Thursday, August 26, 2010

“Old” Age and Physical Training

Today I’ve been pondering why older people (60+) training seems less common than younger age groups.  There are a lot of possible reasons that I’ve heard, but what it seems to come down to is a lack of time, determination, and education about how the body responds to exercise.  I’ll list a few common reasons that older folk tend not to train, and I will then proceed to “teach my grandmother to suck eggs” and show that almost none of these reasons can be used to justify a lack of physical training.

Some reasons why older people do not train (either much, or at all)
  1. It is too hard on their bodies - it hurts to train and it takes a long time to recover.
  2. My joints cannot handle the training load like they used to.
  3. I’m afraid that I will hurt myself now that I am old.
  4. I’m too busy.
  5. I’ve never really exercised in my life, so why start now when I’m already old?
  6. I wouldn’t know where to start.

I’m almost certain you will have heard several of these from friends or relatives.  I’ve even heard a number of them from people in their early thirties!

What we now have to consider is the few older athletes that continue exercising regularly, and who maintain good physical health, well into “old age”.  Are they genetic freaks who can do this without trying?  Or is there something that they do which anyone can tap into?  If we believe 64 year old Sylvester Stallone, it takes “scientific ways with new equipment” to keep in shape, and you have to constantly battle pain and a loss of flexibility associated with age.

Let’s look at some responses to these reasons:
Is it really too hard on older bodies to train?  The obvious answer is: NO!  Like anything, you must train within your ability.  There is no point in trying to run a marathon or lift 200kg if you haven’t trained for it.  After the kids leave home, a lot of older people find that they are left with a life of routines that were adapted around their kids and almost none of their time went to maintaining exercise routines or developing physical fitness.  The biggest hurdle to overcome is finding out what you are capable of, and accepting that it will be much lower because of years of inactivity.  It can be a real hit to the pride to have to start small and slow, and the longer you delay the lower you will have to start.  The good news is that as long as you can heal from wounds and put on weight, you are pretty much physically capable of developing your muscles and improving your joint health and flexibility.  Recovery time may be long, but as long as you can recover you are still in the game.

It may be true that your joints are weak, but this is normal for anyone of any age if they have not worked out or eaten the right nutrients to maintain good joint health.  Of course, some people will have diseases such as arthritis, but for goodness sake get it diagnosed by a doctor instead of carrying on using it as an excuse not to exercise.  Once you know what your ailments are and the limitations they cause, you can then design your exercise routine to get around them.  If your hands are too sore to hold weights then you can use your lower body more.  Creative thinking of determined minds should be able to come up with a solution.

Fear, a busy life, bad habits, etc. are all things that need to be overcome by everyone at any level of physical ability.  These should never be insurmountable obstacles.  Too many reasons come down to a lack of self discipline and mental toughness, both of which can be developed at any age.  Even an old dog can learn tricks with enough determination and the right resources.

Which brings me to the last objection: education.  If you don’t know enough to start training then just ask someone.  Eventually you will come across a person who can direct you to videos, books, and people that can guide you.  I don’t know a more comprehensive source of information than where the main man, Tom Kurz (over 50) often demonstrates the principles that his books contain.  You can see an example of Tom at age 50 demonstrating how to maintain his splits, clearly showing that most people have a very wrong notion about what older bodies are capable of:

I have seen a video on YouTube of a 60+ year old woman performing parkour movements.  I worked with an amazing gentleman who ran a marathon on his first day of retirement.  I’ve seen ancient martial arts gurus holding their own against young whipper-snappers.

“Old” age is no excuse, just another obstacle to overcome.