Dear Running Doc:
I am 62 years old and have been running approximately 30 miles per week for the last 40 years. I used to never get injured but lately it’s one thing after another. Like the old adage; “do nothing new”, I have not changed my routine in any way for the last 40 years. I just saw my family doctor and he said I am healthy and do not need to take any meds. So, why the increased injury rate? Please help me to understand, Running Doc.
Charles M., Westwood, NJ
Thank you, Charles, for the question. I am sorry to say that we all age and in that process muscles, ligaments, and tendons all get tighter and more brittle. Doing the same routine for 40 years does nothing to maintain and slow down the aging process. Here is how I know:
In 1999 I published a review article (citation: Sports Med. 1999 Oct; 28 (4): 273-85) due to increased participation of aging athletes. The title of the article, “Masters athletes: factors affecting performance,” is still the standard that sports medicine doctors use to help their aging athletes to achieve higher levels of performance with decreased injures as they aged.
The masters athlete may be able to maintain and increase strength in situations where strength training has not been previously engaged in.
Studies all over the literature have shown that aging results in changes in muscle fiber type. There is actually a shift toward a higher percentage of type 1 muscle fibers. As we age we need to add cross training or circuit training in the gym to maintain the percentage of type 2 to type 1 muscle fibers.
Age decreases heart function and aerobic capacity. Masters athletes can decrease the rate of decreased function by increasing their workouts.
It is clear that as we age nutritional needs increase compared to younger athletes. So, to slow down aging issues, be more and more careful about what you eat.
Degenerative joint disease affects almost everybody as they age. Running does not increase the problem: it is inherited from your parents. The condition is reduced in active people, so therefore, keep running.
A ton of orthopedic conditions are due to decreases in flexibility. You must stretch way more than when you were young. Some of my aging patients add massage and Bikram Yoga to their routine.
So you see, Charles, maintaining and improving your athletic endeavors requires modifications and more commitment. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to write.
Enjoy the Ride!
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Lewis G. Maharam is one of the world’s most extensively credentialed and well-known sports health experts. Better known as Running Doc™, Maharam is author of Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running and is past medical director of the NYC Marathon and Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series. He is medical director of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program. He is also past president of the New York Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine. Learn more at runningdoc.com.