It’s a delicate balance. As you get older, regular exercise is as vital as ever to stay healthy—but push too hard and you could end up in your doctor’s office with an aching shoulder, hip or knee that only surgery can fix. Knowing when to slow down or adjust your workouts can make all the difference between exercise that helps and exercise that hurts.
Many adults at midlife are learning the hard way—you can’t exercise the way you used to. A 2003 survey indicates sports injuries are the second leading cause (after colds) of doctors’ office visits, partly because the nation’s 78 million baby boomers (adults born between 1946 and 1964) are lacing up their cross-trainers and hitting the gyms, parks and basketball courts—with vigor.
But as you age, your body changes. You’re less able to cope with environmental stresses such as sunlight, heat and poor nutrition. The discs between your spinal vertebrae compress, affecting your posture. Your arches may flatten, and joint changes may occur in your feet. You may not be able to regulate your blood pressure or body temperature as easily as when you were younger. And some medications you take may affect your heart rate.
That’s no reason to park yourself on the couch—just work out smarter. These tips can help you stay active:
- Check in with your doctor. Let your doctor know the sports or exercise activities you enjoy. He or she can tell you whether they may lead to medical problems.
- Seek expertise. Personal trainers know plenty of exercise variations to help you work out without causing stress to vulnerable joints. And fitness class instructors can show you how to modify moves so you don’t hurt yourself.
- Cross train. Jump rope each day and your joints take a pounding. Try new activities or alternate high-impact workout days with days of less stressful activities like swimming.
- Heed your body. If you experience pain or swelling, stop exercising. See your doctor if you have persistent discomfort.
Regular exercise can keep you young—as long as you know how hard to push.