Out-grit­ted and beaten by a buddy in the great run

Dodgy knees, an aching back or stiff shoul­der should not be used as ex­cuses to avoid ex­er­cise

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Ruth Field

The de­sire to be fit and healthy may not change as we get older but the ad­vice we get does. Diet and ex­er­cise pro­grammes of­ten come with warn­ing to check with your doc­tor if you are over a cer­tain age.

But just what are the con­cerns? And are we be­ing too cau­tious? That de­pends.

Pro­fes­sional ath­letes, such as sprint­ers, tend to peak in their 20s and re­tire in their 30s. So should we take a leaf from their book and give our­selves a break?

Claire McG­lynn, a per­sonal trainer and com­pet­i­tive weightlifter at cmg­fit.com in Dublin, says dodgy knees, an aching back or over­all stiff­ness are not to be seen as mes­sages from the fu­ture that it is time to slow down.

“Peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate the power of the hu­man body. Some tend to put them­selves in boxes from the age of 30 and older. They con­vince them­selves they are ‘old’ or ‘past it’ and there­fore, should not ex­er­cise,” she says.

“They have heard or pre­sume it is too ‘danger­ous and harm­ful’ as they may re­late ex­er­cise and strength train­ing to fit, young men and women throw­ing heavy weights around. How­ever, they are for­get­ting that one of the causes of early age­ing, can­cer, dis­ease, bone and joint is­sues, ill­ness, lack of en­ergy, mo­bil­ity and flex­i­bil­ity is be­cause they are not do­ing any ex­er­cise and their mus­cles are de­grad­ing as the weeks, months and years pass by. “

Weaker mus­cles

Even from our 30s we start to lose mus­cle if we don’t use it reg­u­larly. Af­ter 50, mus­cle strength “de­clines sig­nif­i­cantly” at a rate of about 15 per cent per decade, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Sports Medicine. “Our mus­cles help keep our skele­ton strong, they pro­tect our spine, they pro­tect our or­gans, they are our or­gans – the heart be­ing of great­est im­por­tance – and weaker mus­cles go hand in hand with a weak, un­healthy and vul­ner­a­ble body,” says McG­lynn.

They also help to give us our shape, shape­li­ness and tone. Mod­ern Fam­ily ac­tor Sofia Ver­gara con­tin­ues to work out even though she has “bad knees, very thin bones and can barely do a push-up” as she ex­plains in the Sep­tem­ber is­sue of Women’s Health mag­a­zine.

The 45-year-old, who says she “can’t do squats, jumps or run­ning”, cred­its her twice weekly ses­sions on a Pi­lates Ma­gaformer ma­chine with help­ing her stay trim. Es­sen­tially the new ma­chine is sim­i­lar to a Pi­lates Re­former ma­chine with added weight, so she can work out with­out suf­fer­ing the high im­pact of burpees or box jumps.

High-im­pact ex­er­cise done in­cor­rectly over years causes many peo­ple is­sues later on, ac­cord­ing to Sarah MacLach­lann, a Pi­lates in­struc­tor, trainer and founder of Pi­lates Per­for­mance Ire­land. “Peo­ple who jogged or did spin­ning in the 20s can suf­fer wear and tear of their joints over time. Run­ning is very tough on the joints, but even week­end golfers, who then sit at a desk all week, can suf­fer.”

Oth­ers have ne­glected to ex­er­cise at all for years as ca­reer and fam­ily con­cerns eat up their time. “Most peo­ple have been seden­tary and done noth­ing for years,” says McG­lynn, who runs fit­ness classes for re­tirees four times a week. “That’s the big­gest is­sue.”

When these clients re­turn to ex­er­cise, their con­cerns tend to be rounded backs, stiff shoul­ders, knees and hips. “The un­der­ly­ing rea­son for most of these prob­lems is bad pos­ture, im­mo­bil­ity, lack of fit­ness, and strength and mus­cle de­gen­er­a­tion,” says McG­lynn.

Trained and qual­i­fied

That’s no rea­son to give up how­ever, but it does serve to high­light the value of get­ting a trained and qual­i­fied in­struc­tor when re­turn­ing to ex­er­cise at any age.

“If you were go­ing to a doc­tor or phys­io­ther­a­pist, you would only at­tend some­one who is fully qual­i­fied,” says MacLach­lann.

McG­lynn agrees. “When start­ing out in later years, it’s best to go to a pro­fes­sional and learn how to train, ex­er­cise and move prop­erly, tak­ing all things into con­sid­er­a­tion,” she says. “Sud­denly pick­ing up a sport or ex­er­cise out of nowhere with zero ex­pe­ri­enced guid­ance is ask­ing for trou­ble. Form and cor­rect tech­nique is essen­tial to avoid in­jury.”

A pro­fes­sional will also be able to take into ac­count any ad­vice from your doc­tor, where ap­pro­pri­ate, and guide you as to how far you can push your­self with­out do­ing any harm. MacLach­lann cites the ex­am­ple of one client who has had a heart con­di­tion for 16 years. “He was re­leased from hos­pi­tal on a Thurs­day af­ter hav­ing an in­fec­tion in the lin­ing sur­round­ing his heart – peri­cardi­tis – and the fol­low­ing Tues­day he was in with me for his first pri­vate Pi­lates ses­sion. I still work with him ev­ery week two years on,” she says.

“It shocks me to look at peo­ple walk­ing around, limp­ing or mov­ing stiffly,” says MacLach­lann. “This is not a nor­mal con­di­tion of get­ting older and we should stop think­ing that it is. Move, move, move . . . at your pace.”

Take in­spi­ra­tion per­haps from 78-year-old Diana Mo­ran, who is co-au­thor with Muir Gray of Sod Sit­ting. Get Mov­ing! Get­ting Ac­tive in your 60s, 70s and Be­yond. Once known as the Green God­dess, she used to teach fit­ness classes on day­time tele­vi­sion in a tight green Ly­cra out­fit in the 1980s. Far from re­lax­ing into old age, she wants to en­cour­age every­one to take con­trol of their health.

“The age­ing process can­not, as yet, be slowed down. But by fo­cus­ing on three other as­pects of grow­ing older – loss of fit­ness, dis­ease and at­ti­tude – you can stay young and even feel younger,” she writes. With that in mind, her book in­cludes a se­ries of ex­er­cises to tackle spe­cific is­sues such as mo­bil­ity prob­lems.

Un­der at­tack

The days of “no pain, no gain” are gone, but don’t ex­pect to sail back into prime health with­out feel­ing any dis­com­fort. If you are re­turn­ing to or start­ing into proper ex­er­cise, that the first ses­sion, no mat­ter what you do, will be a shock to your body, says McG­lynn. “Your body is ef­fec­tively un­der at­tack,” she says. “Mus­cles will be asked to do things they have never done or haven’t done in years. You will ex­pe­ri­ence de­layed on­set mus­cle sore­ness (Doms). You may feel nau­seous. You will be tired and your heart rate will rise con­sid­er­ably.”

The stiff­ness and sore­ness could last for one day or up to a week, de­pend­ing on your health and cur­rent fit­ness.

“You might strug­gle to walk, to move, to sit up and down but please don’t let this dis­cour­age you,” she says. “It’s the same with nearly ev­ery new client or mem­ber that joins my gym. The reper­cus­sions of the next ses­sion will be a slight bit eas­ier, and then eas­ier again and your body will adapt very quickly.”

As you get fit­ter, you will ex­pe­ri­ence less and less pain. As your body adapts, you will have to change your work­out to make health gains.

“This is why train­ing should al­ways be a chal­lenge. It should never be ‘easy’ and there should al­ways be an el­e­ment of dis­com­fort – just ac­cept what is hap­pen­ing and plough on!” she says.

The age­ing process can­not, as yet, be slowed down. But by fo­cus­ing on three other as­pects of grow­ing older – loss of fit­ness, dis­ease and at­ti­tude – you can stay young and even feel younger

When start­ing out in later years, it’s best to go to a pro­fes­sional and learn how to train, ex­er­cise and move prop­erly, tak­ing all things into con­sid­er­a­tion

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