As we age, even the most athletic among us start to notice a few aches and pains that can interfere with our exercise routines.
Stacie A. McCarthy, MS, exercise physiologist at the Care New England Wellness Center, said there are a few common pain points – literally – that tend to strike as we grow older. "Your knees, back, and shouldersare vulnerable," she said.
Also, your activity level as a child can affect your body later in life – on both ends of the spectrum. For example, a baseball pitcher may have lingering shoulder issues. McCarthy herself had her lateral meniscus removed after years of vigorous ballet training and downhill skiing. "But you can also suffer from 'lack' of activity – that's the other culprit," she said.
Why do things stop working like they used to? As part of the normal aging process, our structural alignment shifts and changes. "Connective tissues like cartilage, tendons, and ligaments may become less flexible," McCarthy said. "In addition, muscle strength can decrease. If you don't use it, you lose it!"
To stay healthy, we must work on cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and flexibility for not only our upper body and lower body, but also the core muscles (primarily in your abdomen and back), which can help prevent back and hip pain or injury.
The good news is with a few precautions, you can stay fit and prevent injuries as you age. McCarthy offers solutions to slow the progression of chronic aches and pains:
- Practice good posture. This helps improve your structural alignment, and put less stress on the joints in your body.
- Work yoga or pilates into your routine. McCarthy said that's her best recommendation to slow the progression of, or prevent injuries or aches and pains. Yoga and pilates can improve alignment, balance, bone density, strength, and flexibility. Both work your core muscles and connect you to your breathing. "The biggest perk from yoga practice is an inner sense of well-being," she said. "You get this feeling that 'all is well' from the inside out."
- Cross train. If you rotate a variety of exercises into your routine, you will have less repetitive stress on joints and muscles. "It is important to mix it up," McCarthy said. "It not only can prevent the progression of injury, but it also causes what is called 'muscle confusion' which recent research has shown leads to change and gets results." She suggests incorporating 2 to 3 sessions of strength or weight training per week. If you like the same activity, even just changing the tempo of reps, or trying interval training, can help you see results.
- Take a day of rest. "Your body needs a day to just rejuvenate and restore energy back into the muscles," she said.
Exercise routines are very individual. "Everybody's body is unique," McCarthy said. "What you should and shouldn't do after age 40 or 50 is absolutely individualized. Listen to your body – it will let you know what is and is not working for you – and make modifications as needed. Put your ego aside as to what 'once was' and modify." If you do experience chronic discomfort or pain, contact your doctor.
At the same time, don't limit yourself because you are getting older. "Age is just a number, seriously. If your body is not slowing down, don't think just because you are 'x' years old that you have to slow down and cut back. You just have to be in tune with your body and go with the flow."