Seniors: Preparing for Exercise and Avoiding Injury

June 14, 2017


John-Paul Rue, M.D., is a fellowship-trained, board certified orthopedic sports medicine surgeon specializing in the prevention and treatment of injuries related to sports and exercise, including complex knee and shoulder reconstructions. In this Q&A, Dr. Rue discusses the challenges senior males may encounter as they seeking to continue to sports and exercise of their younger years…

What’s the biggest mistake active senior males make when exercising, why is that bad and what should they do to avoid it?

It’s important to remember to make sure you are medically fit and healthy enough for exercise.  Check with your physician prior to starting an exercise routine, particularly if it’s been a while since you did strenuous exercise. Also, remember that we lose muscle mass as we age at a rate of around 3-5% per decade.  Start at a pace and with weights and exercise that you can easily handle and focus on form and doing the exercises correctly, rather than on the amount of weight.

Why and how does the way males train or exercise need to change as we age?

By age 65, the average male only has about 65% of their cardiac output, or their heart’s ability to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body.  We also lose lung capacity, so it’s harder to get oxygen to that blood. This combination means that men need to alter the way they trained when they were younger.  Exercise is still important, but the level of intensity should be decreased as we age.

What’s the most common injury you see in active older men, what causes it and how can it be avoided?

Muscle strains/tears are very common, particular in the shoulder and in the knee. Rotator cuff injuries are very common in men who continue to lift heavy weights, or use improper form when doing upper body exercises. Injuries to the quadriceps tendon are common, particular with heavy squatting or jumping-type exercises.  The key to avoiding these injuries is to ensure proper form--use less weight if needed to maintain proper technique, and to do a proper warm-up and stretch.   

What are three general training tips that are useful for active male seniors?

1. Spend time stretching and warming up before you exercise.

2. Focus on form and technique and less on the amount of weights or distances.

3. Avoid exercises that cause pain and listen to your body. 

Briefly describe the most important thing we can do to avoid injury.

Listen to your body…aches and pains associated with a good work-out are one thing, but sharp pain with swelling or weakness is generally indicative of a true injury.

If we want to start a new fitness regimen or sport, why should we talk to our doctor first?

Given that we have less ability to oxygenate blood and then pump that blood around our body to all of the tissues that need it, it’s important to make sure your heart and lungs are healthy enough to sustain exercise or you could end up with other problems such as a heart attack or stroke.

If we could only give older active males one piece of advice about exercise and training, what should that be and why?

As much as we wish we in our 20s (or 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s…) it’s important to modify and decrease the intensity of exercise to match our body’s ability to keep up.  Don’t overdo it, gradually build up your activity, and listen to your body.

--John-Paul Rue, M.D.

Dr. Rue specializes in arthroscopic repair of sports-related injuries, including complex knee and shoulder reconstructions with Orthopedics and Joint Replacement at Mercy. Dr. Rue sees patients at Mercy Personal Physicians at Glen Burnie, one of Mercy Medical Center’s doctor-centered, community-based facilities serving Anne Arundel County neighborhoods including Glen Burnie, Pasadena, Millersville, Severn, Gibson Island and Severna Park.

About Mercy

Founded in 1874 in Downtown Baltimore by the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Medical Center is a 183-licensed bed, acute care, university-affiliated teaching hospital. Mercy has been recognized as a high-performing Maryland hospital (U.S. News & World Report); has achieved an overall 5-Star quality, safety, and patient experience rating (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services); is A-rated for Hospital Safety (Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade); and is certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a Magnet™ hospital. Mercy Health Services is a not-for-profit health system and the parent company of Mercy Medical Center and Mercy Personal Physicians.

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