Updated: Mar 23, 2022
If you are 25 years or older, you are an aging athlete and you should read this BLOG. Whether you know it or not, your best years of exercise ability has reached its peak, probably several years ago too. Despite that fact, as we age, we like to keep a competitive advantage and, if nothing else, improve ageing athlete performance while limiting aging athlete injuries. But to do so there are 3 things every aging athlete needs to know to improve aging athlete performance.
Most important principle to consider is...
Mr. Max Erhmann says it best in his Desiderata. “Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.” Or as Toby Keith put it in his song, as good as I once was, “my body says ‘you can’t do this boy’ but my pride says ‘oh yes you can.” Basically, listen to your body and the limits it is telling you not to go beyond. This is a form of mental health that often gets overlooked, especially in the athletic realm. We all tend to push it off to the side and chalk it up as competitiveness, but it can be harmful and even deadly. Your mental health and how you approach exercising as you age is very important. We need to transition from, “I will beat everyone on the course” to “I will make a personal best during this race.” Learn to shift your frame of mind from competing against others to competing against yourself. Also, learn to see exercise as a form of good health practices and youthfulness rather than a competition.
Mental Health Awareness
Now, you may be thinking, “wait, so you’re telling me I peaked in my early 20’s but I feel and perform better in my 30’s/40’s/50’s than I did in my 20’s.” I hope this is what you are thinking because it helps to demonstrate how powerful mental health is in exercising.
The only reason you are performing better, or at a seemingly higher level, is because you have been able to master and gain control of the mental aspect of your exercise ability. Your experience and knowledge has improved so dramatically that you are able to assert mental dominance over your body. You basically are willing your body to do better and so it does. Too bad we didn’t know then what we know now, right? As you age, you are still thinking you can get better and excel at a particular activity, but what is in fact happening is you are gaining experience and maturity. It’s the mental control, mental experience, mental health awareness that is playing a larger role in your training. You develop a deeper understanding of how your body adapts, grows, strengthens, weakens, and most importantly recovers. In your earlier years you never thought about recovery or pushing your limits, right? You just did what you had to do to get through the training session, did what you needed to get through the day. You were invincible and unstoppable, remember? 😉
Listen very closely…
It is crucial to learn the limits your body has as you age and to learn early warning signs of bigger complications. As you age, a variety of changes happen in your body that are too complex to discuss here, and you have probably already heard the most prominent ones, but an important element to consider is PAIN.
You need to MAKE PAIN YOUR FRIEND and do not look at pain as an enemy or something to be avoided. Think of pain as your body’s way of communicating with you about what is going on in your body. Your knee, back stomach, heart, lungs, etc. do not have a mouth, so the only way those areas/organs can talk to you is through pain. Pain is the body’s signal that something is going on that is hurting your body. Further, that area of pain is the way your body is telling your mind that there is something that you need to be paying attention to because it is important. So, if you ignore a pain or ache, you're basically ignoring and dismissing your BF4L (best friend for life), your body. So, do not ignore pain and take it very seriously because you only get one body, one ACL, one foot, one heart. Once there is a tear, rupture, damage, your body will never be the same again.
STOP SIGNS aka RED FLAGS aka PAY ATTENTION
As you age, you will develop soreness, tenderness, aches that are early signals your body is sending to your mental fitness that something is going on. When those signals are ignored they develop into strains, longer aches, deeper discomfort, and prolonged soreness. Your body is trying to compensate for a weakness or inability in your performance. When those signals are ignored, this is when deeper strains, tears, and failures occur.
Typically this is when most of us start paying attention because now you have damaged something and are unable to continue exercising. This is when you will have to get help from a professional to help recovery and rehab your body as close to as it was before, because it will never be the same again.
As you age, foot or shin pain could mean stress fracture, low back pain can be kidney issues, shoulder pain be heart issues, night pain could be cancer, neck pain could be a stroke, and the list goes on. Warning signs are different in men vs women, vs ethnicity, vs age decade, so trusting what your buddy told you is not the best. This is another aspect of the mental health awareness, knowing your body has changed and to love your body is to listen to your body when it is talking to you. There is no shame and I highly recommend you seek the assistance of a physician AND a physical therapist, even early on in life. A physical therapist is even more crucial if you want to keep exercising well into your later years in life. Physical therapists are movement experts and if you have a doctoral physical therapist (DPT), then s/he has been trained in advanced screening practices to recognize any “red flags” or warning signs. Think of your DPT as your barometer to exercise.
Check back for next week’s BLOG where I will discuss more specific elements to consider as you age. Topics like recovery, joint health, bone density, sport specialization, and more will be covered. Until then, keep loving your body and stay healthy my friends.
Dr. Estrada is an Endurance Specialist at EP+RSG and has over 15+ years of experience. He has completed over 10+ half marathons, marathons, and 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.