Updated: Jan 11
If you are 25 years old or older, you are an aging athlete with performance peaking and your body on a steady decline. Prevent performance decreasing by understanding your body as you age. But to understand your body means to be best friends with your body and get to the basics to see how things change over time.
Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD)
The term “sudden cardiac death” or SCD sounds daunting and intimidating, but it is a topic that is often overlooked and ignored by many coaches and healthcare professionals. And I don’t blame them, it is often difficult to talk about death and the possibility of dying, especially at a young age, but it does happen. SCDs happen in all ages, from the high school football player at practice, to the elite cyclist on a long ride, to the office worker who just started to train for a 5k. The big take away message here is to not ignore the signs and symptoms your body displays. Remember, your body is your best friend, so if your bestie is talking to you by giving you pain in your chest, discomfort in your abdomen, or pain when you perform exercise, you want to be listening. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is usually the culprit as we age and gets worse with age, accounting for 85% of all sudden cardiac deaths. Typically this is the result of diet habits but not in all cases. So it is always best to have a primary care physician you see on a regular basis to make sure someone is looking out for warning signs and can help guide you in the right direction. I would also recommend having a good sports doctor of physical therapy (DPT) on your team. DPTs are highly trained in identifying possible problems and being able to screen you for life-threatening conditions.
A big concern I often hear is, “will exercising ruin/damage/cause problems in my joints?” There are a couple of joints in the body that tend to take a bigger beating when it comes to exercising. The lower back, knee, and shoulder are probably the top big 3 joint areas that often come up in the clinic. Usually the conversation goes like, “I started running and once I did that my knees started hurting and never stopped” or “I started lifting weights and I hurt my back and it has never been the same.” Typically, this is due to increasing the amount of exercise too quickly and with bad form, which is the best recipe for an injury to occur.
Most research has demonstrated that exercising and staying active is actually the best way to prevent joint pain, injury, and osteoarthritis. In one of my previous BLOGs, I covered this topic in some detail and is worth a read. Our bodies were made to move and move often. It has only been recently that we have slowed down and required less of our bodies. We can blame desk jobs and the computer for that change (I’ve been sitting for about an hour now as I write this blog). Some research has even gone so far as to say sitting is the new smoking and that sitting for a long period throughout the day is almost as bad as smoking. Whether that is true or not is up for debate but the more important lesson to take away is to remember, “motion is lotion!” Meaning the more you move the better your joints and body function. Just make sure you have the right equipment when you exercise. Good running shoes for your running style, a professional bike fit for your bike, a good lifting coach or introduction to the weight room, proper tools to perform your activity. Don’t go the cheaper route to save a few bucks either. You pay for what you get and you don’t want to be going cheap on your best friend, right? 😉
Recovery is Key
Ask yourself this question, do you schedule in recovery time for your workouts? Meaning, you may have a plan of working out on specific days of the week like MWF but do you also have a plan for taking one or two days off to recover? Aging athlete performance is dramatically impacted by recovery times and as you age, the more time you need to dedicate to recovery. Also, as you age you may notice that you are still able to do the same amount or volume of exercise as any other year but your performance at a race or with friends seems to be going down. This is because as you age, your activity performance will not necessarily decrease quickly but the amount of time for recovery dramatically lengthens. Meaning, you can do the work but you will need more time to recover.
How strong are your bones?
As we age, we go from a day job to a field job, to a desk job, to a career/leadership job, to being retired. Notice a trend? You start of very active and standing a lot to a sedentary sitting job as you age. The biggest notable change is the amount of weight placed onto the skeletal system, your bones. Now, your bones need weight and a demand placed on them to stay healthy. It is called “Wolff’s Law” and is the reason astronauts come back to earth with weakened bones and the reason why elderly people tend to break bones easily. They just aren’t using the bones and placing a demand on the bones to stay healthy. Aging athletes typically do not have this problem because the regular exercise helps to keep your bones healthy. This is another good reason to keep exercising throughout your lifespan. Keep those bones healthy with more than just milk!
Daily dose of Vit D!
Along the same lines of bone strength and Wolf’s law comes the discussion of vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for good bone health and something to consider in the aging athlete conversation. How it works and how much to take is a good conversation to have with your PCP but just know you need it, especially as you age. The good thing about vitamin D is that it is readily available and, here is the best part, FREE! The best source of vitamin D is from the sun and getting outdoors and exercising is a good way to pick up some vitamin D for your day. There are some elements to consider like avoiding the hottest part of the day, wearing sunblock (though sunblock inhibits vitamin D production to a certain degree) or checking to make sure the air quality/ozone layer is not at a dangerous level, but as long as your getting outdoors and exercising on a routine basis, you should be good to go.
Subscribe to my BLOG for future content as I’ll be going over aging athlete performance through the decades. I will be covering the key components of each decade and elements you should be looking out for to make sure you continue to exercise injury free. Make sure you keep exercising for many years with minimal injuries!
Dr. Estrada is an Endurance Specialist at EPRSG and has over 15+ years of experience. He has completed over 10+ half marathons, 4 marathons, and 2 triathlons. His experience ranges from swimming, running, cycling, mountain biking, and many other sports. He has coached many athletes ranging in ages from high school to senior competitions.