Whilst many sports injuries incurred by young athletes and sportspeople are due to overuse, those aged over the age of 50 also need to take steps to avoid injuries so that they can continue to enjoy their chosen activities to the optimum level.
Why it is important to stay fit in your 50's
Our bodies tend to lose some of their elasticity as we age, with exercise important in preventing stiffness and maintaining mobility. Exercising can increase flexibility and improve blood flow to the tissues, meaning that you will heal quicker and have more energy (which helps you to remain active for longer in the first place).
Keeping fit is also important for keeping blood pressure stable and managing your weight effectively. In addition to strengthening joints, muscles and bones, regular exercise can help to prevent cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
To stay more alert and delay ageing, you need to stay fit carefully. This means avoiding injuries whenever possible.
Warming up before commencing activities
Warm-up exercises are important before you start an activity. They can prevent injuries such as strains or sprains, as they help to lubricate the joints and the tissues that surround them. This makes the exercise you take more effective.
A simple warm-up routine might begin with marching for three minutes. Start by marching on the spot and then vary this to include marching forwards and backwards. Keep your elbows bent and remember to move your arms in rhythm with each step. Follow this with heel digs, placing alternate heels to the front and keeping the supporting leg slightly bent. You should be aiming for 60 heel digs in 60 seconds.
This can be followed by knee lifts. Do these by standing tall and bringing alternate knees up to touch the opposite hand. The supporting leg should remain slightly bent. Around 30 knee lifts in 30 seconds is ideal.
Shoulder rolls and knee bends should complete your warm up. March on the spot and roll the shoulders forwards five times. Follow this by rolling them backwards five times. After relaxing your arms by your sides, repeat the shoulder rolls.
Standing with your feet a shoulder-width apart and your hands outstretched, bend your knees and lower up to 10 centimetres. Straighten up and repeat ten times. Your warm up should take at least six minutes and can be extended if you feel this would help.
Cooling down after exercise
Gentle stretches can help you to cool down after activities, enabling you to relax gradually, your heart rate to slow down and your flexibility to improve. This routine should take around five minutes, but can be longer if necessary.
Start with a buttock stretch. Lying on your back, bring your knees up to your chest. Cross your right leg over your left thigh and, using both hands, hold the back of your left thigh and pull your leg towards your chest. Hold it there for 10 to 15 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
Still lying on your back, stretch your hamstrings. Keeping the left leg bent with your foot on the floor, lift your right leg and pull it towards you, holding it at the thigh. Keep the leg straight and hold it in position for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat with the left leg.
To continue your post exercise workout, stretch your inner thighs. Sit on the floor, with a straight back, and bend your legs. Put the soles of your feet together and lower your knees towards the floor. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds.
Standing up, stretch your calf by stepping the right leg forward and leaning forwards a little, keeping the leg bent. Your left leg should remain straight as you try to lower your left heel to the floor. Maintain this for the usual 10 to 15 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
Finally, stretch your thighs. Lying on your right side, hold the top of your left foot and pull the heel towards your left buttock, keeping your knees together. This stretches the front of the thigh. Repeat with your right leg, holding for 10 to 15 seconds each time.
Other ways to minimise the risk of injury
It is important not to overdo the amount of training or exercise you carry out. If your muscles are fatigued, they are less able to protect the other tissues; therefore, damage to tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bone is more likely. You may need to reduce the distance you run or the hours you spend exercising. The number of consecutive days on which you train is also relevant to your injury risk. As you need recovery time for your muscles and tissues to be repaired and restored between work outs, it may be a good idea to reduce the number of consecutive days on which you exercise.
Following an injury, sustaining further damage to that area becomes more likely; therefore, you may need to change the way in which you exercise or even try a different sport so that the injured tissues are not subjected to stress in the same way.
Your attitude is also an important factor in the risk of injury. It has been shown by some studies that compulsive or aggressive athletes are more likely to sustain an injury than more relaxed people doing the same exercise.
Sports and activities that are less stressful to the joints
You may decide it is time to scale down your activities to avoid injuries and there are many steps you can take to reduce the impact of exercise on your joints. Changing from activities such as running or dancing to something such as swimming, cycling or walking can keep you fit without causing any damage to the joints. Even after injuries or surgery to your knees, low impact exercise can safely help to improve joint mobility and build up your leg muscles.
It is important to recognise your limitations as you grow older. This does not mean that you should give up physical activities and sports; instead, there may come a time when you need to take up a new challenge to enable you to stay healthy and avoid injury. Swimming and yoga are two of the best activities for people over the age of 50 - even those who have not previously done much exercise.
This can provide an ideal workout because it is a low impact activity and presents such a low risk of injury. All the muscle groups in the body can benefit from exercise in water. The health benefits of swimming include improving heart health, reducing the risk of osteoporosis, and increasing flexibility. It is also very gentle on the joints and is excellent for people who experience joint pain. As it is a non-weight-bearing exercise, swimming provides a full body workout without any pressure on the knees, hips or spine.
Swimming is a form of resistance training and can improve the strength and tone of all the muscle groups, although you may not realise how hard you are working. In addition to improving your physical strength and flexibility, swimming can benefit your mental health by reducing stress, increasing brain function and boosting your mood. As it can be a social activity, swimming can also be beneficial to people who are feeling depressed or isolated.
Yoga also has many health benefits without the risk of injury. Again, it is a low impact activity and the risk of injury is low, but you still benefit from increased flexibility, improved strength and balance and improved bone health. Gentle yoga poses are safe for people with osteoporosis and can help to prevent or slow the loss of bone density. In addition to the physical benefits, yoga can help to relieve stress and keep your mind sharp.
Keeping fit and healthy over the age of 50 depends on selecting the right activities, warming up before commencing exercise, and relaxing properly following a workout. Knowing your limitations will help you to plan a routine that suits you and keeps you injury free.