Exercise for the over-60s: New active lifestyles greatly increase the risk of damage

Youth may be fleeting, but exercise, or better still, an active existence, helps people to stay healthy as the years go by – or would do, were it not marred by untoward injuries. Today, a large number of over-65s have a more active lifestyle, which is probably why exercise-related injuries have increased sharply. And since a growing number of elderly people stay active at 70, 80 or even 90, it is obvious that they are more at risk from such injuries. Between 1990 and 1996, these injuries rose by 54 percent among men aged 65 and over, and 29 percent among people aged 75 and over, according to the latest statistics issued by the American Consumer Product Safety Commission. Strenuous sports such as cycling, skiing, tennis and skating were the main culprits, while fishing, bowling and golf showed little to no rise in injuries. Cycling was the most common cause of injury, according to the commission, resulting in the most falls and head injuries – especially when no helmet was worn. Skiing was another sport producing numerous injuries for elderly participants, as were weight training and the use of exercise machines for adults. Muscles and bones lose mass while body-fat percentage rises Wrinkles and gray hair are not the only symptoms of aging; muscles shrink as the percentage of body fat rises. Without any exercise, muscle mass shrinks by 1 percent a year after the age of 30. As a result, muscles are much more prone to injury and require longer recovery periods after injury. Moreover, neurons, the nerve cells that cause muscles to react, decay over time and reflexes slow down. Bone density can also drop. By the age of 70, people have lost 10-15 percent of their bone density. Furthermore, the hormones that help to maintain soft tissue also lose their effectiveness, resulting in a loss of flexibility for tendons and ligaments. Sports injuries among the over-65s normally involve inflammation and strains which are aggravated by excessive exercise. – Bursitis (inflammation of bursae or sacs of connective tissue filled with fluid that cushion any sliding surfaces such as bones and tendons) of the shoulder is due to overstrenuous movements in tennis and swimming. – Bursitis of the outer part of the hip joint is also commonly due to exercise. – Knees are another frequent source of problems. The culprit is often degenerative arthritis. Other problems are stiff knee joints or dislocations; to avoid knee injuries, stick to less strenuous forms of exercise such as cycling, swimming or walking instead of running. – Frequent problems are degenerative arthritis of the lower back, worn spinal disks or the inability of the muscles to support the waist and the abdomen. Other conditions resulting from overstrain and inflammation that can be aggravated by activity are: – Problems with elbow tendons, from playing tennis or golf. – Foot problems, especially plantar fasciitis (the plantar fascia is a band of tissue that stretches from the heel to the ball of the foot) or tendinitis of the Achilles tendon. How to avoid injuries when you embark on your exercise program Despite the occasional risks, daily physical activity is important for health and general well-being. Moreover, sports injuries are preventable through correct preparation and proper equipment. The aim should be a balanced program including muscle toning, suppleness exercises, and aerobic activity. If you are middle-aged or older, if you have never exercised before, are overweight, or have osteoporosis or serious medical problems, check with your doctor before you start a course of exercise to see if it really suits you. You should also check with your doctor if you are a man over 40 or a woman over 50 and you are planning to commence strenuous activities (anything that accelerates breathing and causes sweating). The «No pain, no gain» viewpoint does not apply. – Draw up a schedule. Remember that your goal is 30 minutes or more per day of moderate physical activity (which means you are able to carry on an ordinary conversation while doing it). Always begin with warm-up exercises, including a few minutes of walking and some simple stretching exercises. Continue with aerobic exercises at least 20 minutes or more and finish with brisk walking. If just starting out, you may have to break up the 30-minute period up into 10- or 15-minute ones, two or three times a day. One way of measuring strenuous activity is maintaining the ideal heart rate – calculated by subtracting your age from 220 and then aiming at 60 to 70 percent of this number. If you are taking medicines and especially heart medicines, consult your doctor on your ideal heart rate. – Use the proper equipment and, if necessary, take lessons. Avert injuries by using the correct gear. If you have taken up cycling, wear a helmet. Check that you have the right shoes for the activity. Any equipment you use, whether bicycles, tennis rackets or exercise machines, should match your needs. Learning the right techniques will help avert injuries, particularly when you are not well-acquainted with the sport or the exercises are new. – Alternate activities. Whatever you enjoy – brisk walking, swimming, cycling, gardening, tennis, weight training or golf – it would be best to alternate sports or exercise daily, and not confine yourself to one.

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