While it is true that aging adults have a different set of needs, interests, and desires than their younger counterparts and are often misunderstood, there are numerous myths, misconceptions, and negative stereotypes about aging and what it means to grow old. These incorrect perspectives are often barriers for both the aging population as well as the professionals that work with them to improve their fitness and nutrition. Many aging adults feel they are simply "doomed" to the consequences of natural aging and many professionals are fearful of working with this population.
It should not be this way. And, here's why:
MYTH #1: To be old is to be sick - This myth centers around the belief that aging and disease go hand-in-hand and that individuals are destined to end up in the nursing home or suffering from a catastrophic illness once they get older. While the prevalence of chronic disease increases with advancing age, a large number of mature adults are healthy, robust, and without any significant functional limitations.
MYTH #2: You can't teach an old dog new tricks - Heard this one before??!!! The myth here is the belief that senility and dementia are not only a natural part of aging, but that it is inevitable. Recent evidence regarding brain plasticity PROVES that the human mind retains its ability to learn throughout the lifespan and declines in cognition are largely AVOIDABLE. There are MANY lifestyle behaviors such as exercise levels, dietary choices, alcohol consumption, tobacco use and the level of mental stimulation that have been shown to be important factors in how much cognitive decline occurs with advancing age.
MYTH #3: The horse is out of the barn - It is often believed that once an individual is older it is "too late" to reduce disease risk, increase health status, or become fit. Not true. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to show the physiologic capacity for positive adaption is no lost...even in advanced age. For example, resistance training (or strength training) studies conducted on individuals in their 90's found that skeletal muscle can still grow and become stronger. We now know that it is never too late to positively benefit from an exercise program.
MYTH #4: The real secret to successful aging is to choose your parents wisely - Genetics definitely influence disease risk and longevity but their effects are GROSSLY overestimated. There are some specific diseases that have strong hereditary components, such as some forms of cancer, for example, and there are studies on centenarians that show there is a genetic influence on their longevity. HOWEVER, the overall evidence is clear: The influence of lifestyle and environment are far more important factors in the determination of health and functional ability than genetics.
As a Functional Aging Specialist and Certified Health Coach specializing in adults and seniors, it is important to me that my clients understand the above mentioned myths. No one is "doomed" and it is never too late to start making healthier lifestyle choices and implementing an exercise routine consisting of strength, endurance, and flexibility training. Of course, it is crucial that we start slow and make one small change at a time, but it's even more important to know that it is scientifically proven that small changes over time can lead to big results in how you will move and how you will feel.