When we’re young, it can be amusing to consider the vexations of older people. The flourish of youth enables this attitude. It’s hard to imagine that you’ll someday face your own symptoms of aging.
But it happens fast when it starts to happen. Just yesterday while speaking with a young father who took third place in our local Turkey Trot, he observed that he’d been beaten by younger competitors. To be sure, he still ran fast for his own age. But he was disappointed to be feeling a little older…
Then he asked how my own race went, and I explained that I was happy to run 7:00 miles for the four-mile distance.
There was a time when running 7:00 miles was really slow for me. These days I’m happy to be able to run that fast, and don’t really worry if I’m not dropping my times year to year. Granted, I ran faster this year than last because the Achilles problem I’d had last year was largely solved by different shoes and some strength work. Thankful for that.
But it’s not just injuries that slow us down. Eventually, our bodies cannot process oxygen with the same efficiency, and our muscle volume can deteriorate as we age. That’s why it is highly recommended that athletes keep working with weights and strength to maintain muscle tone and volume.
Thanks to a populace focused on better aging, expectations are changing about the way people age. Where the age of 50 used to be when things really started to fall apart, now people are blowing past that age with speed and energy. The same goes for 60 and even 70. Having ridden with highly proficient cyclists of that age, it is obvious that keeping the engine running is the key to sustained health and vitality.
Behind the scenes, however, there are challenges for everyone in the health department. The internal workings can get quirky, for example. Men and women can both face issues with urinary performance, for example. Some women become marginally incontinent, while some men face Benign Prostate Enlargement that can lead to balkiness in the ability to pee.
These things sound funny to younger people, who can’t imagine themselves facing similar problems. But don’t worry, you’ll get there.
Here’s some basic advice: You should take pride in managing your health in every way you can. Aging is a process, not a thing, and many effects of aging can be deterred for far longer than science or people once imagined.
I’ve joked for years that when I run, I turn around and look for body parts. But in reality, the work I’ve done to keep my body together is essential to what I can still do quite well. Even without an ACL in my left leg, I can still run ten or so miles and the knee won’t hurt, cycle 100 miles and swim. I don’t play basketball or soccer these days because ballistic sports put me at risk for muscle and tendon tears. That’s a sacrifice that I accept.
But the hips, well that’s a different matter. They do hurt after an hour of running. That means there needs to be specific strength work done to build up the hip flexors and keep them from tiring out late in a run.
Adding swimming and cycling has also been a good thing for longevity. These two low-impact events don’t put as much wear and tear on joints as much as running is perceived to do. Actually, I don’t believe that the running is the problem. It’s the lack of strength in supporting tissues that most often causes problems.
There is no escaping the fact that our bodies do change as we age. We are simply not as fast at 50 as we were at 20. But the relative benefits of pursuing fitness and endurance sports with intelligence is a great way to live. It keeps the whole package in shape so that the little health problems we all encounter do not become worse issues because our overall health is bad.
That’s the big shift going on this world today and endurance sports are responsible for better health in many people. That does not mean perfection for all, but it does mean setting a good example for those young people who think it can never happen to them.
But don’t worry, you’ll get there.