Normal Changes in Your Musculoskeletal System
If you've been fairly healthy most of your life, you may be surprised to wake up one morning with muscle aches and pains. Most people feel the first effects of age in the musculoskeletal system.
Bones and Joints
In middle age, your bones lose calcium and other minerals. They get thinner and weaker and are more inclined to break. Bones in your hips, wrists, and spine weaken more than others. Many women lose bone density rapidly after menopause because their bodies produce less estrogen, which helps strengthen bones.
The cartilage that lines your joints also tends to thin from years of wear and tear. Damage to the cartilage from overuse or repeated injury often leads to osteoarthritis, one of the most common physical afflictions of later life.
Between the ages of 40 and 50, osteoarthritis is more prevalent in women than men; middle-aged men usually don't have arthritis, unless it's caused by an earlier trauma from an accident or sports injury. Men in their seventies and eighties, however, develop osteoarthritis as often as women do.
Ligaments, which bind joints together, and tendons that bind your muscles to bones tend to become less elastic, making joints feel tight or stiff. You become less flexible. Ligaments tend to tear more easily and heal more slowly as you get older.
Is it possible to get shorter as you age?
Yes, you can get shorter as you get older. Vertebrae in your spine lose density as you age. The disks, gel-like cushions between each bone, lose fluid and become thinner. The spinal column curves and compresses. Your spine and trunk get shorter, and so do you.
Muscles and Fat
By your 75th birthday, the percentage of muscle mass in your body is approximately half what it was when you turned 25. Meanwhile, the proportion made up of fat has doubled and is redistributed in your body, which changes shape.
Muscle changes often begin in men while they're in their twenties and in women during their forties. In general, you start losing muscle mass when you're about 30 and continue to do so throughout life. Too much body fat can increase the risk of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. It can change the way you metabolize foods and medications. It can strain your muscles and bones and limit your mobility.
Most older people retain enough muscle mass and strength to do most physical things they've done throughout adult life. Those who exercise regularly to strengthen muscles can delay or prevent muscle mass loss and avoid some illnesses and injury. Some people remain athletic, compete in sports, and enjoy vigorous activity. But even the fittest experience some decline with age.