women

1. THE DANGERS OF EXERCISE: OVERSTRESSING

Many people believe that exercise is not really good for them unless they feel hyperstimulated or have some background fatigue, which they often identify as relaxing because they have worn out their muscles. Overexercising and the stresses that ensue lead to metabolic changes from the creation of more free radicals that age all our cells. We also get micro-tears in our connective tissues and micro-fractures in our skeletons, which contribute to lost mobility over time and can lead to premature aging.

Most people can withstand substantial injuries early in their life and make remarkable comebacks with relatively short recovery times. As we get older, it becomes more important to avoid injuries, because it is more difficult to heal and an injury can have ramifications beyond the ability to do a workout routine. For example, sustaining an injury to your knee that prevents you from getting up and down from the floor easily or climbing your stairs can become a significant life-changing event if it causes long-term pain that affects your job, your relationships, and even your living quarters. I had a client who ran and rock-climbed regularly, but then seriously injured his knee. Although he continued to do the activities that were familiar and enjoyable to him for a while, eventually he couldn’t even make it up the stairs. By learning some of the movements in the Change Your Age Program, he was able to go up and down stairs without pain and then return to the activities he enjoyed.

Overstressing during exercise can create additional stresses to the joints and ligaments of the body. Your ligaments connect one bone to another and connect your skeleton together. If you had no muscles or tendons (which connect your muscles to your bones), you would still be held together by your ligaments. Forceful movement done too frequently has an effect on a ligament similar to taking a fresh, taut rubber band and pulling it apart and together repeatedly or pulling the band apart to its limit and keeping it there for too long. The band, like your ligaments, loses elasticity, and a ligament with less elasticity can weaken the bone-to-bone connections in your body.

In my work, I see highly skilled athletes, weekend athletes, and sports enthusiasts as well as well-renowned dance teachers and yoga instructors. Many of them come to me because of injuries they have sustained doing their favorite activities.

Many yoga teachers have stretched for too long or too far and, slowly, lengthened their ligaments. When we stretch too much, our ligaments become loose so our joints become too loose and they lose their stability. This unstable joint condition, known as hypermobility, arises from moving the joint too far and too often.

Similarly, runners, as they get older, find themselves getting tight in the calves and hamstrings, developing knee injuries, and then having to do a lot of stretching to help defray the feeling of tightness.

“Boomeritis,” named in 1999 by Dr. Nicholas A. DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, is a national phenomenon witnessed by many physicians. Their baby boomer patients have returned to exercising, but they are exercising in the only way they’re familiar with, which is the exercise they knew in their twenties and thirties. The -itis in boomeritis refers to the mass inflammation of muscles, tendons, and joints that usually results in the breakdown of muscles and the supporting organs of the body, like the heart and kidneys, which are necessary to process the full metabolic and physiological effects of exercise on the body. Boomeritis can be completely avoided, however, by starting slower, using less force, and, if you’re following the exercise instructions of a personal trainer, listening only to someone who is trained in working with older adults.

Here are four quick questions to help you assess whether overstressing is a problem in your exercise routines:

• Do you exercise beyond the point of pain and stress?
• Do you feel that you have not exercised enough if you don’t feel pain?
• While you exercise, do you feel yourself straining?
• How do you feel the next day?

THE LIMITS OF LEARNING BY IMITATION

Although it is better to move your body than not, you need to have an increased awareness of how you move in order to prevent injuries. Moving well isn’t good enough without knowing how you move, a point not often stressed in typical workout routines.

Knowing why you have an injury or a pain is not so helpful. However, knowing how you move your body, arrange your posture, or perform repeated actions that created or contributed to your pain or injury is a valuable thing to know. Knowing why you’re uncoordinated might not help you to be more coordinated, but learning how to move differently will address the situation directly. Knowing why might not be useful to you; knowing how is a physical tool you can acquire and use.

You can become skilled at dance or sports but have no idea how you acquired that skill. (This is a primary reason why highly skilled professionals often cannot teach others.) It may be that you have very limited body awareness, but that you can mimic movement very well. Most people learn to move by visual imitation—that is, by watching other people’s movements and imitating them. This is the way classes are taught in dance, theater, and sports. Even social interactions usually involve visual imitation.

Learning by visual imitation does not require that we advance our body awareness; instead, it requires that we perform what we already know how to do, usually by trying to conform our bodies to the instructor’s body. That’s why many people start learning very quickly; their lack of body awareness, however, makes them unable to improve continuously. Visually, they can see what to do, and their body can imitate and mimic very well, but this capacity to mimic does not tell them how they learned the movement. We can perform a movement through imitation if our body already understands how to do it. If our body doesn’t already know how to do a movement, we can’t progress or improve beyond that point without improving our body awareness.

In the Change Your Age Program, you will find yourself developing your body awareness by learning how to do the movements. Many of the movements will not resemble familiar actions. The novelty of the movements will stimulate your brain to forge new connections. Without novelty, we reinforce the same habits.

Ask yourself the following questions as they relate to your current exercise routine.

• Is it difficult for me to learn new movement skills?
• Can I easily teach others new ways to move?
• Do new challenges in movement make you feel excited or anxious?

COMPETING WITH YOURSELF

Whether you run, work with weights, do yoga, or engage in sports like tennis, golf, basketball, soccer, swimming, or skiing, you can be subject to repetitive stress injuries. As you get older, more stress injuries can arise from a competition with yourself.

The drive that leads to most injuries is the drive to outdo yourself. Rather than doing exercise slowly, easily, and gradually, people adopt the credo “no pain, no gain” and try to stretch the farthest they can, in competition either with others or with themselves. A doctor might say that for the health of your heart, you should get off the couch and lose weight, starting by exercising 30 minutes a day, three times a week. But some people get on machines at the gym and go crazy. They think that, if 30 minutes is good, 40 minutes would be better, 50 minutes would be even better, and 60 minutes would be best. They apply the same attitude to speed and slope: Faster and steeper is better. But that is not the case: When you exercise harder, you also stress your body more. People competing hard against themselves get stronger muscles, but there is a trade-off between how hard you exercise and how stressed your body becomes.

Additionally, we’re all caught up in perceptions of age that are based on physical appearance. This is what drives so many people to extend themselves in unhealthy ways by striving for washboard abs, tight triceps, the perfect butt.

Instead of “no pain, no gain,” the attitude should be “no pain, all gain in the brain.”

In considering whether or not competing with yourself has become too much of a problem with your current exercise habits, ask yourself these questions:

• Do I try to outdo myself with each workout?
• Do I measure my success only by achieving extremes?
• Could I assess myself by the sensual pleasure a workout gives me?

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