As a 35-year-old man, it’s taken me awhile to accept that my body is getting older. I have been an athlete for most of my life, participating in one or two sports each season year-round until college. When I was no longer in organized sports, I had no trouble jumping right back in. If you needed an extra for flag-football, I could jog over to the field, sprint the whole game, head home to clean up, and then go out at 10pm with friends. Now, I’m still active, but I run out of steam, recovery takes longer, my joints ache constantly, bruises never seem to heal, and if I do head out with friends I am home long before 10.
The good news is: the guys I play hockey and softball with are just as old (if not older) and facing the same challenges. If, like me, you have finally accepted that you are getting older, consider these tips to help you stay active and healthy.
Get some sleep
Sleep is important at any age. When we were younger sleep was not only important for recovery, but also for the growth of our brains and bodies. Most recovery happens in deep sleep, which unfortunately may be harder to reach in adulthood. Establishing a routine is helpful for falling asleep and achieving deeper sleep.
If you are lucky enough to have children or share the bed with a significant other, that deep sleep may be frequently interrupted. Consider sharing nighttime childcare responsibilities so at least some nights each week you and your partner can sleep deeply.
Lastly, if possible take a nap. Adult sports tend to be scheduled late at night, so if you can get a small nap in beforehand, that may make up for the hours you’ll be losing at your game. If you’re going to try this last idea, be sure to set an alarm early enough to get yourself up and out.
Take extra care of your body
In our teens and early 20s, playing through injury was typical. As kids we were told “walk it off,” which worked. Now, we groan simply getting out of bed each morning as the previous day’s efforts radiate through our bodies. Physical therapists have suggested exercises for my various knee, shoulder, elbow, ankle, etc. pains, emphasizing that exercise is important to reduce injury and prevent some of the more chronic pains from developing.
I consider participating in sports exercise (and have unsuccessfully argued with my insurance company for the same reimbursement given for gym memberships). After all, physical activity is physical activity. Over the years I’ve learned jogging, stretching, and lightweight exercises help reduce those morning aches and pains, and give me an extra step at game time. Finding time is always a challenge, but I’m happy with 5-10 minutes every day or two. Every little bit helps.
Another important consideration is knowing when to sit out. When I was getting back into hockey a few years ago, I found a weekly pick-up game. The organizer would leave the ice 30-40 minutes into the hour and a half session. He explained, “I’ve got a few more years on you guys.” While he was on the ice, he skated hard and was having fun, but he knew his limits rested when his body needed it. I’ve learned to take this suggestion at times when the kids have kept me up late, I have an early meeting, or I know we have a busy weekend. My body can only take so much and as an adult I need to be sure my body is functioning for the priorities. We can no longer play through injuries or simply “walk it off” anymore. In order to keep having fun we have to be sure our bodies can handle it.
Consider ways to reduce injury and aid recovery
As aches and pains continue, I’ve learned to embrace options I never cared for in my youth. Growing up, a brace was often recommended following an injury. I was eager to remove the support, which I found as a hindrance that made me slower or less agile. Now, it seems support for movement is trendy, from Gronk’s arm brace to Kerri Walsh Jennings KT tape.
Though the evidence is unclear if wearing braces actually helps prevent injuries, so check it out for yourself. For me, I’ve embraced the benefits of support braces. If I forget a knee brace for hockey, my knee throbs and stairs are difficult the next day, but with the brace – no problems.
As a teen, warmups were a time to goof off and catch up with my friends. Now, I’ve learned it’s important to get to a game early for a proper warm up. Otherwise, I seem more likely to experience an injury during the game or have more aches the following day. Warmups should be light and progress toward game speed. Get the blood moving and then stretch from head to toe. If you sit at a desk all day, this is particularly important due to the stiffness our bodies experience from being sedentary.
No matter what activity you enjoy, remember to have fun and stay safe. Continuing to participate in sports is a way to stay healthy while connecting with others. We can’t all be Tom Brady, playing a professional sport into our forties. We are simply working professionals looking to play sports with some buddies and perhaps our kids whenever we can.
In order to continue to enjoy the sports we love, we must take extra care to maintain our health. We have to also remember to prioritize our activities, since – as my wife reminds me – we are not getting paid to play. And keep in mind that in order to stay physically healthy, we have to stay mentally healthy. Give yourself a quick check up from the neck up.
Author: Dave Monico, MPH
Want to learn more about Men’s Health? Check out these Fast Facts.
Crow, S. (2018). 40 Ways Your Sleep Changes After 40. Bestlife, https://bestlifeonline.com/sleep-changes-in-your-40s/
USA Hockey. Dryland Training: https://www.usahockey.com/dryland
LeClere L. (2014). To brace or not to brace that is the question. https://www.stopsportsinjuries.org//stop/downloads/IntheGame/Fall2014.pdf