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Keeping Aging Athletes at Their Peak

By Joseph Ascher, PT, DPT

Can I stay in the game as I age?

This is a question that many competitive and recreational athletes ask themselves as they approach and anticipate middle age. As a millennial myself, I have often pondered how I will maintain my athleticism after a career in college sports.

A review on exercise and treatment recommendations for a group of individuals called Masters Athletes was published in the Sports Health Journal in 2014.  Masters Athletes are described as people over the age of 35 who train or takes part in athletic competitions. This review provides an excellent overview on health screenings, physiological processes, exercise recommendation, risks of exercise, and provides other helpful hints for masters athletes.

Screenings:  While a a general health screening is recommended prior to initiating exercise, the review specifically recommends a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) for all men and women over the age of 40 regardless of activity levels in order to detect cardiac abnormalities.  Your primary care physician can assist you in obtaining this screening exam.

Exercise Recommendation: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that healthy adults should participate in:

  • 3-5 aerobic training sessions per week for 20-60 minutes per session.
  • 2-3 resistance training sessions per week for 2-4 sets of 8-20 repetitions with addition of plyometric training for strength and power.  Plyometric exercise involves repeated rapid lengthening and contracting of muscles to increase muscle power.
  • 2-3 flexibility training sessions per week for major muscle groups, holding the stretch for 60 seconds 2-4 times.
  • 2-3 balance training sessions per week for 20-30 minutes.

Maintaining your physical function does take work and commitment. Performing this bare minimum level of recommended activity amounts to about 4 hours per week. While it sounds like a lot of time, this level of exercise only requires about 2.4% of your entire week.  You still have the other 97.6% of your week to sleep, work, shop, eat, and even sit and watch TV!

Recovery: Muscle of masters athletes reach the same level of fatigue as their younger counterparts, but these masters athletes will require a longer to recover from these bouts of exercise. In relation to aerobic capacity, this review concluded that an individual can maintain peak endurance performance until about 35 years of ago before the reduction in maximal oxygen consumption causes a drop in endurance.

Risks: The review concluded that while age may not have significant effects on the rates of all types of injuries in older athletes, masters athletes take longer to recover than their younger counterparts. Another interesting finding was that regular, vigorous exercise did not lead to increased risk of osteoarthritis, but single-impact insults or repetitive micro trauma did lead to an increased risk of osteoarthritis.

In addition to the above recommendations, an annual physical therapist exam can help identify and correct imbalances that can lead to repetitive micro trauma.  Learn more at www.lakeshoresportspt.com.

Dr. Ascher is a physical therapist at Lakeshore Sports Physical Therapy, PC.  He may be reached at ja@lakeshoresportspt.com.

Tayrose, G. A., B. G. Beutel, D. A. Cardone, and O. H. Sherman. “The Masters Athlete: A Review of Current Exercise and Treatment Recommendations.” Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach 7.3 (2014): 270-76. Web.

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