Like death and taxes, getting older happens to us all. Anyone over the age of 35 will be able to tell you that age changes the human body. However, on an almost daily basis I am confronted by people who seem unable to relate what they know happens to other people as they get older with what will happen to themselves as they age.
And there is evidence to suggest that we are not as self-aware as we’d like to think. I thought I’d tell you about four of the most common age-related issues that I see and give them a reality-bites spin. See if you identify with any of the them.
“I must have something serious wrong with me, I hurt it months ago and it’s still not right”
If I had a £ for every client I see who is bemused by the fact that x body part hasn’t spontaneously fixed itself yet, I would be taking an extra holiday next year.
For the first 30 or so years of life, our bodies are pretty good at self-repairing, often without too much effort from ourselves. Watch the child who has a ‘knee-wrecking landing’ on Monday go race his mates down the road on Wednesday. Aiding this youthful physiological ability is that many of us can be more selfish and more active in this earlier portion of our lives. After this time, lifestyle and family bring (often) a compromising of activity levels, not forgetting the physical post-childbirth changes to women’s bodies. But critically, the physiological changes that accompany increasing age mean that your body is less effective at fixing itself. A few of the naturally-occurring changes are:
Do you remember your sore shoulder/x sorting itself out in just a few months previously? Don’t be surprised if you’re now several months down the line and it’s still giving you problems. This is particularly true if you know that you are also less active/carrying more weight/sleeping less/working more hours/eating a poorer diet than you used to. If you haven’t had the problem checked out by a professional yet then do so. Information is power and allows you to tackle your issues.
“I remember hurting it in my teens but it’s not given me any trouble since”
Remember that football tackle 20 years ago that left you with a really sore knee for a while? Or that sprained ankle that eventually fixed itself?
Often our body clears up the injuries it collects without leaving a trace, but also often it leaves signs and traces of them behind. In youth these traces may be invisible or easy to ignore, but with the physical and lifestyle changes that take place over the intervening 20, 30, 40 years, the stiffness, scar tissue, damage to nerves and compensating effects that we adopt take their toll and make themselves felt. So even if you didn’t get the injury properly assessed and rehab-ed originally, it might be worth doing it now – it’s often better late than never!
“But I’ve always just been able to do it – why can’t I now?”
Notice that you’re 20 years older now? Did nipping out for a quick 5 miles after 6 months off previously feel easy? Notice that you’re not quite as nimble on the stairs or steady when chasing the kids/grand-kids? Age-related changes mean that you’ll likely need to pay more attention to how you move. Speed, agility, endurance, flexibility and strength will all fall off at increasing speed with age. Correspondingly, you will need to work increasingly hard to hang onto them. Go all guns blazing into any activity that you haven’t done for a while and you’ll likely pay the price in aches at best and injuries at less than best. Overuse problems are the ones that I come across most frequently in my clinic. These usually involve attempting to do too much too soon, be it gardening, running, DIY, yoga or indeed ANY activity. So:
“I’m doing the same things I used to do but I’m picking up injuries and am nowhere near as fit as I used to be”
Decreasing muscle mass, stiffer tissues, slower reactions, a less effective central pump (heart) and other factors all add to the ageing effect. They mean that we all have to put more effort in to get the same level of fitness out.
But this needs balancing against the fact that you can’t be as powerful, fast or bendy as you were when younger. Your body is, to a degree, simply no longer capable of it. Again, find a happy balance. Aim for as healthy as you can be within the changing constraints of your biology. Try running twice a week instead of three times. You may find that this gives you the necessary time for recovery. Change the aggressive set-up of your road bike if it’s now making your neck or back uncomfortable. Does four hours of gardening in a day leave you wanting to lie down for a week? Spread the four hours over two or more days. Get aware and adjust accordingly. With age comes experience, if not wisdom. We can all learn from our experiences, even if we don’t actually get any smarter.
Apparently so! Wiser and more knowledgeable, more time on your hands and grand-parenting opportunities(!) amongst others.
There’s a saying that you’re as old as you feel. Though you will be aware of the creeping onset of physical changes, age can make your head a more contented place to be.
Age is an issue of mind over matter: if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter