by Stacy Choquette, PTA
Like chocolate cake or ice cream, physical activity can become addicting. To many people, jogging or hitting the gym is a daily routine. As we grow and develop our bodies can tolerate a high amount of stress and be pushed to their limits. Maintaining this high level activity becomes more challenging as we age and can cause many difficulties not just in our “routines” but also our daily lives. So how much activity is too much?
Biking to work, going to the gym or jogging a few times a week are not going to be detrimental to your health. The things you need to look out for are overuse and repetition. For instance; being able to run a marathon is an unbelievable feat, but when I talk with most marathon runners they only seem to incorporate running into their preparation. Running is a very limited motion and without cross training your body it can leave some muscles neglected and weak. This in turn can cause hip, knee or ankle pain. Also, the amount of miles the average marathon runner completes per week is very high; so not only are you over using your muscles by performing the same motion for 40-50 miles a week but you are also neglecting to strengthen the muscles being left out that help to balance strength and maintain a healthy joint. You also have to take age into account. As our bodies age they begin to wear down; joint health is compromised as you lose lubrication and cartilage. If you continue to run at this magnitude for years the break down will be sped up. Continuing to push the limits can cause more wear and tear on the joint also making it more susceptible to injury.
Running is not the only exercise that when overdone can have a negative result. There is a big difference between being 21 and going to the gym 6 days a week and being 39 and continuing a high intensity, high weight gym work-out with the same frequency. Putting too much stress on muscles and tendons can make them vulnerable for tears and tendonitis. Some people find it hard to decrease their frequency at the gym and do not give their muscles adequate rest between gym days to heal. Also, some higher level plyometrics and agility drills can be a bit risky as you age. If you do not have proper instruction and are pushing your body too hard it increases your chance of injury. As you age, it becomes more necessary to rest your body and only push yourself to appropriate limits. Reducing weight and frequency are two ways to achieve this.
Sometimes it is hard to know how far is too far to push yourself. If you enjoy what you do and are unsure, get some information from your doctor or physical therapist. Listen to your body and don’t ignore discomfort as it can be a precursor to greater injury. Getting some guidance from your physical therapist can be very helpful too.
Stacy Choquette is a Physical Therapy Assistant at Boston Sports Medicine