What happens to our bones, muscles, and skin as we age?

Aging hands and skin

What happens to our bones, muscles, and skin as we age?

Top Line

We are all aging and understanding the process of how we age can help us plan for what lies ahead.

Why it Matters

Understanding how our bones, muscles, and skin age can have a significant impact on our quality of life later on. The more we can prepare for what is to come the more we can take charge and even prevent some of the age related changes in our bones, muscles, and skin.

Key Takeaways:

  • Aging is a life long process and no one person ages in the same way.
  • Understanding the way in which you age is important in understanding how to maintain your quality of life.
  • Being physically active on a daily basis mitigates many of the age related changes that occur in the body.


The negative or positive impact age-related changes in skin, bone, and muscles has on the psychology of aging individuals most likely varies from one person to the next depending on the severity of their skin, bone, and muscle changes.

For example, aging is most apparent when observing a person’s skin, hair, and nails.1 Depending on the individual’s lifestyle this may be more or less evident since skin, hair, and nails not only reflect age but also hygiene habits, mental state, type of work, and even one’s educational level.1 How skin, hair, and nails appear on an individual also influences self-concept and changes in one or all three may elicit negative reactions from others or even be the basis for prejudicial treatment in a youth-oriented society.1

A prominent age-related skin disorder is pressure ulcers. Pressure ulcers develop in body tissues that are situated directly over bony prominences and when prolonged pressure is exerted on the body tissue, necrosis (dead tissue) ensues.1 This takes months to heal and often requires hospitalization or other special care needs. This not only becomes costly to the individual and family but also forces the individual to give up their autonomy and become dependent. Those afflicted experience disfigurement, isolation, pain, and stupendous medical bills.1 The risk is primarily greatest for those over the age of 70 but preventative actions can be taken before the age of 70 to help reduce the chance of developing pressure ulcers. For example, intrinsic factors for pressure ulcers include circulatory impairment, poor nutritional status (especially lack of vitamins A and C), smoking, stress, dehydration, hypotension, immobility, and older age.1

Therefore, some preventative actions can be maintaining physical activity that improves circulation, maintain a healthy well-rounded diet, do not smoke or quit smoking, stay well hydrated, and most importantly, staying active daily.

Physical activity
Group of people performing various physical activities.

In regard to age-related change in muscles, musculoskeletal disorders and limitations cause substantial physical and psychological suffering and thus greatly affect quality of life in the later years.1 Particularly, sarcopenia, which is a loss of muscle mass and strength due to increased age and inactivity. Sarcopenia increases fatigue, frailty, and disabilities; is a major risk factor for falling; and makes daily activities more difficult, therefore compromising independence in many older adults.1

These disorders can cause individuals to become dependent and have to live within retirement communities or assisted living. This can cause a number of issues when an elderly person is in a nursing home, he/she is likely to be physically, psychologically, emotionally, and economically dependent.2 This dependency reduces daily activities, and can also reduce self-esteem and increase depression in the older person.2

Therefore, maintaining physical fitness throughout older age is essential to compensate for age-related changes in the musculoskeletal system.1 Not only will this help improve functionality later in life, exercise and physical activity have been proposed to impact psychological well-being through their moderating and mediating effects on constructs such as self-concept and self-esteem.3 Additionally, those among the older population who were more physically active experienced less depression and better cognitive functioning.4 Aerobic exercise, strength building, and flexibility exercises are all absolutely necessary to preserve mobility and independence.1

Jon Esposito MA, CSCS, CISSN, USAW