The 2017 Australia Open Tennis tournament had an impressive finish. At the age of 36, Roger Federer became the men’s champion, and 35 year old Serena Williams defeated her 36 year old sister, Venus Williams to become the women’s champion. In the world of professional tennis, a mid-thirties champion is a rarity and to have it happen in both the men’s and women’s divisions is a sign of things to come. Rehabilitation and conditioning science have improved the results athletes can achieve in the gym. Athletes are staying healthier by eating better and training smarter. Take a look at some other recent examples:
Tom Brady, 39 years old. The quarterback for the New England Patriots will be leading his team in Superbowl LI. He is confident he can continue to compete for another five years.
Drew Brees, 38 years old. The starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints feels he can play for several more years.
Kristin Armstrong, 43 years old. Won a gold medal in cycling at the Rio Olympics at the age of 42. This type of success is amazing in a competition that greatly favors youth.
Dara Torres, 49 years old. This twelve-time Olympic swimmer medallist competed at 41 years of age and won a silver medal in three events at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Oksana Chusotivina, 41 years old. Oksana is gymnast from Uzbekistan that competed against teenage gymnasts at the Rio Olympics.
Meb Keflezighi, 40 years old. Competed in the Marathon at the Summer Olympics in Rio.
These performances illustrate how proper training and nutrition can produce a high level of performance in athletes thought to be too old to compete. We are all going to get older. It does not mean we are going to get weaker, slower, and more sedentary.
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
While performing Kettlebell swings or some medicine ball throws, I get the question, “What does that exercise work?” The answer is “My brain.” I quickly explain how optimal training activates your nervous system and builds the neurons and synapses necessary for brain health. A research query of great interest is the impact exercise has on the aging brain. The New York Times, December 31, 2016 article by Dr. Lisa Felman Barrett, *How to Become a ‘Superager’, presents some interesting research.
The article discusses the research results that studied functional MRI scans of the brains of superagers. Superagers are elderly individuals that score well on tests of memory, task attentiveness, and planning. These MRI evaluations looked at both the anatomical and activity differences in various locations of the brains of these cognitively adept older adults. The researchers and Dr. Feldman Barret give us some recommendations on lifestyle challenges that produce a superager brain. It involves some consistent involvement in strenuous exercise activity and ongoing intellectually challenging tasks.
*New York Times, December 31, 2016, Dr. Lisa Felman Barrett, How to Become a ‘Superager’. See the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/31/opinion/sunday/how-to-become-a-superager.html?_r=0
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
Getting up and down off the ground is a movement skill we need to maintain. It is the functional exercise activity that keeps us safe and independent for a lifetime. Developing proficiency in getting up and down off the ground has multiple benefits. It takes away fear, builds confidence, and increases activity in other areas of life. Your fitness training should involve activity that makes you better at moving gracefully in and out of the positions necessary to get up and down off the ground.
Getting up and down off the ground is largely a neural activity. Nearly everyone has enough strength, range of motion, and balance—you just need some practice. Physiologically, we know that movement practice makes transmission of neural signals more efficient. Research on motor learning has taught us that repetition, ascending challenge levels, and coaching produces the best results. The reach and roll exercise is a good starting point for improving from the ground up movement skills.
Reach and Roll Performance
You need some open space. Lay on your back. Bend the right leg up and keep the left leg straight. Reach the left arm out at 45 degrees in relationship to the body. Brace the abdominal muscles. Reach across the body with the right arm and then let the head follow as you rotate over to the left. Roll the right leg across the body and turn over onto your left side. Return back to the supine position and then repeat the exercise to the right. Perform five times on each side.
One direction may be much easier than the other. Try starting with that side and add in some extra repetitions to the weaker direction. A common mistake is leading with the head instead of with the reaching arm. Some coaching can make ground up movement skills much easier to master. As you get better at the reach and roll, add in a lift up onto the elbow and then hand.
View video demonstration of reach and roll here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4B8A8rnzsQ
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
Fitness training for those of us past 40 years of age is more complicated. Physical performance and recovery capacity are dramatically different. If you need proof, look for the forty year olds in the NBA or NFL. The good news is that with proper planning, consistent performance, and the wisdom that comes with age, we can stay fit and active for a lifetime. I have compiled a collection of tips for the forty plus fitness client.
As we age, we tend to move slower. Unfortunately, life happens at faster speeds. Those of us past forty should perform fitness activities that improve quickness and enhance the control of deceleration forces. I am sorry, but yoga and Pilates are not fast enough to be beneficial. You do not have to perform jump squats with a barbell on your back. Basic medicine ball throws and agility drills will work wonders.
While performing Turkish Get Ups or Med Ball Throws, I get the question, “What does that exercise work?” The answer is “My brain.” I quickly explain how optimal training activates your nervous system (brain) and improves how you move. An area of intense research is the impact exercise has on the aging brain. A study that utilized high-resolution brain imaging tests has now shown that consistent strength training improves brain health in the elderly. Furthermore, it appears that two sessions of strength training a week has a better brain bolstering effect than one session.
Read the October 21, 2015, New York Times article by Gretchen Reynolds, “Lifting Weights, Twice a Week, May Aid the Brain.” Then, get your scrawny medulla oblongata to the gym and do some pull ups.
To read the article, click on the link below:
-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
Throw Old Gracefully
Powering Up The Older Athlete
Exercise is like medicine—administer the correct prescription at the proper dose and the patient thrives. Different patients require dramatically different medications. The “exercise medicine” for older adults is a consistent dose of power training.
Fitness Age Changes
Between the ages of 65 and 89, explosive lower limb power production declines at a rate of 3.5% per year. Strength, on the other hand, declines at a slower 1-2% per year rate in this same group. Power is the ability to create force in a short period of time and is different than raw strength. Power is the component of fitness that makes you able to react to a fall or sudden disturbance in balance. As power recedes, falls and injuries increase. As falls and injuries increase, mobility and independent living decrease.
The implication for older athletes that want to prevent falls and remain independent is that training is speed specific. You must find exercise activities that make you move at faster tempos. Seated or supine, slow-paced activities may be beneficial in other ways (strength, cardiac endurance), but they will not improve muscle contractile speeds.
Medicine Ball Wall Throws
Adding a velocity component to your training is not complicated. Nearly everyone can throw a medicine ball at a wall. Throws will improve your balance, proprioception (positional awareness), core stability, power production, and overall coordination. Watch the accompanying video of some of our favorite wall throws. Choose a medicine ball of appropriate weight—most people go too heavy—and add three or four sets of throws to your gym program.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS