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50 is the new 30: Tips for staying young as we age

Exercising our way into old age is one of the pillars of healthy aging. Studies show that regular exercise has a beneficial effect on our cardiovascular system, brains, muscles and joints, and lowers our risk of cancer, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and high cholesterol. Exercise is on everyone’s good aging list — from WebMD, to geriatric specialists, to the Huffington Post — but how can we ensure that our bodies stay healthy enough so that we can stay active as we age?

Ask orthopaedic surgeon Richard Mullins, MD of Great Basin Orthopaedics what’s the biggest issue he sees with patients over 50 years old and he will tell you 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 as you age:

1. Ease into an exercise regime.

If it has been a while since you exercised regularly, start slowly. “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. Build your way up and you will prevent injury.” Also, recognize that your muscles may be sore if you’re starting something new. But 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.

You’ve heard this one before, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant: Warm up thoroughly before exercise. 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 helps offset the effects of the normal decline in flexibility. Warming up, or easing into your exercise gradually increases blood flow to your muscles and muscle temperature which allows for better oxygenation of the muscles. Warming up can improve performance and prevent injury as muscle tears occur more often when the muscles are cold.

3. Choose your activities wisely.

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.