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A couple of weeks ago 2 aging athletes Tom Brady and Drew Brees, both in their 40s played against each other in a football playoff game and a lot was made of their collective ages and longevity. Which on the same weekend when 2 other younger, successful quarterbacks in the league finished their nights in the locker room with concussions is pretty astonishing durability. But beyond their abilities to endure knee and shoulder and head injuries through their 18-20 year professional careers what else makes this so amazing is the level of training they have to maintain at an age when physical therapists are just beginning to regularly treat people in that same demographic for routine knee, hip and back issues. The Harvard Health News does periodic stories about great topics including this recent one on age related muscle breakdown and this link will take you to it for todays discussion:
So, what is it about aging that makes things start to hurt more, or seemed to be injured so uneventfully? I got a birthday card years ago that said something like "the 40s are mainly about taking care of kids and in your spare time wondering how you hurt your back". By the 40s much of the benefit our athletic teens, and college years has worn out its carry over. If in our 30s and early 40s we are not making a meaningful effort to keep a workout routine going around WAY more responsibilities than we had as younger selves, as well as nutrition challenges and sleep wake balance it is unreasonable to expect the same results as we formerly took for granted. "I use to be able to run 5 miles and get myself back in shape in no time" is a typical refrain I hear when people wonder how they hurt their knee doing something they never gave much thought to. Our bodies are constantly changing and this is both asset and curse, but if we are not working harder each decade to at least maintain fitness it will absolutely pass us by. The same regimen that worked at age 24 will not work at 34 or 44, especially if there is more disuse going on in those off years. This is a roses and thorns issue and I vote to accept it and get your ass moving instead of lamenting. If you aren't working harder now, then you are not doing enough. I know you don't like hearing that.
As we age muscle cell numbers and size decrease - that does not mean they cannot be rebuilt, though size likely overtime does still decrease; tissue also dehydrates including our cartilage - but movement helps tissue lubricate itself so that's a great benefit; tendon and ligament elasticity stiffens - which simply means warming up and stretching on "off days" becomes WAY more important and may be new for some of us who saw those as "easy days to skip"; and tissue recovery time will take longer - so bursts of crazy intensity formerly well tolerated to "jump start" your fitness, become traumas to the tissue. I am fond of saying after 40 "a person must get in shape to run/kayak/hike, not run/kayak/hike to get in shape". Meaning the activity is the reward for solid training, and solid training prepares your aging body for the stress of the activity better than the activity alone. Where our knees and hips formerly tolerated the abrupt nature of resuming a running program after exams in college, now when we launch a program after inactivity in our 40s all of our faults from lack of strength, bad running mechanics and poor endurance become magnified. The aging tissue is less tolerant, forgiving or simply less resilient than its younger self and injury or at least persistent tissue irritation, occurs. I am not saying it will not recover, but we have to be willing to respect our body's physiology.
We also need to consider diversifying our training and this means weight and strength training. When we are already agreeing that our time away from responsibilities is scarce as we age, finding even more time to go the gym, is even more daunting. But strength training comes in many forms these days and often can be done anywhere. There are many great summary articles about incorporating strength training into your workout including types of interval workouts, strength training for running specifically or strength training for arms and legs in a total body fashion. Once gyms reopen there will be even more options. The value is that strength work reverses sarcopenia or muscle cell breakdown that age normally causes. So for those complaining about the roses and thorns part of aging pay attention -and I'll say it again, strength work is one thing that reverses the age related breakdown. But you have to do it. And do it with effort. And do it consistently. Yeah that's a lot, but if you make time for it then your run is your reward, or for 43 year old Tom Brady - it's the Super Bowl, again!