Exercise is one of the pillars of healthy aging. Studies show that regular exercise benefits our cardiovascular system, brains, muscles and joints, and lowers our risk of cancer, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and high cholesterol. But how can we ensure that our bodies stay healthy enough to be active as we age?
Orthopaedic surgeon Richard Mullins, MD of Great Basin Orthopaedics says the biggest issue he sees with patients over 50 years old is overuse. Strains, pulls, aching joints — many of these issues are preventable in those middle-aged and older with a common-sense approach to exercise. “They feel young mentally, so they think can do what they did in their 20s and 30s,” says Mullins. “But 50- and 60-year old bodies require different care.”
Here are some of Dr. Mullins’ tips for staying active and injury-free as you age:
1. Start off slow to prevent injury.
“When a patient who hasn’t played tennis in 30 years goes out and serves balls for two hours straight, it’s not surprising that his shoulder hurts,” says Mullins. “Be smart and take your time getting back into a sport or starting a new one.” Recognize that you’ll be sore when you start again, and remember that the more gradually you approach activity, the less soreness you will have and the less potential you have for injuring yourself.
2. Warm-up. No, really.
The older we get, the more important it is to warm up. As we age, our muscles become shorter and lose their elasticity (sorry, it’s a fact). Stretching is an important part of maintaining flexibility and offsetting the effects of its decline. Warming up, or easing into your exercise gradually increases blood flow to your muscles and muscle temperature which can improve performance and prevent injury.
3. Reduce high impact activities.
With exercise like running, hopping, jumping rope, skipping, jumping jacks, plyometrics, and some step aerobics, both feet leave the ground at the same time. These are considered high impact activities and they are harder on the joints. As we age, we should aim to reduce high impact activity, instead aiming for low impact activities including walking, hiking, swimming, elliptical trainers and cycling. To make exercise a regular part of your life, find activities you enjoy so that it doesn’t feel like “work” when you work out.
4. Try to maintain year-round fitness.
It’s much easier on your body if you stay on a year-round regime instead of letting yourself get out of shape and then working to get active again. Your activities can change from season to season — i.e. skiing in winter, cycling in summer — but the key is to stay active. And remember, as you start a new type of exercise, go easy (see tip #1).
5. Say “hi” to your family care doc.
If you have not seen a physician in a while, or are starting an exercise program after a long break, you should see a doctor before you begin. Not only can they address potential health issues and limitations, but regular preventative care with a physician who knows you and your health history is another way to stay healthy and active as you age.
If, despite your best intentions, (or a late read of this article) you find yourself with a bone or joint injury beyond typical aches and soreness, seek professional help. The board-certified orthopaedic surgeons at Great Basin Orthopaedics have expertise in bone and joint injury in patients ranging from pediatric to geriatric, performance athlete to neighborhood strollers. Call us at 775.786.1600 to schedule your consultation.