Retired professional athletes often speak about the difficult moment when they knew it was time to retire from professional competition. The transition can be easy for some but far more difficult for others. But aging amateur athletes know you need not be a professional to realize there comes a time when your body is telling you it’s time to ease up.
Athletes are used to pushing themselves and stretching their limits, but some limits are best not pushed. Such is the case with the limits posed by aging. While athletes don’t have to completely fold up shop and hang up their cleats, tennis shoes or other athletic equipment as they approach senior citizen status, there are steps aging athletes can take to ensure they aren’t pushing their bodies too far as they grow older.
• Recognize your new recovery time. Veteran athletes tend to have a sixth sense about their bodies, knowing how long they need to recover from common ailments like ankle sprains, knee pain, back pain and shin splints. Despite the body’s remarkable ability for recovery, it’s not immune to aging, and that recovery time will increase as the body ages. Whereas a sprained ankle might once have been as good as new after a few days or rest, aging athletes must recognize that the same ankle sprain now might require more recovery time. Returning too quickly from an injury can only make things worse for aging athletes, so don’t push yourself.
• Take more time to warm up. As the body ages, its response time to exercise increases. This means the body needs more time to prepare itself for cardiovascular and strength training exercises. Increase your warmup time as you age, gradually increasing the intensity of your warmup exercises until your body feels ready for more strenuous exercise.
• Focus on flexibility. The more flexible you are, the more capable the body is of absorbing shock, including the shock that results from repetitive activities. But as the body ages, it becomes less flexible, which makes it less capable of successfully handling the repetitive movements common to exercise. Aging athletes should focus on their flexibility, stretching their muscles before and after a workout. In addition, activities such as yoga can work wonders on improving flexibility for young and aging athletes alike.
• Don’t stop strength training. Some aging athletes mistakenly feel they should stop strength training as they get older. No longer concerned about building muscle, aging athletes might feel as if they have nothing to gain by lifting weights and continuing to perform other muscle strengthening exercises. But the body gradually loses muscle mass as it ages, and that loss puts the joints under greater stress when aging athletes perform other exercises. That stress can put people at greater risk for arthritis, tendinitis and ligament sprains. While you no longer need to max out on the bench press or challenge yourself on the biceps curl, it is important to continue to make strength training a part of your fitness regimen as you age.
Aging athletes need not associate aging with ceasing their athletic pursuits. But recognizing your limitations and the changes your body is going through is an important element of staying healthy as your approach older adulthood.