When you think of the Winter Olympics, you may think of snowboarding gold medalists Red Gerard and Chloe Kim, both age 17, but its not unusual for older athletes to compete as well.
While age does play a role in the ability to perform athletically, an expert at Baylor College of Medicine says that with a focus on muscle conditioning and proper training, you’re never too old to play sports.
“Over time, there is a natural trajectory toward a decrease in muscle strength, flexibility and how well the body can use oxygen,” said Dr. Rosalyn Nguyen, an expert in sports medicine and assistant professor in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor. “And as we age, it can take longer to recover fully from injuries.”
To counter the effects of age-related loss of muscle mass and to minimize the risk of injury, Nguyen recommends resistance strength training and stretching. An individual’s strength can improve with about two months of resistance training. The key is to be consistent and gradually increase your weight. This will not only build muscle strength, but also help stabilize joints, improve function and even ease joint pain.
“Exercise can enhance not only physical, but also emotional and psychological well-being,” Nguyen said. “Moreover, the cardiovascular heart health benefits are well known.”
On the other hand, competitors in the Summer Olympics tend to be younger, where we saw a 13 year old swimmer in Rio and 16 year old gymnasts. “Summer Olympic sports such as gymnastics and swimming require flexibility and agility; therefore the top athletes tend to be younger,” she said. “You often find older athletes competing in sports that involve strategy or motor and cognitive skills acquired through time and experience.”
Nguyen says this year alone the ages of Olympic competitors range from teenagers to athletes in their forties and even fifties. Each sport has its physical stresses and potential injuries no matter the age, but with the proper exercise routine you can continue to play sports at any stage in life.