5 Tips for Improving Athletic Performance as You Age
As the birthdays pile up, our bodies change, from our cellular integrity, endurance ability (measured by VO2 Max) and protein metabolism to our endocrine system and more. While genetics play a key role in many aspects of our physiological fate, heredity isn’t destiny — you can always maximize your natural abilities. But without intervention, athletic ability deteriorates.
Improving or maintaining athletic performance begins with the basics, including adequate sleep, drinking plenty of water, refraining from tobacco use and consuming a nutritious diet. But besides these fundamentals of healthy living, there’s a lot more you can do to maintain your physical edge as you age. After all, you’re smarter and more experienced — why not be faster and stronger?
With that in mind, let’s drill down to five tips that can help you improve athletic performance longevity and add quality years to your life.
Reduce Potential for Injury by Warming Up and Cooling Down
Warming up and cooling down, or practicing some kind of light, dynamic stretching and movement, is key for protecting soft tissue by priming the body for stress. Stretching is especially important if you have a job that’s sedentary, where you sit in front of a computer all day, before you work out or compete.
To reduce the negative affects of stress on the body, stretching before and after a workout is important. More specifically, Harvard Health advocates for paying special attention to the “lower extremities: your calves, your hamstrings, your hip flexors in the pelvis and quadriceps in the front of the thigh.” These body parts are involved in every athletic activity, so you want them to be prepared when you call on them to perform.
Try HIIT Workouts
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a workout that features short bursts of intense exercise, followed by rest, then another bout of intense activity. This pattern is then repeated for a duration of 20–30 minutes.
HIIT has been called the best antiaging workout you can do — and for good reason. In a study using elderly subjects, research in the European Heart Journal found that HIIT works on the cellular level by modulating the retinal microvascular phenotype and DNA methylation of a key gene. These effects slow cellular aging and lengthen telomeres, which serve as protective caps on chromosomes and are a key target of many antiaging therapies. In short, telomeres help protect our genes from damage. In another study, scientists found that interval training beneficially changed 274 genes, which was much higher than other forms of exercise.
The great thing about HIIT is that you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment and the workouts tend to be shorter — and more interesting — than steady-state cardio (e.g., treadmill jogging). Of course, make sure you check with your physician to make sure you’re healthy enough for exercise, especially HIIT-style workouts.
Use Steam for a Warm Recovery
Heat and steam therapy are an ancient and valuable tool for athletes of all ages and abilities. For athletes who train outside or don’t regularly visit a gym, an at-home steam shower may be an invaluable part of the recovery process.
Applications of intermittent heat may boost recovery post-workout by helping to reduce systemic muscle soreness. One study on endurance runners discovered that just two intermittent wet heat sessions helped enhance endurance by 32% in athletes participating in the study over a period of three weeks.
For those who need more support for joints and ligaments, steam therapy may help increase flexibility in connective tissue as well, reducing muscle tightness and enhancing overall performance.
Reduce Muscle Tension with Foam Rolling and Massage
The aging body is more sensitive to stress. Therefore, you have to provide smart, targeted adaptive recovery techniques to properly heal your muscles, joints, tendons and nervous system.
Another type of active recovery is self-myofascial release (SMR). Fascia is a connective tissue that provides a layer between muscles and the skin, and the myofascial system refers to the fascia and skeletal muscles as a unit. While stretching is thought to help muscles, SMR is considered a potential solution to help both relieve muscles and reduce tension in the harder fascia tissue by applying pressure, stimulating blood flow and supporting lymphatic drainage. This is commonly done with a foam roller, though there are therapists who perform myofascial release. In either form, this active recovery technique can improve muscle activation and relieve pain after exercise.
Regular bouts of resistance exercise help improve muscle mass and bone density. This helps you not only gain strength and mobility, but also induce a number of surprising improvements to your overall health. Research has found that strength training — regardless of when you begin lifting or frequency of workouts — can help improve blood glucose levels and other key health markers in men between the ages of 65 and 75.
Another study found similar benefits for women who adopted resistance training into their exercise routine. Weight training helped the female study subjects control blood glucose, lipid profile and body weight.
Again, it’s important that you check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough for exercise. And when it comes to lifting weights, it’s imperative that you use proper form when training. Having an injury will set you back, especially if you’re older. But you don’t have to become a powerlifting champion to gain the benefits of resistance training. Even exercise bands can do the job. Go at your own pace.
Keep Your Mind Sharp and Your Spirit Calm
Adopting simple meditation techniques can help you in numerous ways that can improve athletic performance. Research has found that meditation can help rebuild and lengthen telomeres, those parts of the cell mentioned earlier that are crucial for helping to slow the aging process. And the benefits of mindful meditation don’t end there. One meta-study discovered: “Across controlled studies, mindfulness meditation appears to improve physical health symptoms and functioning across a variety of disorders, and increases measures of mental health, including reduced negative affect and increased quality of life.”
Meditation can help blunt the stress response, both from emotional triggers and physical activity. Reducing oxidative stress helps preserve your muscles and helps balance your endocrine system to keep your hormones in check.
Aging athletes need to maintain a healthy mental state to fight the doubts that creep in as the body ages. A focused and positive mindset can help older athletes stay in the game, even against younger competition. Using the simple process of visualization has been shown to help elite athletes perform better as they age, for example.
Find the mental discipline techniques that work for you. Keeping your brain sharp and calm is an important part of the overall package of a successful competitive athlete, even weekend warriors.
Whether you’re a regular race competitor, a yogi or a general fitness fanatic, there are a variety of ways to protect your sport and boost your overall wellness as you age. Interested in more ways you can take better care of your body at home? Consider creating an at-home wellness retreat or discovering 10 natural detox methods.