Older Eyes, Older Body

When I was in my forties … and doing several marathons and triathlons a year … a friend once commented that she thought I  was obsessive about my running.  What I was was insulted.  Me, obsessive?  I just love to run.  Besides, if you’re going to run 26 miles, you need to put in the training.  One day when I was running along the river trail about 10 miles from home, an old guy going by on a bike yelled to me, That will ruin your knees.  I think I flipped him off.  It didn’t occur to me that it had ruined his, and besides, I stretched and I cross-trained and I did leg exercises.  I was different.  Still, there were injuries, a bout of sciatic pain, some garden variety ilio-tibial band syndrome that led to the discovery that I have one short leg.  That meant orthotics.  I also had on arthroscopic repair of a torn meniscus.  My last marathon left me with a little lump on my left Achilles tendon that can be tender if I run for too long.   At sixty-eight, I am willing to consider that my friend and the old guy on the bike might have been right.

The years of exercise are not without benefit.   I have had a thorough cardiac evaluation in the last two years and have a very strong heart.   Even though I’ve put on some weight, for the most part, my body seems to be holding up well.  But occasionally, I’ll turn just so and my knee will send out a sharp pain that hangs around for a few days.   If I try to run too much (meaning more than a few miles), my Achilles tendon and knees sing out, Please Stop, in three part harmony.   So mostly, I walk and ride my bike at a more leisurely pace with an occasional jog thrown in for old times sake.  I have a number of senior friends who have remained faithful to the kind of regular exercise I used to do and they have been rewarded with more svelte bodies than mine.  To be honest, some of them look gaunt.  I have an unproven theory that very thin seniors look older because there’s no permafat to smooth out the wrinkles.  But I’ve also noticed this: they seem to have more injuries than I do, not fall-down-go-boom injuries but use injuries like tendonitis, back problems and rotator cuff pain.  It also seems to me they are more susceptible to illness.

Looking back on my heavy training days, these sound like symptoms of over-training, something I was known to do in my forties.  Back then, when I had symptoms of over-training, I’d back off a little bit, feel better, then hit the streets again.  They were the acceptable consequences of considering myself an athlete.  It’s different now.   At forty, injuries heal quickly … at sixty-eight, they prefer to hang around.   Sometimes, they want professional treatment.   So my serious exercising senior friends sometimes spend extended time recovering.  They frequently start back too soon, suffer a set back, then end up laid up longer.   That got me to thinking … what is the right amount of exercise for a senior to balance the benefits like cardiovascular health, flexibility and strength against the potential for use injuries?   I thought it would be an easy question to answer but in our culture the benefits of exercise take on an almost mythic importance.  To some degree it reflects that for the most part, we are an under-exercising society so articles on exercise tend to say, Do More.  Don’t believe me?  An article is USNews on A Workout Plan for Seniors begins: If you think you need to slow down as your body starts to age, think again.  What follows is this:

(1) 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (running, walking, swimming, biking) five days a week.  Those who do vigorous workouts that cause a big increase in heart rate and heavy breathing should aim for a minimum of 20 minutes, three days a week;  (2) Two to three strengthening (weight training or exercises like push-ups) workouts per week of all major muscle groups on nonconsecutive days;  (3) At least 10 minutes a day should be devoted to stretching and balance exercises, like yoga, Pilates, and tai chi.

Some seniors may need to slow down.  I suspect this regimen would be slowing down for some of the heavy exercising seniors I know.  According to senior-site.com, if you’re a senior doing more than this and you experience continual joint or muscle aches, low energy levels, exhaustion, loss of appetite, depression, sleeping difficulties or frequent infections, you may be over-training.   Cut back and you’ll not only feel better, you’ll improve your overall fitness.

Me?  I promise, I’m not over-training.

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11 Comments on “Older Eyes, Older Body”

  1. I have always wondered about all my marathon-running friends and how long they’ll be able to continue. I also think they’re insane for running so much, since pounding concrete until your clothes rub your skin raw and you want to vomit seems counterintuitive to health… but that’s just me. I had knee trouble as a teenager (girls who play sports around puberty can develop patella-femoral syndrome – it happens as their hips widen and the weight on their knees gets redistributed). As you know, I also have back problems. Given that those things came without running, but in spite of playing sports and exercising, well… I can’t imagine that running is really all that good for your joints. But I admire people who can do it. Smoke ’em if ya got ’em.. and then pay for it later. Guess it’s a general rule for life!

    • oldereyes Says:

      I truly loved marathon running … not the times when I felt like hell, but the first 20 or so miles was like a party. I’m not a very social person but during marathons, I talked to everybody. And every once in a while, I’d have a great race where I cruised through the whole thing. But I wasn’t built for running (too heavy, even at my training weight), which was part of the reason, I think, for the wear and tear. I agree, by the way … I have no regrets but am paying now. But in fairly minor ways.

  2. cherperz Says:

    I admire people that run marathons. I can’t imagine running 26 miles.

    I excercise a lot more than USNews’ reccomendation but I will say, that I have a personal trainer that keeps me in check on the duration and intensity of my workouts. I rarely have injuries but often have some residual aches.

    I like how I feel when I am at my correct weight. I have a lot of energy and for a person pushing 60, I am amazingly strong. So when people tell me I spend to much time jogging or hanging out at the gym, I just ignore them. It’s funny that the people that usually feel the need to tell me I over-do are either over-weight or have some type of health issue.

    • oldereyes Says:

      I’ve been meaning to come back and respond to your comment. You sound like I did when I was pushing 60. My body has shown a lot of wear in the time since then. You may be able to continue as you are, but my point is the wear is cumulative so just be aware.

  3. territerri Says:

    I am not a good runner. I enjoy it, but it took me a long time to get there. And I can’t seem to push beyond about 3 1/2 miles. So running a marathon is unimaginable to me. I admire that you were able to do them at one time.

    My parents never placed much importance on exercise for us kids, and not at all for themselves. Both have always been naturally tall and thin, but I often wonder if the lack of exercise contributed to their poor health now. Both are in their early seventies and while my dad is doing well now, both have suffered considerable illness and disease as well as injuries over the years. It seemed like one day they were middle aged and the next, they seemed downright old. That’s part of the reason I try to exercise regularly and keep trying to eat decently.

  4. sharechair Says:

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  5. Pinned you. http://pinterest.com/pin/147141112796231222/ I lived before the running craze it. My joy was horseback riding. By back creaks from some bad falls, but still would probably not do differently.
    Staying strong and thank you for helping me with that.

  6. davidrwells Says:

    I am a passionate runner and love to run in the country. Though I averagely run about 6 to 8 miles a day but it has never occurred to me that I should run in the marathons. I want a little guidance about how many miles should I run more to make my running fit for marathons and for how long should I train myself for the big run?

  7. davidrwells Says:

    Thank you very much Oldereyes for the instantaneous reply. I will check the site and will give you feedback regarding the site.

  8. There are many reasons I could list for why I am not a runner. One could be that at my age (same as your age, Bud) it would take me forever to get my body to cooperate without my going into cardiac arrest almost immediately after starting to run or it could bring back unpleasant memories of my working days as a waitress when I had to run, run, run to fetch this, that or some other thing and then, run some more. I could also say that I don’t have near enough ambition to even think about running these days. Or make mention that flat out, I am way too lazy. But last year, I even got a perfect excuse for not running from my oncologist who told me that the best exercise ever is simply walking and that, according to him, running is the worst exercise, especially for women, because of all the jarring it gives to the woman’s lower insider regions! Gave me a perfect excuse then and it’s “doctor’s orders” -one of very few of those kind of things that I chose to follow too!

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