Remember What You Wrote
Things I’ll Do Differently When I’m Old
Steven Petrow of the New York Times wrote a great article, Things I’ll Do Differently When I’m Old. As a physical therapist that has guided thousands of 60 year plus individuals through the rehabilitation process, I have some suggestions.
I will work with a professional on developing a sustainable fitness program. The preventative against age related physical decline is a program of exercise. Consistent exercise reduces fall risk and maintains independence. No other modality has a greater impact on health. Blood sugar levels, respiratory capacity, mental health, and cardiac fitness all respond favorably to exercise. Do not be a fitness “do it yourselfer”. Older, deconditioned, and previously injured individuals get much better results when under the direction of a qualified professional. One way or the other, you are going to spend time and money on your health. Spend it up front–you will be much happier.
I will not let pain linger. Pain is not a “normal part of aging”. Chronic pain alters brain chemistry and destroys healthy movement patterns. Left untreated, pain has the capacity to weaken and spread damage to joints not involved with the initial pain provocation. See a physical therapist and find out what you can do to resolve pain issues before they become chronic.
I will exercise caution with medications that have an effect on the central nervous system. Many older people take multiple medications that impact brain neurochemistry. More brain real estate is devoted to movement than reading, writing, and arithmetic. A steady diet of pain medications, sleeping pills, and anti-depressants takes a toll on coordination, balance, and the ability to safely get around town. Add in a cocktail or three and you have a dangerous combination.
I will make a sustained effort to recover from any and all physical challenges. As we travel through our senior years, most of us will experience a health setback that requires rehabilitation. Full recovery of strength, mobility, and function takes eight to twelve months. Many physical therapy patients stop all rehab efforts way too soon. More of the rehabilitation battle is being fought in isolation as reimbursement for physical therapy care is shrinking. You may be done with formal physical therapy in four weeks, but you need to continue with a restorative exercise program for much longer.
I will not get fat. Physical therapy patients that are overweight have much more difficulty recovering from an injury or a challenge to their health. Sarcopenia is the medical name given to age related loss of muscle mass. Adding extra fat onto a body that is losing muscle creates an environment that makes movement more difficult and pain more prevalent.
I will listen and answer all questions from my health care provider to the best of my ability. The answers we get from the patient are the clues that lead us to the proper care. We need to know how your pain / symptom behaves and the effect it has on your life. Please do not omit any information that you feel is not important or unrelated to your condition. Do not lie about any aspect of your functional status, medications, mental health, etc… Your therapist, doctor, or physician assistant cannot help if we do not have all of the information.
I will plan ahead. In my dealings with older physical therapy patients, these are the three things that make life easier for both the patient and their families. Do what you can to manage these issues while you are healthy and clear headed.
- Have a Will with end of life directives.
- Insurance coverage that reduces the expense of long-term care.
- Pre-planned funeral services and insurance
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
Read the NY Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/05/well/family/thing-ill-do-differently-when-im-old.html?_r=0
A Plea For Your Knee
In our physical therapy clinics, we treat patients with knee pain on a daily basis. It has become more common to train younger clients with a history of knee injury and ongoing knee pain. Jane Brody’s recent *article in the New York Times has some excellent advice on the care and management of knee pain problems. I have some further suggestions and clarifications.
The mass portion of the Force = Mass x Acceleration formula needs to be at an appropriate level for your knees to stay healthy. Carrying extra body fat creates an environment that invites knee wear and tear. The common knee pulverizing mistake is to perform high impact exercise activities in an effort to lose fat. If you are twenty pounds overweight, do not run, stadium step, soccer, tennis, or pickleball. Start with strength training and low impact cardio. Lose the fat first, and even then, the lower impact activity will be healthier for your knees. From the overweight client limping into the clinic I get the “I need to move around to lose weight” protest. I am sorry, but fat loss is primarily a function of dietary alteration. Exercise has very little impact on body fat levels if you do not eat properly.
Train the Way You Wish to Play
A properly planned fitness program makes your knees more durable (fewer injuries) when you participate in your favorite recreational activity. The training must be tailored to your activity goals. If your goal is to play tennis, then you must perform three dimensional deceleration / acceleration activities as part of your training program. Yoga will not prepare your knees for tennis. If you want to water ski, then you must perform strength training for your back, hips, and knees. Distance running will not prepare your knees for water skiing. If hockey is your recreational past time, you need to be strong, well conditioned and competent in all planes of motion. Long duration recliner intervals will not prepare your knees for hockey.
If your hips do not move well, your knees will pay the price. In this age of all day sitting and minimal physical activity, hip function is at an all time low. Physical therapy patients with knee pain nearly always present with glaring restrictions in hip range of motion and strength. If your knees hurt, dedicate some training time to restoring hip rotation and hip extension movement. Learn how to perform some remedial gluteal activation drills. Learn a proper hip hinge, squat and a pain free lunge pattern.
Participation in a single inappropriate activity can produce a lifetime of knee trouble. That box jump workout of the day- maybe not. The warrior, electric shock, mud hole, death run–bad idea. Trampoline with the grandchildren–what were you thinking!
Be Proactive and Seek Treatment For Knee Pain
“Training through the pain” can take a graceful athlete and turn them into a lifelong speed limper. The presence of pain changes the way your brain controls movement. Left untreated, it can permanently alter neural signals and produce movement patterns that linger long after the pain has resolved. Live with enough cycles of inefficient movement and you develop early breakdown in the knee.
Michael O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
*What I Wished I’d Known About My Knees, Jane Brody, New York Times. July 3, 2017
Read the NY Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/well/live/what-i-wish-id-known-about-my-knees.html?_r=0
Training Modifications That Help With Your Medication
Statin medications are amazingly effective at lowering blood lipids and have, undoubtedly, lengthened lives. More doctors are recommending their patients start on these drugs at younger ages. For a long time, we have known that a common side effect of cholesterol lowering statin drugs is severe muscle soreness after exercise. Recent research on animal models has demonstrated that statin medications inhibit the beneficial muscle adaptations that occur with exercise. If you are taking a statin drug, take the time to read Gretchen Reynolds’s interesting article in The New York Times, “A Fitness Downside to Statin Drugs?” Over the years, I have found certain exercise modifications help reduce the muscle soreness symptoms in physical therapy and fitness clients who are taking statins. The following recommendations may work for you.
Delayed onset muscle soreness is more pronounced with two types of training: eccentric type muscle contractions (the muscle lengthens against resistance) and deceleration activities (landing from a jump, hop, or stride). I have found that managing eccentric muscle contractions and reducing deceleration activity allows clients taking statins the ability to perform beneficial training with less discomfort.
Manage Eccentric Muscle Contractions
Eccentric contractions (the muscle lengthens against resistance) create more micro trauma to the muscle fibers, and it takes longer to recover from a bout of training that involves more eccentric repetitions. Controlled pace, bodybuilding type muscle isolation training delivers eccentric loading in an effort to stimulate a hypertrophy response in the muscle.
Performing isometric strength training (no movement of the joints) completely eliminates the eccentric portion of an exercise. Sled pulling and pushing has no eccentric component and many statin medicated fitness clients say this fairly intense fitness activity is well tolerated. A suspension trainer works well to preferentially unload the eccentric portion of a squat or lunge movement pattern. Strength training with resistance tubing creates an accommodated force curve that reduces eccentric loading of the muscles. At FFAC, we have a Surge 360 that is a concentric only device that works all directions of a push or pull with no eccentric muscle stress. A good fitness coach can find multiple ways to reduce the eccentric involvement of an exercise activity.
Impact activities produce high intensity, eccentric muscle contractions. Land from a jump off a box and your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles must create a quick, coordinated contraction that slows your interaction with gravity. Deceleration eccentric exercises create more muscle damage and repeated deceleration events are notorious for creating higher levels of delayed onset muscle soreness.
If you want to perform “cardio exercise,” choose the elliptical, Ski Erg, or one of the many types of bikes. If you possess the mobility, use a Concept 2 rower. Stay away from the impact of treadmill running and avoid jumping rope, jumping jacks, and any activity that involves both feet leaving the ground. Medicine ball throws can be performed with minimal impact and produce an excellent muscular and neurological training response. Avoid box jumps, Olympic lifts, and any other activity that creates an impact on your body.
Talk to Your Doctor
I have worked with many people who had a discussion with their doctor and a simple alteration of their statin medication resulted in far fewer side effects. I am always surprised by how often patients are reluctant to report their symptoms of severe muscle soreness to their physician.
So those are the hints that have come from years of my work with physical therapy patients and fitness clients. Stay off the wheel and stay healthy.
Read the NY Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/04/well/move/a-fitness-downside-to-statin-drugs.html
-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS