Let’s face it, nobody likes to get older and we think that as we age, we can do the same things we used to be able to do 20, 30, and 40 or more years ago. There is no reason to think that just because we are older we have to hang up our sneakers for a rocking chair. While age is a relative thing, the 60-year-old tennis player may be in better shape than the 20-year-old couch potato. Unfortunately though, time does take its toll on the human body. After age 30, we start losing muscle mass and after age 40 bone mass declines. Tendons, which connect muscles to bone, and ligaments, which hold joints together, become less elastic and are easier to tear. These factors can impede our ability to enjoy exercise as we age. Fortunately, the body is very good at repairing itself, but as we age the body takes longer to recover. Decreasing repetitive impact to your body, particularly your joints, can allow you to continue to enjoy your activity or sport, but modification is key. Examples of modification include switching from singles to doubles tennis, biking instead of running, and easier ski slopes.
Key factors for improving performance focus on strength, flexibility and endurance. Stretching to increase flexibility and lifting weights to build strength makes you a better athlete and makes the body a better shock absorber. As we age, our tendons become less flexible and are more prone to tearing, so maintaining flexibility is very important. Warming up the muscle before stretching will allow for a more effective stretch. For example, if you walk for five minutes, then stretch your leg muscles, the stretch will be more effective. Stretch warm, not cold. Stretching after exercise is an effective way to do this. Strength training is just as important especially in conditions of bone thinning. Strengthening with heavy weights and low repetitions increases bulk, but using lighter weights and about 30 repetitions per exercise can be a bit safer and still provides increased strength. Along with strength and flexibility, cardiovascular endurance is a key factor, especially as heart disease is a major cause of death. Exercising for 20 minutes three times per week is effective as long as you raise your heart rate between 60 – 80% of your maximum during exercise. To calculate maximum heart rate subtract your age from 220, then take 60 – 80% of that number so you can monitor during exercise. Cardiovascular exercise should involve the legs because legs have large muscles and require a lot of blood to work. Research has shown that several short exercise sessions such as climbing stairs during the course of the day have the same effect as one long session in lowering triglycerides or blood fats.
Don’t forget that exercise should be fun. Pick an activity you love, have different seasonal exercises you can do such as bike in warmer weather and hike in colder weather, and try to have a friend exercise with you as it can provide motivation to keep going and make the activity much more enjoyable.
Some of the information in this article was based on “Advice for Aging Athletes” written by William G. Raasch, MD and available at http://lollylegs.com/training/AgingAthletes.aspx
About Kristin Dymek, PT
With her degree from Northeastern University, Kristin has spent two decades as a physical therapist at Reliant Medical Group, specializing in orthopedic rehabilitation for post-operative shoulder and knee surgeries. Kristin takes special interest in helping baseball and softball pitchers. “I have attended many courses on the mechanics of pitching and rehabilitation, and have organized numerous pitching clinics locally.” Kristin’s...View profile View posts by this doctor