We’re continuing with our topic of the month – Getting Fit After 50 – and people have been asking me…
Are there certain types of exercise I should avoid once I hit a certain age?
The short answer is no.
Most of our clients are over the age of 50 and they do everything from surfing, to playing tennis, hockey, running, and even tap dancing!
None of these activities are considered “easy on the joints,” but they do them anyway.
So why is it that some folks see age as just a number – where others use it as a reason to stop doing certain things?
After age 50, the number one reason I see people avoid activities they want to do is because of pain. The second most common reason is because they were told to.
Let’s start with pain.
Having been a physical therapist for twenty years, I know a thing or two about what goes through people’s minds when they are dealing with back or joint pain. In most cases, the pain itself is not the biggest concern. People are willing and able to tolerate a certain amount of pain at the expense of doing what they truly love. We do it all the time in our 20’s or 30’s… and don’t think twice about it.
But as we age – a little bit of fear starts to set in when we’re in pain.
We’ve typically seen or heard horror stories from friends or family who have paid the price for either pushing through – or ignoring pain all together. When we’re younger, we’re more likely to approach pain with a “wait and see” approach. But as we age – pain becomes a bigger concern and we’re more likely to seek professional medical help sooner.
This leads me to the second reason people over 50 will just stop doing certain exercises…
Because they were told to. And often by a well-meaning health care professional.
Let me explain that.
Our medical system is overloaded, and everyone does the best they can to keep up. But if you’re a musculoskeletal health professional who’s NOT up with current medical research – you’re likely to give advice based on “old-school” ways of thinking.
For example, diagnosing all musculoskeletal pain based on X-rays and MRI’s… If your X-ray shows “bone on bone” arthritis – then a joint replacement is assumed to be your only option. If your MRI shows a meniscus tear or bulging disc – then you automatically need arthroscopic surgery.
But the current research disputes this line of thinking…
And says 80% of ALL musculoskeletal problems – even when you’re over 50 – can be solved without surgeries or other procedures.
How your pain behaves is what matters most. Not your age or arthritis. The best way to explain this concept is with a case study!
This client (we’ll call him “Jim”) is 57 years old and was told knee replacement surgery was his only option to resolve the knee pain he was suddenly experiencing.
When he questioned the knee replacement and asked if he could wait, his doctor’s response was that because of his age – and because of the “bone on bone” arthritis that was showing on his X-ray – surgery was his best option. Otherwise, if he wanted to wait, he would need to stop the running and hiking he had been enjoying so much until very recently.
Research studies show that the indication of osteoarthritis on X-ray alone does not mean it’s the cause of your pain.
In other words, it’s entirely possible Jim’s knee pain could be due to something other than his “bone on bone” arthritis.
Did he really need surgery? And did he really need to stop some of his exercises because of arthritis or his age?
Ceasing his activities would have certainly made Jim’s arthritis worse. And if he went through with the knee replacement without being completely sure if arthritis was the main cause of his knee pain – he not only risks unnecessary surgery – but also risks getting set back several months for recovery.
This would delay his ability to get back to running and hiking even further.
Although age is most of the time NOT a factor in your choice of exercise… it is a factor when it comes to how quickly you’re able to recover from surgery.
So here’s what happened.
We prescribed him a corrective movement strategy to see if arthritis was the main factor causing his knee pain. And just like we see over and over again – his knee pain significantly improved after just a few visits!
Research says that if pain responds quickly to a corrective movement done repeatedly – your pain is primarily due to a mechanical origin – and not arthritis. Arthritis doesn’t change that quickly – in fact it doesn’t change at all (unless you get surgery). But mechanical pain does.
Turns out that Jim’s knee pain was due to some mechanical imbalances in his knee joint, and NOT the arthritis. Arthritis was a factor for sure – it made his knee stiff – but it was not the main cause of his knee pain.
If you’re getting older… know that age related changes like arthritis are quite normal and nothing to be afraid of.
And arthritis, along with your age, are certainly not reasons to avoid exercise.
Jim was given medical advice to have a surgery he does NOT need yet based solely on his X-ray and his age. But there are SO many other factors worth considering as well.