As aging athletes, it’s common to hear folks say, “good for you!” when discussing participation in a recent endurance event. What people usually don’t voice are their doubts about whether we should really be racing or training into our 50’s, 60’s and beyond. Here we’ll discuss four of the myths attached to sport as we age, with some evidence to rebut each.
As we age, we shouldn’t exercise vigorously.
Common thought goes that we’re more likely to get hurt exercising as we age, but it’s mainly the decrease in regular exercise and the resulting loss of muscle tone that can create the conditions for injury. Recent research shows that moderate to high-intensity exercise not only helps decrease fat mass percentage, but can increase muscular strength in the elderly, actually reducing the risk of injury. High-intensity exercise is especially important for women, as it’s the most effective way to reverse the loss of muscle mass that can happen as hormone levels change with menopause.
We get fatter as we age.
It’s true that hormonal shifts as we age can change the way our bodies process and store fat, but fat accumulation mainly happens as a response to inactivity and poor diet, regardless of age. To combat weight gain as we get older, we can do two things that make a difference; exercise consistently, and eat real food (that is, food without ingredients). If you can eat well and maintain muscle mass, you’ll have a higher metabolism, which will help you avoid gaining fat at any age.
Aches and pains are best explained by our bodies wearing out.
If I had a dollar every time someone asked me, “Doesn’t running wear out your knees?” I would be a rich man. Fortunately for those of us who love to run, a research project involving 2600 people with an average age of 64 found that running did not significantly increase the risk of knee damage or arthritis. We older athletes who run weren’t shocked. If you’re having aches and pains, consider getting a gait analysis, bike fit, or switching up your gear. Just like when you were younger, pain shouldn’t be a condition of your sport.
We need to invest our time in our children, not our bodies.
Our kids need their parents to be their heroes, not their lecturers of what life was like, “back in the day.” Nothing will motivate your child to be healthy as much as when you set an example. Let them see the look on your face when you are pushing yourself to the limit, and they will know what it means to work hard.
Getting older doesn’t mean that you need to give up your sport; in fact, there are plenty of good reasons to continue to train. Learn about how the body responds to training stimulus as you age, and adjust your workouts accordingly. Eat smart and talk about eating smart, and do your best when people are watching; they will remember it and thank you for it, one day.