One of the more frustrating things about getting older is that our bodies just don’t feel the same as they once did. We’re less limber. We feel aches and pains we didn’t have before. Simple tasks — such as opening a jar — can seem more difficult. Our backs, knees and hips remind us that we’re just not kids anymore.

Some of this results from the basic wear and tear of life. But the truth is, no matter who you are or how you’ve lived, as you age you’re going to lose some bone density, muscle tissue and cartilage. It’s normal.

The good news: You do have some control over how quickly and dramatically these changes occur. Research shows that exercise — particularly weight-bearing exercise — can slow the deterioration of muscles, joints and bones and help you maintain strength, balance and flexibility. This, in turn, helps to prevent falls and injuries. Most importantly, it will help you feel better and contribute to a higher quality of life.

All the Right Moves
The National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease (NIH/NIAMS) recommends weight-bearing exercise for anyone wishing to improve bone health, particularly those who have developed osteoporosis.

Weight-bearing exercises don’t only include moves that require using weights — the term refers to the type of exercise that forces you to work against gravity, using your legs and feet to carry the weight of your body. Examples of weight-bearing exercise include weight-training, walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, playing tennis and dancing.

Non-weight-bearing exercises are those in which the body’s weight is artificially supported, such as swimming and stationary cycling. These are great for building and maintaining muscles and provide cardiovascular benefits. They will not, however, help to improve bone health. A good exercise program can include both types of activities, but consult your healthcare team for the appropriate exercise plan to best meet your personal needs.

Getting Started
Tips from the NIH/NIAMS for beginning a program of weight-bearing exercise follow.

* Listen to your body. Some soreness and muscle pain is normal when you begin a new exercise routine, but extreme pain or pain that lasts more than 48 hours is not. Consult your provider if you experience pain to this degree or chest pain.

* If you have osteoporosis, which renders bones weak and brittle, consult your provider and an exercise specialist. They can develop an exercise program that is safe and appropriate to your condition.

* Do not rely solely upon exercise to prevent bone loss. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D will also help to strengthen bones at any age.

If you are not accustomed to regular physical activity, here are ways to get motivated.

* Choose an exercise that you enjoy. Not everyone likes to run or hit the gym. If taking a long walk in the morning or after dinner seems more appealing, fine.

* Choose an activity that fits your lifestyle. If you like tennis but don’t live or work near any tennis courts, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make this a regular activity. Consider taking a yoga class at your community center if that’s more convenient.

* Start small, and build at your own pace. Every step counts. Do what you can, when you can, until you’ve built a routine.