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You’re Not 20 Anymore: Tips for Older Athletes

Posted 9/21/2016 by UHBlog

Did you overdo it while exercising? The University Hospitals Sports Medicine Institute medical team can help you get back to working out again.

You're Not 20 Anymore: Tips for Older Athletes

You’re only as old as you feel. That saying provides a refreshingly optimistic outlook on life, but when it comes to physical activity, it’s important not to forget how old you really are.

People who remain physically active as they age tend to be healthier and happier than sedentary couch potatoes. Just be careful to take proper precautions before exercising to avoid injuring yourself, says sports medicine specialist Christopher Tangen, DO.

“There's a difference between being fit and being a good athlete,” Dr. Tangen says. “People begin to realize when they're past their athletic prime as they participate in certain sports and activities – but they should continue to stay fit.”

To avoid injuries while exercising, Dr. Tangen recommends:

  • Getting regular checkups. Before you start a workout plan, see your doctor to be sure your heart and body are healthy, and to discover any restrictions that you should make in your activities.
    “Visiting your family doctor for an annual health evaluation is always a good idea – at any age,” Dr. Tangen says.
  • Following a balanced workout plan. “A balanced regimen includes some type of resistance weight training and some type of cardio activity to exercise the heart,” he says.
    Resistance training should include exercises for the major muscle groups and should be done every couple days. That should be combined with at least 150 minutes a week of moderate walking, swimming or some other aerobic or cardio exercise.
  • Warming up and cooling down properly. Proper warm ups before engaging in an athletic or exercise activity is important at any age to stretch out muscles and get your body ready to move. It's even more crucial as you age and your body becomes less flexible, Dr. Tangen says.
  • Setting goals. “Setting a reasonable fitness goal gives people something to aim toward,” he says. “A common goal is to lose or maintain weight. An unrealistic goal can result in being too aggressive and increasing the risk of pushing your body too hard and getting hurt.”
    Dr. Tangen says electronic pedometers and activity tracking devices like Fitbits are useful for monitoring exercise. However, they're not the only way to monitor how hard you're working out.
    “People need to be aware of how they feel,” he says. “Listen to your body. If something hurts and the pain doesn’t go away, you should have it checked. If you have chest pain or difficulty breathing, stop your activity and get checked out immediately. However, most exercise injuries and soreness are the result of overuse and aren't serious.”

If you do get hurt while exercising, be sure to rest the affected area until it feels better.

“In most cases, you may keep re-aggravating the injury if you don’t give it a chance to heal," Dr. Tangen says. "Ice and compression can be applied, especially for injuries that involve swelling. If your injury doesn’t get better or if pain persists, have it looked at by a doctor.”

Christopher Tangen, DO is a primary care sports medicine specialist at University Hospitals Regional Hospitals Richmond Campus, University Hospitals Regional Hospitals Family Medicine Center–Warrensville Campus, and an associate medical team physician for the Cleveland Browns. You can request an appointment with Dr. Tangen or any other doctor online.

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