As promised, I will begin a series of discussions about pertinent health subjects here in my regular newsletter; this week, let’s talk about ageing and exercise. After the recent mishap in this year’s Condura Skyway Marathon where two runners died of a heart attack, one frequent question I get in the clinic is: “At my age, can I still indulge in my favorite sport?” The thing is, exercising and being athletic are not really a function of age; in fact, those two marathon casualties were in their 30s and 40s.
An interesting fact is that 90 percent of the health concerns I hear from my clients sprout from being sedentary after a relatively active youth. After years in high school, and even college, of zealous athletic indulgence, most of the middle-aged population succumbs to becoming either desk jocks, couch potatoes or even both; pencil pushers by day, master (TV) remote operators by night. And the dual personality does not stop there. These very same weekday robots transform into weekend warriors by end of the week. Now that is where the problem starts.
The human body is designed so that many of the self-maintaining mechanisms are powered by motion and movement. Take our joints, for example—the knee to be specific. The normal knee contains approximately one milliliter of viscous fluid that bathes important structures in it. Ligaments and menisci (“shock absorbers”) inside the knee rely on this joint fluid to provide them with nourishment since they do not have blood vessels permeating them for circulation. This fluid has to be circulated and renewed every so often to maintain its rich, nourishing nature. It is movement of the joints that pumps this fluid to and from nearby blood vessels. This phenomenon is true whether you are 9 years old or 99. Ask your grandfather. Which is more difficult, getting up from bed or walking continuously for some time? And yes, soon enough we will be grandparents. At least in age, for some of us.
And thus our first question is answered, “We should indulge in our favorite sport.” In fact, the older we get, when the pains of degenerative changes come knocking at our bodies, the more we should maintain a regular exercise program. The key word there is… Exercise? No, Einstein, it’s regular. And the reason I ask patients to indulge in their favorite sport is this: If I recommend aerobics to someone who does not have the slightest inclination for the activity, chances are she won’t adopt the program regularly enough. Of course the level of sports activity would also differ from age to age. Now here is where Darwin’s theory of natural selection creeps into the laws of human kinetics.
Ageing and Exercise
Benedict Francis D. Valdecanas, MD | February 15, 2016
The older a person gets, the longer it takes for his muscles to “power up” from a particular contraction. This is just a more flowery way of saying we get slower with age. Such that our choice of sport mellows, if you will, with age. But again this differs from person to person of a cross-sectional age group depending on whether or not the person was able to maintain his level of athletic activity from his youth—a survival of the fittest, of sorts. In addition to longer muscular refractory phase, ligaments and tendons become tighter from either lack of activity, degenerative changes, or both. But don’t get me wrong. A 70-year old can play basketball as much as a 40-year old, just not with each other. Get the picture? With all these things in mind, it would naturally take a 70-year old more time to warm up and limber down as compared to our 40-year old. Yes, warm-up, something everyone, and I mean everyone, overlooks. Just as exercise in the form of your favorite sport is essential at every age, warming up by means of proper stretching routines is essential in every sport.
Which brings us to another common comment in the clinic. “But doc, my work entails a lot of physical activity. Do I really need to exercise?” Look at it this way, I tell my patients: Work is goal-oriented exertion—one does physical activity to accomplish work, oftentimes exerting force not usually experienced by, or expected of, the body. On the other hand, Exercise is controlled exertion. A well-programmed regular exercise regimen can condition the body to be able to handle the load expected, and sometimes not expected, at work. Ergo, a well-exercised body will not experience as much strain, and eventually pain, from work. This works as well in the scenario of a desk job. Secretaries and computer encoders are expected to sit in front of their computers for hours on end. Our back muscles, the major muscles that maintain our posture at the desk, like any other muscle in the body, experience fatigue. And when they do, they automatically go into spasm, much like the calf muscle goes into cramps during a long-distance run. Thus, a well-conditioned (from exercise, of course) back musculature will be able to endure more hours of computer work.
Now, how does a middle-aged person get himself back into sports? Be realistic in your choice of sports. Sixty percent of Filipinos play regular basketball at one time in their lives. And at the age of 40, more than half this number still want to play. No problem. Just two important reminders: one, as regular as it should be done, remember to warm up and stretch adequately before and after the game. A typical scenario is the average weekend warrior stretches his neck, shoulders and back while walking from the parking lot to the court. In most courts, that would be no more than a hundred meters, or barely three minutes at a slow walking pace. Adequate stretching means from neck to shoulders, to wrist and fingers, to back, to hips, thighs, knees, calves and ankles. Properly done, that would take 15 to 20 minutes. This simple routine prevents most sprains and strains in most sport activity. A stretching buddy can make it less tedious. Number two reminder is to play with peers. Yes, you can play with your sons but don’t expect, or work, to beat them.
As a parting tip, please don’t forget the key word: regular. Any gym buff can tell you how difficult it is to get back into the routine after a prolonged absence. And this difficulty is exponential with age. Ageing, as far as sports is concerned, should not be viewed as a deterioration of function and purpose. On the contrary, it should be seen as an essential adjunct in such an inevitable process. Ageing becomes more smooth and graceful with regular athletic involvement. And your favorite sport is elevated to an art form with years of experience.
These are the sorts of discussions we have with our clients in at Alphaland’s Aegle Wellness Center; we don’t just advise our clients to exercise, we also assess each and every individual for the kind of particular exercise or sports activity he or she is most suited for. Aegle’s nutritionists and exercise and sports physiologists will help you get into the sport you want safely and effectively.