The Lowdown on Staying Limber as You Age

Prevent overworked muscles, sore joints and an unhealthy body — and live longer

by Cassandra Henkiel | Updated 08 Jan 2016 at 6:16 AM

As a personal trainer and an elite athlete for over 20 years, fitness has been my life. I treat my clients’ fitness and wellness needs as seriously as my own, and I use the same analogy as the one a massage therapist shared with me: ‘Treat your body as you would a fine sports car.”

So keep up the regular maintenance and feed your body with good fuel if you want it perform its best.

The fitness industry, and today’s climate of fitness, have changed a lot over the past decade. Unconventional, high-intensity workouts that promise to get you fit, and fast, have piqued a lot of interest. They’ve provided a sense of community that traditional commercial gyms and clubs did not provide and have given the average gym-goer alternative ways of working out.

The new fitness lifestyle has also gotten many people “off the couch” to check it out. It’s enticed people who were never before interested, or who were bored with what they’d been doing.

I have seen the positive effects on participants’ fitness, and its negative effects on their bodies over time.

Many people try to train like athletes when they don’t have the appropriate physical background, guidance or knowledge. Over time, I have seen their high-intensity workouts and sports participation take a toll on their bodies. Those things certainly aren’t for everyone.

With so many great options now to stay active, it's easy to find an activity that's right for you, your abilities and your fitness goals. Ultimately, you should want to stay active for life, for the sake of your health.

Everyone — specialists, physical therapists, chiropractors, active individuals, and even the average sedentary patient — has seen a rise in injuries. These have been due to poor postural dysfunction, improper rest-recovery, and heavy demands placed on certain muscular groups.

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The rise of these incidences does not fall on the patient alone. As fitness professionals, personal trainers and coaches, we, too, bear a responsibility to keep participants, clients and athletes healthy and armed with education and good guidance.

Mark Hernandez, a manual physical therapist for over 20 years in Austin, Texas, suggests that "re-educating people away from exercises and fitness folk wisdom can help prevent injuries.”

The following long-held concepts can actually lead to injury, says Hernandez:

  • More flexibility is better.
  • Strengthening anything that hurts, particularly without noting skeletal alignment and weak muscles, will help.
  • Stretch anything that hurts, even if the joint around the muscle is already hyper-mobile.
  • Standing or sitting erect in your middle/core for long periods of time is good for you and your posture.
  • When working out with weights, repetitions and weight are all that count. Biomechanics doesn't.

Steve Cuddy, a physical therapist who is also based in Austin, Texas, emphasized that "repeated high exertion efforts with disregard to normal, functional movement patterns and lack of proper rest and recovery can ultimately cause a body to break down. These workouts over time will place a heavy demand on the extensors group of muscles (shoulder, elbow, or wrist) and contribute to developing dysfunctional movement patterns.”

Some bodies can handle high-intensity workouts, but many cannot. Hernandez and Cuddy believe good guidance from trainers who know their clients' abilities and limitations is a much better option for sound physical health than a trainer who tries to break a client down physically.

Ross Bomben, a certified chiropractic sports practitioner and strength and conditioning specialist, said his healthiest patients do cardiovascular exercise three to five times a week; resistance training one to two times a week; massage, body work or self massage one to four times a week; and stretching one to two times a week.

“To reduce the likelihood of injury, perform exercises with proper form (faulty patterns cause uneven wear on joints), and perform stabilizing exercises (which are usually rotational or in the horizontal plane) and stimulate muscular tissue. Don't annihilate tissue during workouts,” said Bomben, who is based in Texas.

Related: Stairway to Longevity

As fitness trends have come and gone over the past 20 years, I've watched many people age and struggle to keep up with their training and activity. For well over a decade, I've had to adapt their workouts to their needs to keep them at a functional level within their everyday lives and aging bodies.

Here is some key advice you can follow for a long life and an active lifestyle, in addition to what's listed in the box within this article:

1: Know when to take time off from an activity. As you age, your body requires more rest to recover.

2: Seek professional help from a massage therapist, physical therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, an orthopedist, and others if you have physical concerns beyond what your family doctor can offer.

3: Variety is the spice of life. Use it. I have always cross trained, even at the height of my racing career.

4: Remain aware that you only have one body! Take care of  it, whether you are young or old.

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  2. health
  3. massage
  4. therapy
  5. workingout

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