As we get older, aren’t we supposed to slow down & take it easy? At least that’s what I’ve heard, but I don’t seem to doing that and in fact, I think I’m doing the opposite. Just this past weekend I participated in another Half Ironman race, just four weeks after my last race of the same distance (70.3 miles). It is not like me to do races of this long distance that close together, I’ve always preached “rest & train smart” to others. Yet after 20+ years of racing, I’m older & slower (and slightly heavier) than I was before, but I keep on going.
This is “sort of” my 29th year of being a triathlete. I say sort of because even though I did my first triathlon in 1986, I took about 8 years away from the triathlon world over the course of those years, so the number is probably closer to 20 years, but regardless, that’s a long time. I started doing triathlons before aero bars were in existence. There were no coaches, no special race day nutrition, no clipless pedals, no aero helmets, no heart rate monitors, no Garmin, no special triathlon clothes. We just swam, biked and ran, and that was it. Life was so simple.
The first few years of racing I had my share of injuries, illness and burnout, but then I got smart. During the last 20 years I have learned so much about taking care of myself (and others), that injuries are rare and my performance is pretty consistent. As I entered my 5th decade just a few months ago, I truly hope to be participating in triathlons & running events for many years to come.
So how does one stay healthy and fit in their 50’s and beyond? The best answer is to start early and to not give up, to be consistent. While the body does age and things slow down, it is much easier to keep things going than start from scratch. However regardless of where you are in your age, fitness and ability, there are several key points that I believe will help a person attain and maintain optimal health and fitness as they age:
Chiropractic care. Most people think you only go to a chiropractor if you have back pain, and that is far from the truth. Chiropractic care is about proper alignment and function of the spine & nervous system, so you can be at optimal health, everyday, for the rest of your life. If there is lack of mobility in a joint, it results in interference in the nervous system and muscular compensation elsewhere. One very common example is the sacro-iliac joint (“SI joint”). If that joint is not moving properly (call it subluxated or fixated), then the glut muscles, hamstring muscles and low back muscles will over-compensate to try and create that motion that is missing, and the end result can be back pain or hamstring strain – haven’t we all dealt with that at some point? When those nerves of the spine are being pinched & irritated, it also results in reduced nerve flow going to whatever body part that nerve affects. With reduced nerve flow, proper function is reduced, and that can result in anything from pain, reduced immune system function and less than optimal health. It’s like riding a bike with a flat tire – yes you can get from point A to point B, but not very well. Fix that tire (fix the spine) and things flow much better.
Most people go to a chiropractor anywhere from once a week to once a month for maintenance/wellness visits, though it can vary. I have been getting adjusted at least 2x a month for the past 20 years, and no longer have knee pain and have rarely have injuries. When I was in my 30’s, I never use to be able to run more than three days in a row due to knee pain. Once I started getting adjusted and my pelvis/sacro-iliac joints started moving better, my knee pain went away. I can now run more consistently with NO pain. How crazy is that? It seems so opposite. Yet if you can focus on the spine and joints of the body, and in improving motion of the spine and improving nerve flow, then optimal health & function can be the end result. And as we get older and things tend to slow down, optimal health and function should be what everyone wants. I can’t imagine not getting adjusted, and encourage everyone to find a chiropractor that they can go to.
Massage Therapy. I’m also confident I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for massage therapy. While chiropractic care focuses on the nerves and bones, massage will focus on the muscles. As I’m getting older, my body doesn’t recover as fast, I need more time off and my muscles need more attention. I’m glad there is massage to help me work out tension & tightness in my body. Massage and chiropractic care are great individually, but go really well when combined together.
Stretching. This gets more important as we age, because stretching and flexibility is rarely going to improve the older we get, yet it can get worse if ignored. A busy lifestyle often gets in the way and stretching is the first thing to go….and that’s a mistake. Too many people are inflexible, which leads to tightness and even more problems. The best time to stretch is after a workout, when your muscles are warmed up and less likely to be pulled.
Rest. The older we get, the more we need to rest and let our bodies recover. I’m not only talking about getting 7-9 hours of sleep at night, but also full days off of no exercise, or very light exercise. I typically take 1-2 days off a week from exercise (of course those typically are the long days I’m in my office adjusting patients), but I’m not out running, biking or swimming. And it’s not unusual on other days to just do a 2-3 mile run. Yes, two miles, that’s it. I have a friend who won’t go out running unless she can do five miles, however I’m somewhat opposite; I’m okay with an easy workout once a week. I have become really good at listening to my body, resting when necessary and knowing when to push myself and when to back off.
Chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy, stretching & rest are my four main components to staying fit and healthy into your fifties and beyond. While they are important at every stage of life, they need to be done on a regular basis and not just when in pain. (Yes, nutrition is also very important, but more on that next month). I feel so lucky to be staying healthy and injury free. I also know that being smart about my training and talking care of myself with, and not competing against anyone but myself is what has helped me. Make sure you take care of your body now, if you don’t, where will you live when you get old?