Advancing age is the most feared opponent of every individual but to an athlete it is even more devastating. The onset of "aging" can appear at varying times but the symptoms for a tennis player are generally the same. Shots which were once easy to reach suddenly become unreachable, injuries become more frequent and lingering, and bounce back time after a tough match is longer.
As we begin to age and notice a decline in our skills, it often seems as if we are no longer competing against the person on the other side of the net, but rather the body surrounding our mind, which still thinks it's 20 years old.
At one time or another we've all said we'd like to be younger. Years ago, a return to our youth was just a dream but today, according to Dr. Bob Arnot that dream can become a reality.
"If you are between thirty and sixty, you can crank back the time on your biological clock by a staggering amount as determined by standardized human performance tests for biological age. Between sixty and ninety big gains can still be made."
Arnot, author of Dr. Bob Arnot's Guide to Turning Back the Clock,
says that "dramatic breakthroughs in nutrition, fitness technology, and sports medicine" have opened our eyes to what was previously deemed impossible.
"Beginning in your thirties body bits and pieces begin to fall apart," says Arnot. "You can't sprint as fast and your recovery slows after a hard Saturday and Sunday as a weekend warrior."
"Beginning at forty, the sedentary male will lose six pounds of muscle, nearly 7 percent of heart function, and 8 percent of lung function every ten years." We generally "accept these events as inevitable, genetically programmed disintegration," says Arnot. This is a mistake!!
"Look at the middle-aged spread men get in their forties and fifties," continues Dr. Arnot. "Is that genetically programmed? No way. Society expects us to look, behave, and perform in a peculiar, middle-aged way in our forties, fifties and sixties."
"Many of us just get with the program. We surrender our physique, power, potency, strength and endurance to the expectations of society."
Dr. Kenneth Cooper, founder of the Cooper Wellness Program in Dallas, Texas, agrees. "What we previously attributed to the physical effects of aging are, in reality, adaptive responses."
"These things occur in our bodies not so much because we grow older, but because we become more sedentary as we grow older," says Dr. Cooper.
In a recent article in Investor's Business Daily, research by Cooper and others "suggests that many of the changes associated with aging are self-fulfilling prophecies; People become less active because that's what they expect."
In other words, as we get older we start doing less because, in our minds, we think that older people should do less. Thus, says Cooper, our decline is largely "a matter of rusting out not wearing out."
We need to re-program our thinking so as not to conform to society's view of aging. While our bodies will change as we age, the effects of such changes can be minimalized, and in some instances reversed, through a proper program of exercise, nutrition, rest, and above all---brains.
One of the great things about being "older" is that while our outer shells, otherwise known as our bodies, have aged, our minds have become wiser and this wisdom can serve us greatly.
When we are in our 20's, we're fully entrenched in our "I'm immortal" phase. We try to bench press as much as possible, play tennis all day at full speed without a proper warm-up or cool-down, and basically eat and drink whatever we like.
As we approach our thirties, we find it a little more difficult to get out of bed the morning after a long match, and the pepperoni pizza and beer from the previous night tend to stay with us just a bit longer.
Nevertheless, we still proudly wear our youthful badge of invincibility and refuse to acknowledge that we're getting older. Take a day off and rest? You've got to be kidding!
By our late 30's many of us "aging athletes" find our tennis shorts to be a bit tighter around the waist and have had our first prolonged layoff due to an injury. We're told we're getting older and need to take care of ourselves and we nod our heads in agreement, but we still don't really believe it.
Somewhere around 40 reality strikes....hard! The elbow hurts, the back is stiff and our 13 year-old daughter is beating us in the fifty yard dash. Yep, we're old!!! However, once this realization hits, and we accept it as fact, we're well on our way to turning our lives around.
Simply put, with age comes maturity and a willingness to listen and learn. Listen to our bodies for they will tell us when they are hurt or need rest, and learn from the experts who can tell us how to best take care of ourselves so that we will be able to enjoy the sport(s) that we love for as long as possible.
A complete exercise program should include cardiovascular and strength training, as well as flexibility and nutrition (which will be addressed in a future column).
As I mentioned last month, there are literally hundreds of exercise programs out there so it is best to consult both your physician and a professional trainer before beginning an off-court training regimen. However, here are a few things to consider when designing your program:
One of the biggest changes in our bodies as we age is the loss of muscle mass and strength. As we lose muscle, our metabolism slows and we become more prone to gaining weight. This often begins and accelerates the decline in one's health.
With this in mind, Dr. Cooper recommends that individuals focus more on strength training as they get older. He recommends the following ratios for time spent on aerobic exercise vs. strength training at different ages:
In addition, as we age and lose muscle, we also lose flexibility and become more prone to injury so our exercise regimen must serve as much of a preventative function as one to enhance performance. Thus, a proper warm-up and stretching program becomes more and more important as the years go by.
60s & 70s: 55%-45%
TAKE A BREAK
Finally, just as important as nutrition and exercise are rest and recuperation. After playing a hard match or exercising vigorously, the body is worn down, tired, and prone to injury.
Listen to your body. If it feels tired, it is. If something hurts, it's injured. Take a day or two off. If the pain or fatigue doesn't go away within a reasonable amount of time, see your doctor.
Growing older doesn't mean slowing down and "settling" into your golden years. Don't slow down -- speed up!! Don't do less -- do more, but do it wisely. Remember, just because you're aging doesn't mean that you have to get old.