Most of us steaming slowly but inevitably into middle age and beyond will have noticed how niggles and pains seem to come about randomly and for little or no apparent reason. Worse still is how they appear to hang around for much longer than before or that seems reasonable!
So why is this? Well, three things spring to mind: Firstly, there’s the decline in muscle mass and quality as we age. Unless we make a special effort – and it does take more effort just to keep what you’ve got as grow older – our muscles tend to diminish in size. This means they tire & come under strain more readily.
Another thing is that the quality of the muscle fibres changes. They become less elastic and aren’t capable of generating the same force as younger muscle fibres. They also need longer recovery time, not only between intense physical activity, but also to injury. That twisted ankle that you shrug off after a couple of weeks in your twenties is going to hang around for a lot longer in your fifties. So you’ll need to learn to be patient!
The third thing is that ‘white-stuff ‘ injuries become more common as you age. White stuff refers to the glistening cartilage and muscle tendons you see when you’re boning a chicken or leg of lamb. The injuries to these increase because on the cellular level there are changes that happen which make the tendon less elastic and less strong – and less able to recover from repetitive strains.
So you may be doing something which doesn’t seem to require that much effort & which you’ve done loads of times before, but the fact of doing it repeatedly leads to a niggle appearing from nowhere.
What does all this mean for the over forties?
First, we need to work on maintaining our strength as we age, or improving it if you’ve been inactive for a long time. Just going for your daily walk is not going to cut it in terms of improving strength in other parts of the body not used much in walking. But just be careful to increase the intensity of your exercise regime slowly to give those muscles and tendons extra time to adapt.
Second, and very importantly, vary the exercise to avoid too much repetitive strain on those tendons. Try to avoid just returning to the same exercises week after week. Try rotation. Two that are often affected are the achilles tendon and the tendons around the outside of the elbow involved in wrist movements. The shoulder is another commonly affected area.
Third, since recovery slows with age, allow more time for recovery and rest for muscles that have been worked hard or strained.
And finally, warming up & easing into physical activity gradually rather than jumping in may help to prepare less elastic muscles for activity and avoid cramp or pulled muscles. Warming down and stretching just after should help too instead of just coming to a sudden halt before going to shower.