Exercise in your 40s
Our physiotherapists see a lot of different injuries across age groups but the age group that we tend to see most of is the 35-50 year old group. There are several reasons why this particular age group might be susceptible to a few more injuries than others. But for the most part the higher injury rate can be preventable – so long as we stop thinking like we did when we were 20.
As we start to reach middle age, our bodies experience changes in our muscles, ligaments, tendons and joint structures. Typically we take much longer to recover from injuries. At the same time, it is more important than ever that we add exercise into our lifestyles.
What’s going on?
There are a number of contributing factors which help to cause a spike in injuries for this age group. Perhaps not having the time to prepare for sports games or complete pre-training, warm-ups and warm downs. Sometimes we’ve done too much, too soon or we have not achieved the needed frequency of exercise stimulus. As an example, I hear people say that they are training for a half marathon, and then find they are only running perhaps twice a week. One long run and one short run. Where in reality, it would be better to have another 1-2 runs a week with some resistance training thrown in there.
For females entering their forties, there is also the added complication of perimenopause and menopause where our hormones start to go somewhat haywire, along with oestrogen disappearing, which can have a detrimental effect on our tendon and muscle strength.
So, what can we do to help ourselves?
It’s time to adjust how we approach our exercise and training, even if we are time poor.
Firstly, that means considering our load response. This has a direct impact on our tendons and joints. If we are introducing new exercise or adding more intensity, frequency or volume to our exercise of choice, then we need to do this gradually so that our bodies can adjust to the load and start to respond in a positive way. For example, if you are gearing up for the touch season, then you will need to do some cardiovascular (CV) fitness training, but also add sports-specific movements into training sessions; such as change of direction, running backwards, and change of pace.
Secondly, the importance of resistance training as we get older has been widely documented. We want to be able to maintain our muscle strength. In order to do this we should be lifting weights or using some form of resistance. This could be free weights or the use of power bands. Dr Stacy Sims leads the field with regards to women and training with her mantra being ‘women are not small men’ and on the several occasions I have heard her speak she is a vocal advocate for women lifting heavy stuff! Obviously, we need to build slowly into lifting if we are new to this concept, but if done right and frequently then gains can be quite quickly made.
In addition, consider the frequency of the stimulus with resistance work, the need to incorporate some variety in exercise, the use of different repetitions and sets, and the tempo of the exercise. Always bear in mind the quality of the movement rather than the quantity, and of course adding warm-ups, mobilisation movements and stretches.
In terms of training your CV fitness as we reach that 40+ age group, don’t ignore your previous exercise experience. Someone starting out with a low cardiovascular fitness level will be quite different to someone who has been exercising for most of their life. Their CV systems are going to respond differently. We need to consider the intensity of our exercise as well as allowing enough recovery time at lower intensities.
I guess a basic concept to think about when exercising is “use it or lose it”. So if you are just doing the same thing all the time, then you will continue to maintain that level of fitness, which might be fine but you then can’t expect to be able to maintain your ability to sprint, or run up several flights of stairs when you have only been walking on the flat.
What do we want to add to our cardiovascular fitness goals?
- Mix elements of higher intensity work alongside moderate work
- Add some strength focus into our aerobic exercise choice – such as stairs/hills or increase resistance on the bike
- Shorter rather than longer is often better (dependent on what you might be training for)
- Recovery is important and this includes sleep and nutrition. Nutrition needs do change as we get older and often the type of food we eat and the time we eat can have a positive impact on the benefits of your exercise and recovery.
Make the time to exercise
Making time to exercise as we get older is clearly important. Its benefits are far reaching in terms of our health, not only from a physical perspective but also mental health as well. Even small bursts of exercise will have a positive impact on your overall health.
The key to sticking with it is to find an exercise, activity or sport you enjoy and then start a habit to exercise regularly with others or on your own. Some people enjoy listening to music or the latest podcast while out and about, others just enjoy being in nature.
Remember that resistance work is your friend! It will help you be active for longer and hopefully help prevent some of those niggly injuries.
Our physiotherapists can help both in your rehabilitation program as well as helping you move towards those lifestyle goals, developing an exercise program to suit you. We can also provide advice around load and how to prevent training errors. We look forward to helping you achieve your goals.
Article by Toni Strong, Physiotherapist