I thought long and hard about whether to write this blog or not, but I think it’s important to do so and hopefully educate a few out there about the realities of aging and sport.
No matter what we do – we are all getting older and no amount of healthy eating, training, dieting etc will change that and growing older brings with it considerations for both men and women.
Physically our bodies age and as outlined in another blog recently, not only do we show outward signs of aging, but internally we also have changes on a cellular level. Our muscle fibres decrease in size and our muscle strength also begins to decrease. We can counter this by adding in some resistance training and the good news is that around 60 minutes of resistance training can be effective each week! So it is something which is easy to fit into our lives, especially if we are to continue training and competing regularly.
It is no coincidence that many elite athletes think about retiring and stepping back in their 30s, especially in highly physical sports and activities.
As our bodies reach their third decade, there are various deteriorations which occur, not only in fitness generally, but also in muscle mass etc. our cardiac output decreases and therefore so does our VO2 max (the rate at which we can get oxygen to our muscles.). In fact, endurance ability is said to decrease by around 15% per decade after the age of 30… but don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that we still can’t be competitive and have fun. It just means we need to consider our expectations and on occasion, be kinder to ourselves.
However, just because you may be over 30, doesn’t mean all is lost. According to researchers at Duke University’s School of Medicine, the decline begins in our 50s. The study tested a range of adults from the age of 30 upwards which gave them a greater range of data to work with.
From the study published in the Journals of Gerontology[i], from the age of 50 upwards, both men and women slip in their ability stand / balance on one leg and rise from chairs. Declines in walking speed showed more in the over 60s and the bonus point of this research was that more physical activity was linked to less physical decline, especially in the 60-79 category.
As such, while it may feel challenging for men to accept that they may not be as fast, it is important for them to realise that as long as they manage their training and continue to be active, competition and running with your dog can continue long into the future. But also, remember that if you are getting a little more silver fox, then so is your competition and they all face the same challenges as you, the difference is that you are smart enough to work with what you got and make it count!
Oh where do we begin?!?!?
Not only do we have the physical changes with our bodies, but we also face the joys of hormones and, (looks around to see if anyone can overhear) the menopause!
I feel quite passionate about this as it is something I personally have really struggled with over the last year and it is amazing how much of an impact it has on your training and physical ability.
For women, we go through the changes in our muscular ability and strength, but we also experience huge hormonal changes in our body as well which has big impacts on our ability and inclination to train.
Personally, with my own training, it hit like a brick and a complete lack of interest in running or training and paired up with struggles sleeping and random bouts of fatigue. When I say fatigue, I mean sitting on the sofa one minute and then struggling to stay awake a few minutes later! Or even worse, having a full day at work and then struggling to stay awake on the drive home!
There are many signs of menopause which can start to show in our 30s, let alone more frequently as our bodies age beyond 40. Simple signs of menopause for ladies can include but not be limited to;
Anxiety and or depression or feelings of low mood
Joint pain (a feeling of dull aches in joints almost like an injury)
The reason why I mention the above, is because on their own they are all things we can just write off to a bad day, but if you look at the list above and find yourself with a combination of more than two, it might well be worth going and speaking with your healthcare professional for support and advice. Personally, I struggled with joint pain, thinking I was actually injured, fatigue and some brain fog mixed with anxiety. With all of these issues, I felt very isolated and alone. I struggled with friendships and even had a few spats with work colleagues to boot! I still have moments where I struggle with motivation and also with anxiety, so often talking it out loud makes me feel less like a mess and far more in control of what I am doing.
Because of the menopause, women can often feel like giving up their sport because they are no good and have low motivation, so that’s why it is important to work with each other and support each other to continue working and getting out.
EXERCISE IS GREAT FOR MAKING YOU FEEL GOOD!
The good news is that once you do get out with your friends and your dogs, the wonderful feeling of satisfaction that hits after a run can be great!
Endorphins are actually quite rare to really feel, according to David Lindon PhD, endorphins help muscles prevent feeling pain. However the interesting thing from this, is that endorphins cannot pass the blood/brain barrier! So, when people say they are feeling endorphins, it is highly unlikely. A true runners high is relatively short lived and can feel highly emotionally charged.
In fact, what people are actually feeling, may instead be due to endocannabinoids — these are biochemical substances similar to cannabis but naturally produced by the body. Wow! Mind blown huh?
Exercise increases the levels of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream, unlike endorphins, endocannabinoids can move easily through the cellular barrier separating the bloodstream from the brain, where these mood-improving neuromodulators promote short-term psychoactive effects such as reduced anxiety and feelings of calm.
Ageing happens, but once you accept it, you can handle it with either the relaxed grace of a delicate swan, or you can face it head on and keep the ageing demons at bay by enjoying your exercise plans and motivating each other.
And remember; sometimes we have bad days and that is totally ok, the more we talk about it and have discussions then the more we can support each other as we age. Our dogs don’t care how old we are or how we are feeling, all they need is you, their harness and then some scenery to explore together! A 30 minute 5km is still the same distance as a 20 minute 5k!