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1st Jul


5 Keys to Effective Exercise with Aging

Welcome to the slightly changed format of my newsletter, officially the first issue from my new solo practice Mossberg Physical Therapy, which is now up and running. Hopefully this newsletter set-up will make it a little easier to maneuver between the website and newsletters, and even let you sign up for the newsletter list right here, if you have been forwarded the letter from a friend. I plan to write regularly again, to give everyone more information and ideas about healthy living.

As the heading suggests, today I want to summarize 5 key points to exercising in ways that we truly enhance our health as we age, in particular from age 50 and on, but even starting earlier in life. Today, a popular trend in conditioning exercise is high intensity exercise, in various forms, which makes many people feel emotionally younger, but unfortunately also puts quite a few into the “red zone”, exceeding the body’s tissue tolerance, leading to unnecessary injuries.

The first key is to go into any exercise program gradually, starting with low intensity exercise, entirely without pain, and progressing the exercise routine only every 2-3 weeks. Too many people get excited, and jump right into a new routine, often with high intensity, going from 0 mph to 60 mph in a matter of days. That’s an excellent way to get injured, at any age. Also, give yourself at least two days a week of complete rest, or exercise at no greater than 50% of normal intensity without much increase in heart rate on the “rest days”, to enhance recovery between workouts.

The second key is to focus on coordination exercise, when performing any exercise. Simply pushing weights with machines that only allow motion to be performed in one way, may make you look good, as muscles develop, but it does nothing for coordination, or your ability to perform movements in a way that we can handle tasks of daily living, recreation or sports, with better outcome and less risk of injury. Here we are talking of “muscle memory”, or development of optimal interaction between your nervous system and musculature. Without good coordination, most exercise is pointless, and often harmful. As we age, we lose nerve tissues, which contributes to loss of balance in older age, making coordination and proprioception (position sense) exercise important throughout life. Some forms of cardiovascular training do not require much coordination, however, which is an exception to this rule.

Key number three is to avoid pain with all exercise, again not considering the emotional and muscular pain associated with high intensity endurance or anaerobic work, often seen in competitive sports. Conditioning exercise for most, and mobility/flexibility exercise such as some forms of Yoga, stretching etc, should not cause pain, as the nerve endings responsible for your sensation of pain may signal tissue compromise, rather than just fatigue. This principle is in particular important for deconditioned people who are just starting exercise, or for people age 50-60 and above, as their tissues are of less quality and quantity as compared to in younger years.

Key number four is to understand that high intensity exercise breaks down our tissues much more than low intensity exercise and requires much more rest between sessions. Examples are jumping, plyometrics, sprinting, explosive quick maximal contractions, high resistance motions that can only be performed 5-8 times before severe fatigue whether using simply your own body weight, or added resistance. Competitive athletes need to include this form of exercise in many sports, to perform at the highest level. However, they are typically not past their 30s in age, and they have years of conditioning training behind them, to tolerate such exercise. For people in their 50s and 60s or beyond, these forms of exercise cause injuries to many, with the possible exception of the very few who are genetically gifted. For most people who include high intensity agility exercise, it should only be performed 1-2 times per week, and for short bouts. We must remember that 70% of our total energy stored in muscles is reserve energy, available to regenerate or build up tissues. This reserve is quickly used up with high intensity exercise, and performed in excess or without proper rest, we will continue to break down tissues, leading to overuse injuries. Lower intensity exercise, which can be performed with many repetitions and for longer periods, are much less taxing and better tolerated. As we age, we should plan to gradually switch our exercise intensity approach each decade beyond age 40.

The fifth, and final key mentioned today, is rest. It is rest after exercise that builds muscles and makes us more fit, not the exercise by itself. Without proper rest, exercise is destructive, and will lead to injuries. This again ties into the 70% reserve/30% activity use of our total energy available. As we age, we need more rest, to avoid depleting our energy storage. The typical 60-year-old has half the number of muscle fibers available as compared to the typical 20-year-old. Therefore, it is much easier to deplete our muscle energy reserve with exercise as we age. By staying conditioned throughout life, we can minimize this muscle loss, but we cannot eliminate it.

By following these principles of exercise, you will be able to avoid many injuries, minimize pain associated with aging, and continue to live an active life.

I hope you’ve found this information of interest. Feel free to leave a comment or question for me below, or don’t hesitate to call me if you would like for me to help you with injury prevention or treatment of any injury or condition that you may have.

Best wishes,


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