Stay in the game despite advancing years

COMMENTARY /// Physical fitness



Time marches on—it’s unavoidable. Should you march along with it or stay relegated to the sidelines?

It’s a somewhat rhetorical question since we all know it’s important to remain active as we get older. The amount, type and level of activity are what’s on deck today, and whether striving to match the intensity you reached in your youth is possible or even wise.

One thing to consider is the loss of muscle mass, called sarcopenia, as we age. At some point in our 30s or 40s sarcopenia sets in, and muscle mass and function start to deteriorate. The effect increases along with the number of candles on our birthday cake, becoming particularly apparent once we hit our 70s.

Some studies show that a sedentary lifestyle speeds up the process, but even physically active people will experience sarcopenia to some extent.

Other age-related concerns are loss of bone density and decreased balance receptors, making an accidental fall both more likely and more consequential.

The good news is, if you incorporate flexibility and stability exercises, stretching, strength training and weight lifting into your routine, you can reduce the likelihood of injury and heart problems, maintain stamina and minimize muscle and bone loss. In doing so, virtually any activity is possible long into your golden years, with moderation and modification as your standard.

Take it from two-time Olympian Jane Frederick, 66, who said the only thing that hasn’t changed in her workout is stretching beforehand, which allows her to keep gardening or golfing most afternoons. The proper stretching technique will keep you enjoying recreational activities too.

Whether you stretch with foam rollers, resistance bands or static poses, it’s essential to hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds. If you find stretching boring, a yoga or Pilates class may make it more palatable while providing an opportunity to socialize.

No workout can beat an improper diet. This is true as we age and our metabolism slows down. It’s important to remember as you grow older that your stomach is no bigger than your fist. Meals should have the proper percentage of fat, protein and carbohydrates, and it’s vital to eat a plant-based, lean-protein diet. Cross-training is another way to bolster your fitness level. Consider varying high-intensity workouts with a lower impact exercise such as spinning. Lighten the load when you lift. You’ll still get a great workout but minimize the potential for damage.

Strenuous cardio activity and weight lifting cause tiny tears in muscle fibers that need time to heal. It’s important to incorporate recovery days into your routine.

As 50-something construction worker Chris Landry said, “These days I only exercise after work if I have enough energy for a good workout. Whereas when I was younger (and) would push myself harder at the gym, now if I don’t feel like working out, I don’t.”

Virtually any exercise can be modified. Pushups can be executed from a kneeling position instead of fully prone. Pullups can be done from a step elevation to shorten the demand on arm muscles, and the motion of jumping rope can be simulated to prevent tripping over an errant loop.

Tennis is an excellent way to hone hand-eye coordination, as are golf, racquetball and badminton. Swimming can take the place of running in terms of cardiovascular benefits, providing welcome relief to overused joints, while fastwalking, though not as efficient at burning calories as running, offers many of the same rewards that running does when it comes to muscles used.

Your days of playing tackle football may be behind you, but there’s nothing like tossing the old pigskin around just for fun. Or even a Frisbee. If arthritic hands are a concern, there are foam equivalents of both.

Any helpful steps you can take as you try to stay in the game will add up—just like the years, but in a more welcome way.

Karen Robiscoe is a certified fitness trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and a published author of short fiction, essays and poetry. Email Robiscoe at, or visit her at