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Front Page » May 2, 2013 » Senior Focus » Can't seem to slow down?
Published 448 days ago

Can't seem to slow down?


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

Sometimes for seniors its hard to recognize when it is time to quit a certain activity, particularly when it is something one loves to do. For many, it is the active lifestyle that keeps them feeling that they are living and not just surviving.

Retired profeassional athletes often speak about the difficult moment when they knew it was time to retire from professional competition. The transition can be easy for some but far more difficult for others.

For aging amateur athletes there is a recognition by most that you need not be a professional to realize there comes a time when your body is telling you it's time to ease up.

All of us have seen examples of the aging athlete or outdoor enthusiast who is 85 and who is still going strong. For some people that type of lifestyle can work, but not for everyone. There are a lot of factors that go into continuing a regimen of training or activity as a senior that didn't necessarily affect performance or even the ability to do something at age 35.

We marvel at these people; pushing their limits often beyond what we at a much younger age can do. The human spirit is truly a great thing.

But just as many of us must admit we need glasses to read, devices to hear better and at times joints repaired or replaced. We must also realize that there are limits to what the individual can do with their body, especially when certain conditions come into play. Despite our angst about it, and our determination that nothing will change the way we live, at some point, we have to realize that while we are still 17 inside our heads, our extremities are telling us we are much older than that.

Athletes are used to pushing themselves and stretching their limits, but some limits are best not pushed. While athletes don't have to completely fold up shop and hang up their cleats, tennis shoes or other athletic equipment as they approach senior citizen status, there are steps aging athletes can take to ensure they aren't pushing their bodies too far as they grow older.

As a minor athlete all my life, not one to run marathons or hike the entire Appalachian Trail, I've had my share of physical workouts. When I was young basketball was my game until my knee became an almost unrecognizable mess one day when I went in for a lay up against a 6'8" gargantuan in a county recreation basketball league game and came down wrong. I was 29 at the time and despite repairs to the knee, it never was the same. That also ended any real running I ever did, my second favorite sport.

Falling off dirt bikes in my 30's also added to the injury list with cracked ribs and once a broken collar bone that is still evident today by the bump on the front of my shoulder.

At the time I recovered and went on doing hard physical labor (which was in my job description at the time) and tried all kinds of other things that could hurt me.

Today some parts of me are a medical lesson in what a young man should not do. Today there is not generally the sharp pains of the immediacy of the moment they happened, but instead the dull aches and twinges that reoccur years and years later.

I'm still active in some sports, I just move slower now and judge better what is worth it and what is not. While winning in one way or another is important, surviving to try to win another day has actually taken precedent.

Here are some ideas for being active, yet realizing the limitations of age and prior pain experience.

•First, recognize your new recovery time. Veteran athletes tend to have a sixth sense about their bodies, knowing how long they need to recover from common ailments like ankle sprains, knee pain, back pain and shin splints. Despite the body's remarkable ability for recovery, it's not immune to aging, and that recovery time will increase as the body ages. Whereas a sprained ankle might once have been as good as new after a few days or rest, aging athletes must recognize that the same ankle sprain now might require more recovery time.

I know this to be true. When I get hurt doing something now, particularly when it comes to muscles, tendons and joints, I can't just jump right back up and go at it again. Returning too quickly from an injury can only make things worse for aging athletes, so don't push time lines. Take time to really heal.

•Take more time to warm up. As the body ages, its response time to exercise increases. This means the body needs more time to prepare itself for cardiovascular and strength training exercises. Increase your warm-up time as you age, gradually increasing the intensity of your warm-up exercises until your body feels ready for more strenuous movements. This should be true for any physical activity from sports to doing work around the yard.

I find even a short walk with some good body movement will help. Don't just dive into an activity without first getting the blood flowing and the muscles working.

Focus on flexibility. The more flexible you are, the more capable the body is of absorbing shock, including the shock that results from repetitive activities. But as the body ages, it becomes less flexible, which makes it less capable of successfully handling the repetitive movements common to exercise. Aging athletes should focus on their flexibility, stretching their muscles before and after a workout. In addition, activities such as yoga can work wonders on improving flexibility for young and aging athletes alike.

Don't stop strength training. Some aging athletes mistakenly feel they should stop strength training as they get older. No longer concerned about building muscle, aging athletes might feel as if they have nothing to gain by lifting weights and continuing to perform other muscle strengthening exercises. But the body gradually loses muscle mass as it ages, and that loss puts the joints under greater stress when aging athletes perform other exercises. That stress can put people at greater risk for arthritis, tendinitis and ligament sprains. While you no longer need to max out on the bench press or challenge yourself on the biceps curl, it is important to continue to make strength training a part of your fitness regimen as you age. But also remember the limitations you have, so as to not get injured.

Assess your skill level in anything you do, particularly sports that could cause great injury. Admit when you can't do something or you see something that others are doing and you would like to, but you know that your ability may not carry you through safely.

When you are young, you often worry about what others will think so you take on challenges that inside you know you should not try. That climb up and almost vertical cliff or heading up a trail on a four wheeler strewn with boulders and strong off camber ascents seemed just a challenge. Now things like that can cause injuries that won't ever go away (or for a long time). What I used to worry about as a young man people calling me "chicken" over not doing something I now see as "prudent" behavior. I don't worry about what others think; I worry about ending up in the hospital.

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