Aging Athletes: Your Excuse Is Getting Old

elderly runningSee the attached PDF for my recent article in Paleo Magazine, June/July 2014 edition – “Your Excuse Is Getting Old“. Check out Paleo Magazine for more great articles.


It’s Your Excuse That Is Getting Old

“Your joints ache because you’re old.” “You’re fat because you’re old.” “You don’t sleep well because you’re old.” “You can’t do that anymore because you’re old.” “This disease you have is common in old people.” “What? You’re only 40? Well, that’s old enough.”

Blaming age for a health problem is perhaps the biggest “diagnosis” cop-out in conventional medicine. I’ve been in practice for sixteen years now and I have yet to find a diagnosis code to support someone simply being old; yet I see people all the time whose problems are passed off as just normal aging.

Even the average Joe will use his age to justify why he can’t do something anymore. Sure we all get older and a typical 65 year-old isn’t going to run speeds or lift the weights he did when he was in his twenties, but that doesn’t mean that he should be complacent with a walk around the block before fatigue and pain sets in.

It’s not uncommon to hear someone, at any age, mention that they have a “bad knee” or some other dysfunctional body part which is preventing them from participating in an activity they used to thoroughly enjoy and excel in. Now they can’t run, ski, or maybe even fully squat down because of their current situation. Yet, this too is often just passed off as an aspect of the aging process or sometimes poor health due to genetics. We might not heal as fast as we did when we were younger, but we should have two good knees, not just one, regardless of our age or genetic makeup.

Playing the Age Excuse

If you have kids, you hopefully take them to the park or to some outside arena on a regular basis. Have you ever noticed how most parents will just sit on the bench (or in their vehicles) while their kids are out playing? It should be noted however, that some do manage to get in an arm workout while pushing the swing. It’s like they graduated from this form of play, which is essentially free exercise in an ideal time-management and family interaction setting. For those parents who do exercise, they’ve been brainwashed into thinking it has to be for 30 minutes on some machine while staring at a screen.

Age isn’t only a psychological factor involved in the lack of play in the adult world. Most adults are in a state of health crisis. The average person today is taking some cocktail of medications to keep them somewhat mentally stable, somewhat alert, and somewhat functional. When you add in a bunch of pain relief and anti-inflammatory meds for the headaches, joint pain, and other stress disorders, you can see why most adults have a quasi-legit reason to sit on the sidelines when it comes to playing anything.

It’s Inflammation Everywhere

Inflammation can essentially be tied into every modern health problem whether it’s the lack of energy or the painful shoulder that is keeping you from throwing a ball. The average person has been taught to take anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) for these types of problems. Biochemically these drugs work by blocking prostaglandin synthesis. Prostaglandins are related to the fats in your body. If you ever feel better from taking any NSAID then it’s a sure sign that you have some problem with making sufficient and essential amounts of prostaglandins. This means that you have a problem with fatty acid metabolism. Usually, this is a result of eating too many refined carbohydrates and refined vegetable oils and not enough of the beneficial fats found in grass fed meats, coconut oil, fish, eggs, butter, and cream.

Interestingly enough, your body can actually create excess inflammation from taking too many anti-inflammatory medications. It’s not uncommon for me to hear from a patient when I ask them how long they’ve been taking their NSAID and if they feel better doing so that they’ve been taking it for several years and feel little to no relief!

By blocking certain prostaglandins from properly forming into their anti-inflammatory components, you can actually shunt the inflammatory process from that of anti-inflammation over to very inflammatory substances called leukotrienes. These leukotrienes can be several hundred times more inflammatory than the prostaglandin! It’s pretty crazy to think about your anti-inflammatory meds creating more inflammation – a lot more inflammation than you perhaps were initially dealing with.

Additionally, taking NSAIDs deplete ever-important sulfur compounds from your body. Sulfur is how you repair your cartilage, (yes, for that bad knee that is keeping you in your car on your iPhone while your kid runs around). Sulfur is also how you detoxify the majority of hormones via your liver. The cortisol you’re pumping out of your system to deal with everyday stress and your injury needs that sulfur to properly break down.

So before you pop another NSAID or even if you’re nursing an injury while staying drug-free, consider your diet to be top priority if you want to play again and still be active well into your AARP years.

Train Smart: Play Smart

Stamina is of course a very good attribute to have in regards to moving well. Kids, at least the ones who are active, have a lot of stamina. I’m not talking about running at some intense effort for hours but rather keeping up some level of moderate energy for a prolonged period of time. With the scary misinterpreted research coming out over the past several years saying that “chronic cardio” is a killer or at best a waste of your time while high intensity interval training (HIIT) is the way to go, many people now neglect the fact that a strong aerobic system is a huge component of health and fitness.

Your aerobic system provides a solid foundation for good health. It is the system that predominately moves you efficiently through the day as these muscles support your overall posture. Training your aerobic system will increase mitochondria in your muscle cells to generate energy (ATP) and also increase capillary vascularization for increased oxygen utilization. These mitochondria burn fat and glucose (sugar), yet they’re much more efficient using fat as energy over glucose – twelve times more efficient. This results in more stable energy for a longer period of time using stored fat to do so.

During low intensity aerobic workouts you’ll burn more fat than glucose but at higher intensity (anaerobic) activity you end up burning more calories during the training period, which can lead to more fat loss. These are all good things, but realize that HIIT (anaerobic) workouts, being promoted by some as “the only cardio you need to do” can be very harmful to your health and your fitness if done too often or too soon in a training program if you’re rather unfit to begin with or suffer health problems.

Let’s not all forget the lifestyle of our ancestors millions of years ago – they didn’t just sprint, lift, sprint, lift, throw, and repeat as their sole form of movement. Hunter-gatherers traveled across vast areas over time – that’s an aerobic quality. They didn’t always run as hard as they could, but they maintained a steady aerobic pace. In persistence hunting one had to be in superb physical condition, especially aerobic condition, to track an animal for so long, and then utilize the anaerobic system for the sprint and the final kill (the throwing of the spear).

If you want to play long into your life, then training the aerobic system should not be neglected. No, you don’t have to go out and run at some slow to moderate pace for hours (unless you want to) to develop your aerobic system. Yet, walking and moving at a steady comfortable pace for 30-60 minutes at least five days if not every day of the week will get you headed in the right direction. For many, this is all you need if you’re looking for general good health and fitness to keep up with the “youngins”. By the way, aerobic endurance is a huge factor when it comes to healthy sex if that sparks your interest any more.

Easy Days Required

Not every day has to be devoted to a long period of intense time for play, (or call it exercise if that makes you feel any better). Rest is required of course and that goes beyond sleep. Plus, there are days we all have where it is just impossible to find the time to get some good training in.

So make what you can of it. Get up from your desk and move around some. Work on some squats for a few minutes or freak everyone out and do a pistol on your desk. Find something to balance on and practice that for a while. There are huge rewards to these types of movements not just for your body but for your mind too. It’ll get your muscles and joints moving and relax your nervous system and calm your brain so you maintain focus. So keep moving!

As often and as comfortably as you can, remove your shoes. The more your body can feel and connect with the ground the better for your proprioception. Proprioception is your sense of body position in space, as well as all your body parts in relationship to one another. Healthy people have the ability to sense changes in their environment and adapt quickly and efficiently.

Always Busy? Chill Out

There are always the people who just love to tell others how busy they are. Maybe you are one of these individuals. People get stuck in the daily grind of working hard all day long then cramming in a workout if they’re lucky. Most often this is some form of HIIT training which will only further increase their stress hormones and inflammation levels. Sure, not too many have succeeded by being a slacker, but you may consider reevaluating working so hard now to max out funding your 401k with hopes that you can retire early and play in your so called Golden Years – whatever the hell they are.

Most people who retire early with this mindset quickly fall into poor health. Some of this may be due to no longer feeling like a productive member of society but it is also due in part from pushing their body too hard for so many years. So they spend their entire working years missing out on playing and enjoying whatever they may be interested in only to find that at the point in their life when they have the time to do what they want they’re unable to because their body has broken down. You’re not going to easily develop a healthy aerobic (or anaerobic) system and reduce chronic inflammation when you’re 70 or 80 years old if you’ve neglected your health for so many years.

To put it simply: There’s no better time than the present to change your lifestyle to maximize your work-to-play ratio.

Porter Starr KN, McDonald SR, Bales CW. Obesity and Physical Frailty in Older Adults: A Scoping Review of Lifestyle Intervention Trials. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2014 Jan 17. pii: S1525-8610(13)00641-5.
Choi JH, Kim MA, Park HS. An update on the pathogenesis of the upper airways in aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2014 Feb;14(1):1-6.
Geusens P, Emans PJ, de Jong JJ, van den Bergh J.NSAIDs and fracture healing. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2013 Jul;25(4):524-31.
La Gerche A, Burns AT, Mooney DJ, Inder WJ, Taylor AJ, Bogaert J, Macisaac AI, Heidbüchel H, Prior DL. Exercise-induced right ventricular dysfunction and structural remodelling in endurance athletes. Eur Heart J. 2012 Apr;33(8):998-1006.
O’Keefe JH, Patil HR, Lavie CJ, Magalski A, Vogel RA, McCullough PA. Potential adverse cardiovascular effects from excessive endurance exercise. Mayo Clin Proc. 2012 Jun;87(6):587-95.

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  1. says

    My mind is still adjusting to having a 52 year old body, which means than when I’m on the track, training for the 100m, and I think, “Okay, let’s just do ONE MORE,” that’s my cue to STOP!


  2. johnny says

    Hey Doc,
    I’m a letter carrier and currently have a walking route.I walk about 5 miles a day in the sunny,hot heat of Florida.Do you think being outside for such a long period of time(around 7 hours)Can be detrimental to my health?

    • says

      For the most part, I think the more you’re outside the better. Of course, anything can be extreme – if you’re wearing poor footwear, not staying hydrated, and carrying your packages improperly then problems can arise.

  3. johnny says

    Hey Doc,
    Happy Father’s Day.I’ve been Paleo for almost a year now.I have been increasing my fat consumption ie-Eggs,Coconut Avocado.I just can’t seem to handle grass fed butter.I don’t get terrible gas,cramping or anything of that nature.Just a little bit flatulent.I know this is part of the digestive process as with eating resistant starches.How do I know if this is a lactose/milk protein allergy or normal digestive function?

    • says

      I would never call that a normal digestive function. Most likely you have a slight dairy intolerance. Try Ghee and see if it’s better or even try whole milk and see if it’s worse.

  4. Frankie says

    Hey Doc,
    I’ve watched your knee pain video a few times already and have been able to isolate where my knee pain is coming from.I’m getting interior knee pain from my groin all the way down to my knee.I’ve been working the trigger points with a device.(ie,moji 360,the stick)but don’t seem to be making sufficient progress.This condition has taken years to develop.So I’m being patient.The entire area is sore,so this is somewhat painful.Not sure exactly what to do next.Maybe try a hands on approach instead of trigger point device?

    • says

      As I explain in the video, those muscles are closely associated with the adrenal glands. Check out the series on this site regarding those glands.

  5. Lundgren says

    Hello Sock-Doc! I heard from my dad that his family (his dad and his grandpa and so on, I´m not sure how far it goes) have some joint-problem that you notice in your fingers when you are getting older. My moms family doesn’t have that problem what i know. Is it something i should worry about and can i prevent it by eat something special or some exercises? My dad is eating rosehip-meal and he says that it works. Do you have any tips or something?

    • says

      Many people are genetically predisposed to problems but by taking care of yourself via lifestyle and diet modifications, you can deter many of these health problems you may otherwise develop.

      • Lundgren says

        Thank you for your answer! You are one of the most inspiring people I know! Which is the biggest modification in my diet as I can make, I am 15 years old and I am eating quite normal food such as meat, potatoes, pasta, bread, milk, cheese, candy and cakes sometimes and some vegetables. I know that I can cut down my intake of sugar to no sugar at all and I can change my diet so I eat more vegetables but is it something more I can do? I am training quite often, barefoot trail running and strengthening exercises like pull-ups (chins), pushups and so on. Is it something there that you think i can do better?

  6. Davie says

    I’m almost 66 and love hiking – particularly in northern Colorado. At the end of the month I’m there for only 2 weeks and want to make the most of it. In the winter I had a spinal fusion to correct a recently apparent problem from an old high school football injury. The therapy for that was walking which, of course, I love. For a few decades I would go out 2-3 times a week hiking up and down hills 7+ times or so for 45+ minutes with weights in a pack for my primary exercise. I’ve cut the weight to 20 lbs, and I’ve added fast walking (4mph where feet don’t go ahead of my body…) on most off days.

    I’ve been reading about anaerobic exercises and got a little confused. Your site seems to clarify it a little for me. I can walk 45 minutes at 5MPH with a heart rate of 140. (My heart could take more, but my legs can’t move faster.) Then I need to slow down a bit because the legs get tired. So I’ve been keeping the heart at 120 max except for every third day when I walk it up to 140 for 3 minutes and then down for maybe 4 minutes. Or hiking, I’ll get it up around 140 going up each of 6 hills (about 2 1/2 minutes) and ease off on the downs for those hills. I’ve also recently added swimming laps with rests (trying to keep under the heart under 120/max) to increase my strokes per breathe with a goal of 9 per breathe. I want to do this most every day for 20 or 25 minutes every day.

    So on the 3rd days, am I doing anaerobic exercise and is it too frequent/infrequent?

    Oh, I wear orthotics for my bunions. I will be hiking 18 miles on one or two hikes in August with no problems. Before the orthotics I had problems. If there is a way to avoid them, I would.

    Again, your site has about the best commentaries I’ve seen.

    • says

      I don’t see a problem with that as long as you are progressing (you are getting fitter and your health is improving or at least not suffering). You may find times where for a few weeks you do more strenuous more often.

  7. David says

    Thanks. I’ve just started looking at formal training programs. In the past I would just “listen to my body” and try to “protect” my knees. I just don’t see much that specifically mentions seniors that are in pretty good condition. I appreciate your input. And the more I explore your site, the more I like it!

  8. Frankie says

    Hey Doc,
    I wrote you recently about the inner knee pain that I’m experiencing.Anytime I do any kind of lateral movement,running,or squating both legs start to hurt.I just had an x-ray and mri done.Results were negative.The mri report showed no tears,fluid or structural damage.I’ve been doing trigger point therapy with no success and have addressed any adrenal gland issues.What do you suggest I do next?

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