Age and Motor Control
Gerontology is one of the fastest growing areas of study in the behavioral and biological sciences (Schmitt & Lee, 2011). This is no surprise, especially since in the United States alone, those born from 1946 to 1964 (Baby Boomers) total 76.4 million U.S. Citizens. Baby Boomers population accounts for almost 24% of the total population of the U.S. Those included in the Baby Boomer population are living longer and their needs are a growing concern. The longer and this population can stay healthy and productive, the less taxing the addressing of their needs will be to society as a whole.
Advancing age lends to lower muscle mass (sarcopenia), strength and cardiovascular capacity. The rate of decline for adults between the ages of 20 and 80 is listed at 10% per decade. This is due to many factors; lower anabolic hormone levels, reduced confidence, higher rates of depression, illness and injury. However, if an individual has not sustained a significant injury or if they have not been afflicted by disease, the propensity to gain muscle mass is achievable after undergoing a 10 week resistance training regiment (Green, 2014, p 332).
One of the major areas of study is the loss of Reaction Time (RT). There are many factors that contribute to both the actual and perceived the reduction of speed of RT. Decreases in speed may be perceived because older people are more cautious. However, the most dramatic changes in RT occur in choice making process (Fozzard, J.L., Vercruyssen, M., Reynolds, S. L., Hancock, P.A., & Quilter, R.S. ,1994). Other conditions related to RT that occur in the aging population are the loss of balance and coordination. Statistics demonstrate that falls are the leading cause of death in the elderly. Focusing on strength and conditioning as well as activities such as yoga and tai chi will not only result in allowing the central nervous system to have increased information of where the body is in space, but also provide the strength to keep posture and maintain balance (Green, 2014, p 555). Yoga and tai chi also increase circulation, strength, flexibility, combat depression and one’s ability to focus (Balmaseda, 2005). The repeated motions and body awareness in tai chi and yoga coupled with the increases in strength and bone density garnered from resistance training improve the quality of life for many, especially the older generation. Even though it becomes more difficult to attain muscle mass past the age of 60 for most, improvements and gains can be accomplished.
Exercise mitigates the reduction of RT and overall movement as we age and provides many other psychological and physiological benefits that add not only to the length of life but to a greater extent, the quality of life. This holds particularly true for for the aging community. It’s extremely important to maintain a regimen of fitness as we age. Many people cease engaging in activities as they get older and are relegated to looking backward on the activities that they had done previously. The best advice that I can offer is that If you want to keep doing something, keep doing it!
Balmaseda, L.(April, 2005). Tai chi and yoga: Body and mind the eastern way.
Fozzard, J.L., Vercruyssen, M., Reynolds, S. L., Hancock, P.A., & Quilter, R.S. (1994). Age differences and changes in reaction time: The Baltimore longitudinal study of aging. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 49, P179-189.
Green, D. J., Project Editor. ACE, American Council on Exercise. 2014. ISBN 978-1-890720-50-6. American Council on Exercise Personal Trainer Manual, Fifth Edition. (p 332)
Schmidt, R. A., & Lee, T. D. (2011). Motor control and learning: A behavioral emphasis (5th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.