Remember the days when you could stay up half the night, then jump out of bed after 4 hours of sleep and hit the road for a 5 mile run, or a 1.5 hour training session at the gym, without blinking an eye? Well those days, if your 20ish self was ever lucky enough to have them, are decidedly over. These days, the days when “30 something” isn’t just a television show and “This is 40” isn’t just a movie, your body needs a little more TLC and a lot more warm up and joint lubrication to get going each day.
In your 20’s, generally speaking, your metabolism is revved up, you’re flexible, your body responds quickly to exercise and heals rapidly after injury. And even though you should be developing healthy habits for the future, your 20’s are a time when discounting the perfect diet and disregarding flexibility drills has a near nonexistent effect on your health. But as you reach your 30’s and 40’s, those healthy habits you should have formed, if you didn’t, become very important. By then, your flexibility and ability to heal after injury is diminishing, and your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the amount of energy needed to sustain body function while at rest, begins to drop at the rate of about 8% per year. That translates into a near 10lb gain each year without changing any portion of your diet or workout regimen.
Although the statistics sound dire, none of them means you have to stop being the rock star athlete that you are. In fact, you can continue to swim, cycle, cross fit, mud run, marathon or triathlon your way well into your 60’s and 70’s, as long as you heed some crucial injury prevention principles.
Fuel Up – Just like any machine needs an energy source to operate efficiently without shutting down, so does your body.
Adequately fuel your body with essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients to ensure it can function properly. Eat lots of fresh whole foods several times a day. Frequent small sized meals, about the amount that would fit on a bread plate, keeps your metabolism stoked and your insulin levels balanced. Your body will be ready for activity at any time of the day without fear of “spikes” and “crashes” associated with over and under eating.
Proper nutrition also supports musculoskeletal function. The musculoskeletal system is made up of muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, bones and other connective tissues, and provides body stability and support, and allows for body movement. As you age, your musculoskeletal system becomes less resilient and needs more nutritional support. Specific micro and macro nutrients support immune function, reduce inflammation, stabilize insulin production, promote muscle growth and repair, and prevent muscle damage from free radicals created by exercise. Each of these issues, if left unchecked, could lead to breakdown or inflammation in the muscles, ligaments or joints, and ultimately, injury. Eating nutrient dense foods helps prepare your body for the rigors of healthy exercise and keeps your body craving more.
And don’t forget to drink lots of water. Water lubricates organs and aids in metabolic processes. Shoot for about ½ to 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. If you are extremely active, or in a hot climate, drink as close to 1 ounce of water per pound as possible.
You make sure your car has gas, your refrigerator is plugged in and your phone gets charged every few hours. Take the same time to give your body the fuel it needs to work efficiently for you throughout the day, and to stave off injury over time.
Sleep – Sleep is crucial to renewing your brain and body function after activity during the day. Sleep also plays a critical role in recovery after exercise. It helps restore glucose levels, which are necessary for muscle recovery. Lack of sleep has been known to interfere with metabolism and immune function.
Generally, you need about 6-8 hours of sleep each day for adequate brain/body renewal, particularly as you get older. The reason for this is that you need enough time, about 2 hours, to enter the stages of sleep where recovery takes place, stages 3, 4 and REM (rapid eye movement). During those three stages, hormones are released and blood supply to the muscles is increased to promote growth and repair while energy to the brain and body is restored. Because sleep cycles repeat throughout the night, it is important to sleep long enough to allow several cycles of stage 3, 4, and REM to renew your brain and body.
If you are extremely active, you might consider aiming for 8 or 9 hours of sleep to allow for increased activity levels.
Stretch – Stretching is quite possibly one of the most under rated components to training programs. As you age, range of motion becomes more limited, unless stretching is a regular part of exercise.
Proper stretching helps maintain flexibility and thus range of motion in movements. The belief is the more flexible you are, the farther a limb can move before injury occurs. On the other hand, if a limb is forced to move beyond its range of motion, stress or strain is place on the ligaments and tendons, resulting in injury. Incorporating a stretching routine into your exercise program helps to improve, or at least maintain, joint and muscle flexibility, and thus prevent injury. Stretching can also help prevent over use injury.
It is important to note that you should not stretch prior to warming up as it could lead to muscles tears and actually produce, rather than prevent, an injury. Generally, a short walk or easy jog of about 400 meters, or once a round a track, is enough to sufficiently warm up prior to stretching.
Cross Train – Cross training is a great way to add variety to your workouts to prevent boredom, and to prevent overuse injury.
When you cross train, it allows you to use movements from other sports and activities to work the same or similar muscle groups in a different way. For instance, a runner may swim or cycle to continue to get a cardiovascular workout, while training the legs, without the pounding and repetitive motion of running. Performing the same activity day in and day out can lead to poor performance gains, boredom and overuse injury.
Overuse injury is very common among sport specific athletes. It usually occurs when training for a particular sport and emphasis is placed on a specific repetitive movement putting much more stress on one area of the body than others.
For example, if a baseball pitcher emphasized throwing over and over with one arm to practice and improve his or her pitches, eventually the exorbitant stress on that one arm and joint could lead to an injury such as elbow or joint pain or dislocation. Human physiology and exercise science has shown that it is important to give attention to complementary muscles in a given action, like working biceps and triceps or hamstrings and quadriceps, during workouts and across several days in order to prevent injury. This way, you allow the entire body to be trained equally, and do not allow muscles to develop disproportionately causing imbalance
Muscle imbalance is another common cause of over use injury, as one facet of an action outperforms the other.
While overuse injury can strike at any age, it is particularly troubling for older athletes because injury recovery times tend to be longer, and the time it takes to restore fitness levels after prolonged periods of inactivity is also increased.
Rest – No, not sleep, rest. Although the words are frequently interchanged, sleep and rest are two very different concepts in the fitness world. As stated above, you need about 6-8 hours of sleep each day for adequate brain/body renewal. But you also need rest days, days away from training and intense physical activity each week. Overtraining is the one of the most common reasons for injury among athletes and weekend warriors alike. It occurs when the training schedule exceeds the body’s ability to recover. Not allowing your body adequate time to recover from exercise can lead to injury.
Two rest days are better than one, but even if you only take one day, take it and rest. Use it to catch up on that book you’ve been meaning to read, or that movie you wanted to watch. Maybe you can google “30 Something” and watch reruns of the show mentioned earlier. You may not remember it if you are only now in your 30’s. Just so you know, it was cutting edge television in the late 80’s.
Whatever you chose to do on your rest day, do not train. Your body will thank you and you’ll see greater gains down the road.