into your pension; more muscle in the bank sets you up for retirement. Don’t worry, it’s never too late to start. If you don’t know what works for you and your ability, consult a Chartered Physiotherapist to help you start your strength journey. Growing old is inevitable, growing strong is choice.

Next article