Participating in sport provides instant gratification, flooding the body with endorphins that make us feel as though we could do anything. When you’re young, muscle strain and sprains can keep you out of the game for a bit, but more often than not athletes are soon back at it, swinging, kicking, running, and jumping for the love of sport.
This changes when you get older. The culmination of years of sport can lead to long term aches and pains. Aging makes athletes more prone to injury, and demands you reconsider participating in the activities you previously took for granted.
The long-term impacts of sport don’t mean you should stop all together. It just means you have to be mindful of the injuries that can be caused, and how you can work to avoid that damage.
If you’ve spent your life running on pavement, expect to experience the impact on your knees, shins, and ankles. While high-impact sports can be a good way to increase bone mass density and prevent osteoporosis, too much impact can be bad. Running on flat pavement for long periods of time can cause repetitive strain injuries called iliotibial band syndrome and tibial stress syndrome (known more commonly as shin splints). Stress fractures can also be a symptom of years spent running on hard surfaces.
These injuries are compounded by the natural effects of aging that make jogging more difficult. This includes a reduction in cardiac capacity which makes it more challenging for the heart to find pace and relax, and the lesser ability for muscles to absorb the oxygen pumped from the heart.
There are a number of ways to minimize risk of injury while jogging. One is to actively avoid running on pavement. Trails, tracks, and even the grass next to the sidewalk can be a good way to lessen the impact on your legs. Uneven surfaces will also help increase balance and strengthen varied muscles, which will prevent injury down the road.
Another solution is to simply jog less. Turns out that could actually come with a silver lining: while young runners train as frequently as possible in order to maintain their personal best, older runners will actually see better outcomes if they lay off on training.
People should aim to run between 5 and 19 miles per week, spread out over 3 or 4 sessions. A study showed that joggers who followed this guideline were likely to live longer than those who ran more than 20 miles a week — at that point, the health benefits gained by jogging are thought to diminish.
Though less high-impact than running, cycling can cause a gambit of long-term issues for your body. It is the second most dangerous sport according to statistics from the Insurance Information Institute, with more than half a million injuries reported each year. The most common ailments that develop over time are tendonitis and tendonosis that occur in the achilles tendon. Muscle strains can also happen if you extend rides and don’t leave enough time for muscle regeneration and recovery.
Biking can also cause neck and back strain. This is because those body parts are flexed and held in similar positions for long periods of time. A bike that is not properly adjusted will make this problem worse, especially if the handlebars or seat are too low. Adjustments should be made so that your torso is elongated, shoulder blades down rather than hunched, and your chin tucked in. Stretches for your neck and your legs can also be done when going downhill or along flat and easy patches of a ride.
A poorly adjusted bike can also affect the lower half of the body. A saddle that is too high means your toes are constantly pointing downwards in order to pedal, which can cause inflammation in the foot and a contraction of calf muscles. Your seat should be adjusted so you’re pedaling with your foot parallel to the ground, rather than using just the front of your foot. Having a seat that is properly adjusted will also better distribute the effort of your workout across your entire leg, rather than over-utilizing a single muscle group.
While not providing the same cardio workout as jogging and cycling, golfers can be prone to some of the same injuries. According to Golf Digest, 62% of golfers sustain a serious injury — usually because they’re out of shape, have poor technique, or have failed to warm up properly.
The most common golf injury is a strained lower back. It’s caused by a movement that’s an inevitable part of golfing: the rotation through the pelvis in order to hit the ball. Over time, the rotation pulls at the tendons and muscles in the lower back, creating a painful strain. The only way to avoid straining your back is to rotate your entire body as you swing. This may take some getting used to, but it’s better for your health in the long run.
Another of golf injury is a set of conditions called the lead wrist and the lead elbow, both caused in the arm responsible for driving the golf ball forward. The impact of the club on the ball or the club on the ground causes stress in the tendons. There’s also lead shoulder, an injury that happens when a golfer holds their left arm too close to their chest when they backswing. This can affect a number of parts of the shoulder, including the rotator cuff and the labrum.
All three of these injuries can be prevented by practicing better technique.
If you find yourself unable to avoid injury in the above three sports, it may be time to take up another activity.
Swimming is the ultimate low-impact, low-resistance sport, swimming provides a full body workout for athletes of all sizes and ages.
Unlike other sports that rely on a certain level of balance to stand or sit, swimming requires neither, meaning you’re less likely to slip and fall, causing further injury. In fact, a study of 1,700 Australian men found that swimmers are 33% less likely to slip all together, the result of a strengthened core and greater coordination between the upper and lower body.
Swimming can also mitigate the pain and mobility of patients with arthritis and osteoarthritis. Research from the University of Texas’ Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory found that swimming can have positive outcomes for patients with high blood pressure, knee and ankle pain, or heavier patients who can’t do another sport. The health benefits of swimming are considered comparable to those of other more high-impact activities such as cycling and walking.
You can reap great health benefits from sport — so long as you don’t get injured. Keep these injuries in mind when participating in your favorite activities, and consider adding variation to your routine.
Originally published at medium.com