Frequently asked questions on sports and ageing

Q1 What happens to our muscles as we age?

A.    There is a natural reduction in muscle bulk, leading to loss of strength and stamina. However, this process can be counteracted by training. Research has shown that the same exercise programme given to people in their 30s and 60s produced equal rates of improvement. Thus the potential to improve is not lost, but one has to work harder to counteract the loss of muscle  bulk with advancing age. More hard work can still improve one’s endurance and strength. Muscle elasticity however does decrease and recovery time is often prolonged and so training methods need to be tailored to the individual.

Q2. What happens to our cardiovascular system, is there a barrier to intensive exercise?

A.    The rate one’s arteries harden depends on genetic factors as well as external factors such as smoking, co-existing medical conditions like diabetes and obesity. The usual consequences are relative lack of oxygen to vital organs like heart and lungs and the capacity to adapt to strenuous/ unaccustomed exercise. However, appropriate progressive training does improve cardiac function as evident from successful rehabilitation from heart attacks with graduated exercises. The important message is to do exercise progressively and allow adequate recovery time.

Q3. What about arthritis?

A.    This again is dependent on genetic predisposition, and in the case of the active sportsman, whether there have been repeated injuries or not. Any swelling or pain of a joint from trauma will cause a loss of muscle bulk controlling that joint, as well as a loss of “joint sense”. The latter is a feedback loop between neuro-sensors in the joints, the brain interpreting the incoming signals regarding the position of the joint in space, and messages from the brain to the muscles around the joint to maintain position. Unless full rehabilitation of the muscles stabilising the affected joint is done, cumulative damage will occur on top of the genetically determined progression of degenerative joint disease. Any traumatic inflammation will accelerate the rate of damage.
Irrespective of radiological damage, a good deal of symptoms can be relieved by attention to these critical areas of joint stability. Good rehabilitation physiotherapists can help with prolonging the time one can do the sport as well as enjoy the sport.

Q4: Am I ignoring the passage of time and should I act according to my age?

A.    There is no such thing as “act according to my age” because it is all in the mind!  The recent BBC series “the young ones” amply illustrates what can be achieved in one week, even after strokes, falls, and long term inactivity in people in their 70s and 80s.