Senior Fitness and Injury Prevention
Staying active is a common prescription for reducing or avoiding age-related conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and bone density loss. But our exercise routines should change as we age, to avoid injuries that can sideline us and impact our overall health. With the proper tips and a little mindset adjustment, you can reduce your risk of injuries to stay active and healthy longer.
Know what’s changing
Some parts of our bodies are more injury-prone as we get older. AARP says these include the Achilles tendon (at the back of the leg, near the heel), shoulders, and fascia—connective tissue most of us don’t think about until we develop a painful condition like plantar fasciitis.
Proper stretching and massage techniques to keep muscles and fascia pliant can help prevent injury. Prevention recommends using an inexpensive foam roller and a set of simple exercises to stay limber and ease soreness.
Plan your workout
Map out your route before you set off on a walk, jog, or bike ride. The ideal route has level surfaces, offers adequate shade on hot days, and is out of the way of traffic. (If you’re not finding what you need nearby, consider taking your walks at the mall.)
During warm months, carry a water bottle. Dehydration can increase your risk of heat injury, which is a medical emergency in older adults. Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, and carry your phone or personal emergency response device in case you run into trouble along the way.
Working out with weights or taking a fitness class? Talk with a trainer or the instructor before you start to get pointers on proper form and setting a safe pace.
You don’t need to deck yourself out in this season’s fitness wear to get a good workout, but a few things are crucial. The right shoes for your sport will absorb impact, reduce joint strain, and help you maintain stability. The American Heart Association says walkers should replace their shoes every 300 to 500 miles for injury prevention.
You need clothing that allows you to stay warm or cool as needed (wicking synthetic fibers are good for this). If you exercise near roadways, day or night, the AHA recommends clothing and shoes with reflective fabrics to make you more visible to drivers.
Push through or rest?
Remember “no pain, no gain?” If so, forget it now. Older exercisers are prone to more severe muscle tears than younger people. AARP says that’s because older people have fewer satellite cells to repair damaged muscle tissue. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends taking pain as your cue to rest, even if you could have pushed through 10 or 20 years ago. The AAOS also advises switching things up and doing more than one type of exercise to reduce the risk of overuse injuries.
Check in with your doctor
If you get hurt, talk to your doctor about treating the injury, ways to stay active while you’re healing, and how to prevent a recurrence.
Step things up slowly
Once you’ve got a routine, advice, and equipment that work for you, remember that slow and steady wins the injury-free race. Follow the “10% Rule” recommended by the AAOP and increase your workout intensity or duration by no more than 10% per week. That approach allows you to build strength and endurance while avoiding overuse injuries.