By: Elaine Gottlieb for Knee1
Staying active as you get older offers major health benefits – from improving mood to preventing heart disease – but there is a catch. Just as you can’t jump as high or run as fast at age 60 as you can at age 20, your aging bones and muscles can’t handle the wear and tear of exercise without greater risk of injury.
Where most injuries happen - knees, back and shoulders
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1. Strengthen the “core” stomach and back muscles to help the body withstand impact and take stress off joints
2. Vary your exercise routine so you don’t overwork the same muscles
3. Check your pace during aerobic exercise with the ‘talk test:” if you can’t talk while exercising, the pace is too hard; if you can belt out a song, you can work harder.
4. Follow the 10 percent rule: increase your workout by only 10 percent a week. For example, if you walk a mile one week, you can two an additional one-tenth of a mile (two blocks) the next.
5. Give your body a break from high-impact and weight-bearing activities by doing low-impact exercises, such as using stationary bikes and rowing machines and swimming – all good choices for older people
The parts of the body most vulnerable to injury are, not surprisingly, shoulders, knees and back, which bear the brunt of exertion. Active adults between the ages of 50 and 60 often experience the first signs of wear and tear in these places. Overall, sports injuries are on the increase: Baby boomers suffered more than one million injuries in 1998 (the last year statistics were available), a 33 percent increase since 1991.
Common injuries and their causes
Racket and throwing sports, everyday activities and falls can all injure the rotator cuff, a series of tendons around the shoulder. A torn rotator cuff can be painful and require treatment. Another common injury to this area is the impingement syndrome, which affects the bursal tissues and/or the rotator tendons.
High-impact activities including tennis, running and basketball can play havoc with older knees. The most common knee injury is to the meniscus cartilage, which lies between the two bones of the knee. Other injuries affect the articular cartilage, which is worn down by age and arthritis, and the patella, which is located in front of the knee and becomes tighter with age.
Just about any exercise, particularly high-impact activities like running, can strain back muscles, which, due to lack of exercise, tend to be weak and loose in most people.
Consult your doctor first
If you’re healthy, you can begin a moderate exercise program anytime. However, you should consult your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms or conditions:
• Chest pain
• Heart problems
• High blood pressure
• Asthma or severe shortness of breath
• Dizziness or balance problems
• Foot or ankle sores that won’t heal
• Persistent pain or trouble walking after a fall
• Eye problems
• Joint or bone problems
• A hip replacement or repair
Getting started – Take it slow
If you haven’t exercised in awhile, it is especially important to start slow and gradually increase your activity level. This allows muscles to get stronger which helps prevent injury, especially with strengthening exercises. Start with a program that your body can handle – even if it’s as little as five minutes per session – and build up to 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, the recommended amount for health benefits.
Be consistent, advises Craig Parsons, senior physical therapist at Sports Medicine & Physical Therapy Associates in Boston. “The body is a homeostatic device; it adapts to your everyday routine. The more you sit around, the more your body wants to do that. As you get active, your body will thrive and you’ll feel better on the days you exercise. So it provides a positive stimulus.”
Balance your workout
A well-balanced fitness regimen includes these four types of exercise:
• Strength – free weights, weight machines, stair climbing, Pilates
• Balance – yoga, ballet
• Endurance – swimming, running/jogging, brisk walking, cycling, dancing
• Flexibility – yoga, Pilates, ballet, stretching exercises
You can vary your workout and ensure a balanced exercise program with cross-training. For instance, you might jog one day or swim the next. Or you can blend a variety of activities into one workout, doing 30 minutes of running, 15 minutes of strength training and 15 minutes of stretching.
Warm up and cool down. Failing to warm up before exercising and cool down afterwards are major causes of injury. Our time-pressed lifestyle is often to blame. “People go from sitting all day to hitting the tennis court and they suffer the consequences,” warns Parsons. He also advises against being a weekend warrior and working out three days in a row without giving your body a break. Plan your exercise schedule in advance, Parsons recommends, and take time off between workouts.
Use common sense and get moving
Let common sense be your guide. You can’t go from being a couch potato to a marathoner overnight. If your workouts are causing you serious discomfort, such as lightheadedness, shortness of breath, sudden headaches or excess sweating, slow down and see your doctor if symptoms persist.
So, use caution, but do lace up those athletic shoes and find an activity you enjoy –you’ll reap the rewards!