When I was in my twenties and thirties, it was my job as a professional athlete to train for my sport (racquetball). I never thought much about getting older, or the fact that, once I hit 40, I would be dealing with aches, pains and injuries that took longer to heal. With each passing decade, I've had to learn to train differently in order to stay active and healthy.
Here are my top strategies for staying in the game at any age:
- Strength training. The purpose of a regular total body strength training routine is to strengthen all your muscles, not just the ones you use every day. Your favorite activities use the same muscle groups over and over. Total body strength training helps to prevent imbalances and repetitive motion syndrome which shows up most commonly as tendonitis and bursitis of shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, and knees.
- Embrace restorative activities like gentle yoga, pilates, tai chi, and easy walking. I think of these activities as ‘give back’ exercises. They are, by nature, designed to restore body, mind, and spirit. By including restoration in your overall fitness plan, you get the benefits of moving your body without depleting your reserves.
- Take rest days. Your body will tell you when you need a break. If you feel sluggish, stale, and less enthusiastic than your usual self for several days in a row, most likely you need a break. Pushing through when tired is not better than taking a rest day.
- Warm up and cool down. Moving your body prior to the start of your game or training session, delivers blood and oxygen to your muscles and joints. This prepares your body for the challenges of activity. Cooling down by stretching after exercise enhances flexibility, returns your heart rate and breathing to normal, and helps to remove waste products, such as lactic acid, from your muscles.
The older you get, the more important it becomes to pay attention to the signals your body sends you, in order to stay fit and free from injury. You may not be able to avoid injury altogether, but you can provide a strong defense against the most common and avoidable mistakes by following these strategies.