Healthy, Vital, Active, Joyful!

Healthy, vital, active, joyful. These are not typically words associated with aging and yet an entire generation of healthy, vital, active and joyful people are changing the very paradigm of aging in this country.

Posted on | Vonda Wright, MD | Comments ()

Healthy, vital, active, joyful. These are not typically words associated with aging and yet an entire generation of healthy, vital, active and joyful people are changing the very paradigm of aging in this country. 

This group is YOU…and the amazing athletes over 40, from weekend warriors to elite competitors, who fill my office looking for ways to maximize their performance and stay injury free. YOU are not bound to age in the same way as your parents were. You are highly active and motivated to stay at the top of your game.   

It never occurred to me that aging meant slowing down. I get a thrill from competition and a rush of adrenaline when standing on the infield during a Masters track meet as powerful athletes surge by, the only indication of their age being their faces. Maybe I don't believe that aging destines us to the sidelines because in my 40's I am training harder and am faster than I have ever been. 

It is my goal to spread the word that aging is not an inevitable decline from vitality to frailty and that instead we are designed to be mobile…we just have to be smarter about it as we age.

In this blog I will share with you the ways I keep my masters athletes (and ex-couch potatoes) healthy and the fascinating research findings that shed new light on musculoskeletal aging.

As a researcher, the first question I wanted to answer was: How fast do we age?

Is aging a number, a feeling or an inevitable biologic process we can’t alter?  Much of what we know about the “aging” process has come from studying the more than 70% of people in this country who choose to live sedentary lives. This sedentary living results in 35 chronic diseases that kill more than 250,000 people a year in the US. This is much more than any bacteria, spinach or bird flu out break…our couches are not only aging us – they’re killing us!

 I started studying the Senior Olympians to understand the true nature of musculoskeletal aging by eliminating the variable of sedentary lifestyle. This group of active agers consistently exhibits high levels of functional capacity and a high quality of life. I wanted to know why the 50-year-old male winner of the mile sprint was capable of finishing in 4:34 or why the 70 year old winner still can blow away many sedentary people half their age by running a mile in 7 minutes, both times much faster than the average 30 year old.

In 2008, I published a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine where I looked at performance times of athletes aged 50-80 in the 2001 Senior Olympics. What I found amazed me: Master’s athletes’ performance declined less than 2% per year for both men and women from age 50 to 75. After 75 years old, however, something happens. The slow 2% decline in performance times suddenly becomes more than 8% decline per year.  Why does performance plummet? Is it the cumulative factors of loss of muscle mass, flexibility, coordination or aerobic capacity that suddenly catch up with us? In future blogs we will talk about all the ways we all can maximize our physical performance and avoid injuries as we age.

Perhaps the most important finding for all of us is that while slowing down does happen with age, it does not do so significantly until our 70s! What good news! The next time someone tells you to slow down and act your age, tell them joyfully that being healthy, vital and active is what your age, no matter what your actual age, is all about!

Next week I will tell you how to F.A.C.E. your future!

Blog written by Vonda Wright, MD
Vonda Wright, MD is an orthopedic surgeon, speaker, author and researcher. She cares for athletes and active fitness...