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Aging and Plyometrics: Tips for safe implementation

“Aging is not for the weak” is a common phrase for aging adults who feel their joints stiffen and ache, muscles weaken, and they find themselves in the doctors office more often than before. Although this phrase may be referring to determination and fortitude despite health obstacles, can we not also apply physical health and strength? What does it mean to stay strong when it seems like age is catching up to you? For the aging adult (those over 60 years of age) risks appear much higher as a trip and fall may not only mean a scraped knee, but a broken wrist or hip. What is the best way to age so that you can maintain your quality of life. Is it better to play it safe and slow down as the body appears to slow down? Should older adults expect to hang up the towel as they age?

The resounding response to this is No! Studies upon studies show that exercise is integral to improve the quality of life by preventing diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia and more as well as improving bone health, sleep quality, and mood. Although there is no ‘right’ way to exercise a study by Vetrovsky et al. show that some older adults may be selling themselves short. The study looked at higher intensity/complexity exercise and their benefit and safety and found that many higher level exercise had huge benefits for aging adults trying to maintain or improve quality of life.

  1. Resistance Training: This includes weight lifting or resistance bands which are shown to improve muscle and bone strength. This is especially important as people can lose around 5 pounds of muscle each decade after the age of 30.
  2. Balance/Flexibility Exercise- Examples are tai chi, yoga, and step training which all focus on challenging static and dynamic balance. These type of exercises can help reduce fall risk and maintain your balance with everyday activities as well as any recreational sports such as hiking, bowling, golf, or tennis.
  3. Weight Bearing and Impact Exercise: This includes jumping, running/walking. Although exercise that involves jumping may seem like a huge risk for aging adults, it was actually found to improve bone density and therefore reduce risk of osteoporosis and fracture.
  4. High Speed/Agility Training: These types of exercises can improve balance by improving reaction rate, muscle power, and force production that are integral in situations when balance needs to be corrected quickly as during stumbling/ tripping.
  5. Plyometric Exercises: This includes jumping rope, box jumps, hopping/bounding: This may seem the most improbable for aging adults. However the study by Vetrovsky et al. found many of the same benefits of improved bone health, muscle strength, and balance/fall safety.

In order to successfully implement a plyometric program in your weekly routine, consider these tips:

  1. Start slow. Begin with small challenges and wait to see how your body responds.
  2. Avoid pain. If a movement hurts while performing it, that is your body’s way of telling you something may be wrong with your form.
  3. Wait 24 hours before advancing in challenge. If pain is worse in 24 hours, your body may not be ready for plyometrics.
  4. Keep moving. Muscle soreness is normal after exercise, so if you are feeling sore in your muscles (not joints), keep active to allow the lactic acid to work its way out.

Safety first, however, and it is highly recommended to consult your physician as well as recruit the help and supervision of a knowledgeable health and/or fitness professional such as a physical therapist before starting an exercise program. For an idea of where to start, check out this video. And who knows, you may be able to surprise your kids during your next family hike or game of flag football, or even jump up to cheer on your grandkids as they graduate or take the lead in the school play.

“We do not stop exercising because we grow old – we grow old because we stop exercising.” ~ Dr. Kenneth Cooper

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