By Paul E. Caldwell, MD
“If it hurts, then don’t do that.” This is a common response by doctors talking to patients about exercising. As a sports medicine physician, I take a different approach to this issue. I try to understand the activity that the patient is participating in and how the symptoms are affecting the activity as well as daily living. This allows me to assist my patient in working through the concern rather than stopping the activity completely.
Recent information from the National Health Interview Survey concluded that 40 percent of Americans do participate in regular exercise. As we get older, physical activity becomes a challenge. The sports and activities that we all enjoyed as young adults are often too high impact and risky to continue as we get older. We have to manage jobs, families and other time commitments. It becomes all too easy to rationalize that we are too busy to exercise. Unfortunately, this is the type of behavior that leads to weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Staying physically active as we get older is a necessity.
As the body ages, the decision to transition from high impact sports to low impact sports is a healthy one. The cartilage that coats the end of the bones does not recover as quickly as it does when we are in our 20’s and 30’s. This puts us at risk for repetitive and overuse injuries in our legs and arms. Cross training is another useful strategy to avoid injury. This concept involves alternating activities to allow different parts of the body to rest and recover while still exercising. An example of this would be biking one day and then participating in yoga the next day. This allows the patient to continue to burn calories and work on flexibility and strength without impacting the joints. Although doctors are attempting to find a cure for cartilage damage to the joints with treatments such as platelet rich plasma and stem cell injections, these are still investigational and have not been proven to be completely successful.
As a patient, it is important to know that your physician understands what is involved in exercise and physical activity. Having personally experienced athletic injuries and surgery myself, I certainly have a good understanding of what my patients are going though. Having to modify activities to stay active is part of aging and overcoming injuries. Despite my past injuries, I continue to enjoy competitive tennis and recently participated in the annual Keith Mumford Memorial Tournament. I believe that the challenge to stay active as we age is never ending … and the key is to never give up!