No one enjoys the aging process – especially athletes! After all, athletes, no matter what age they are, enjoy getting out on the field, court, rink, etc. and playing the game they love so much.
What's even worse for athletes, however, is the fact that our bodies begin to break down as we age, and this “break down” increases the likelihood of injury. Injury that can put an athlete on the “side lines” and out of commission until the injury heals – which also takes longer as we age.
So, the question becomes why – why are athletes more prone to injury? The first reason is rather obvious. Athletes tend to put more strain and stress on their bodies in an attempt to continue doing what they love.
But it's more than that. There are actually four physical changes in our bodies that cause aging athletes to be more susceptible to injuries. You see, as we age:
- Our maximum heart rate decreases and we see an overall decline in maximum cardiac output, or the amount of blood the heart can pump. These two heart-related factors limit athletic performance and our body's ability to heal itself at the rapid rate it did when we were younger.
- Our overall lung capacity decreases and we see a decline in our lungs ability to efficiently move oxygen from the air into our bloodstream. This limits our overall strength and endurance, as well as hinders our decision-making potential. Have you ever tried something you know you should not have? My point exactly.
- Our blood flow to our brain decreases and our nervous system suffers from a slower reaction time. This, in turn, affects our body's ability to make minute yet important adjustments when we run, jump, skate, etc. that helps prevent sprains, strains, and other common musculoskeletal injuries.
- We slowly lose muscle and bone mass, which leads to a decrease in coordination, flexibility, and overall physical capability.
Now, while these four physical factors are why athletes are more prone to injury, it's important to note that just because you're more susceptible to injury does not mean you're going to injure yourself.
The best prevention of injury as we age is awareness. Awareness in what we're doing and what we're not doing.
For example, are you performing dynamic stretches before and static stretches after you play or exercise? If not, we recommend adding dynamic and static stretches into your pre and post routine.
So, whether you're a weekend warrior or an avid exercise enthusiast, we recommend you continue to do what you love. We just caution you to be aware of how you feel and to take the necessary precautions before and after you “play” to stay healthy and active.
And, of course, if you do push yourself a little too hard and have an unfortunate injury, you know you can count on us here at UPMC – St. Margaret's.