Aging And Athletes: How Exercise Can Make A Difference
Other Key Considerations With Older Athletes
Other age-related changes that are relevant to active individuals may be more insidious. Older athletes may unknowingly have difficulty with fluid balance. The thirst mechanism is less sensitive with age, renal function decreases and sweat response is impaired.29,30 These changes can contribute to overhydration, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. These imbalances may subsequently result in the decreased ability to thermoregulate and/or regulate cardiopulmonary function, and negatively affect performance as well.31
The incidence of overuse injuries is higher and the incidence of acute injuries is lower in older athletes.32,33 Finnish researchers found that of the injuries sustained in athletes aged 70 to 81 during a 10-year period, 75 percent were to the lower extremity.34 The knee and foot/ankle were the most common sites at 20 percent and 19 percent respectively.
Making The Case For Exercise In Older Patients
While it appears that older athletes are more likely to get injured, researchers on aging are nonetheless unanimous in advocating for exercise and sports activities over sedentary lifestyles. In one study, one year of endurance training improved patients’ maximum oxygen uptake to the level of sedentary people 10 to 20 years younger and also improved muscle function and decreased body fat.35
However, the literature review by Hawkins and coworkers suggests that it is important to combine endurance training with resistance training to reap the maximum benefits of exercise.36 Chen and colleagues pointed out that “anti-aging” agents such as growth hormone, antioxidants and androgens can be costly, come with significant risks or unknown long-term risks, and have not proven to be superior to exercise.22
The United States Public Health Service declared that exercise is one of the five priority areas to prevent premature morbidity and mortality. The National Council on Aging recommends that “older adults engage in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes five days a week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.”37 However, statistics show that less than one-third of Americans 65 years of age and older meet this level.36
As medical professionals, we owe it to our patients to not only treat their current conditions but educate them on the benefits of maintaining or starting a fitness program so they may enjoy a better quality of life as they age.
Dr. Langer is in private practice at Twin Cities Orthopedics in Minneapolis. He is an Adjunct Clinical Professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a board member of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine.