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How Can Older Athletes Stay Active?

Summit orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician Brian Walters, M.D., discusses some tips for older athletes who want to keep playing the sport they love.

Whether it’s football, hockey, swimming, racquetball, golf, soccer, or any of a hundred other sports, being an athlete takes time and dedication. For many people, their sport becomes part of their identity. Being active is part of what makes them who they are. But as the years go on, playing the sport they love can get more difficult for many people. How can older athletes stay active in their chosen sport?

“I work with many patients for whom participating in their chosen sport is a crucial part of their lives. It’s how they stay healthy. It helps them deal with stress and maintain good mental health, and it’s part of their social lives as well,” said Summit orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Brian Walters, M.D. “But when an athletic patient gets a bit older — maybe they’re in their 60s — they begin to run into challenges with maintaining their current level of athletic activity,”

Tips to help older athletes stay active

  • Consider your goals

The first and most important thing, Dr. Walters said, is to set realistic expectations and goals. “Sometimes it’s important to sit down and have a frank conversation with patients who are active and older and have injuries,” Dr. Walters said. It may be time to modify the intensity or level of competitiveness, while still enjoying and participating in the sport. “Many of these individuals have continued to do things athletically that most of the population might have stopped doing 20 years ago,” he said.

  • Respect your limits

Patients who have been healthy and active their whole lives may not want to slow down. That’s fine, said Dr. Walters. It’s just a matter of being smart about how you engage in athletic activity and understanding how your body will respond at this age. Armed with that information, you can choose when and how much you push yourself.

“If you use proper form and set realistic training expectations, you can be active a lot longer. That’s only if you don’t push your body beyond the limits,” Dr. Walters said. “Sometimes, it takes a mental shift to realize that doing your chosen sport at 70 percent instead of 100 percent means that you can do it for a lot longer.”

More ideas for older athletes

  • Try innovative treatments

Many older athletes don’t want to have major surgery that will keep them out of the game for a significant period of time. Dr. Walters uses biologic therapies in his practice. “In the shoulder, I use biologic treatment to increase the chance of good success and recovery, especially in the setting of aging tissue,” he said. Biologics are designed to increase the healing environment in the joint, to speed recovery. It can be part of a surgical procedure or can be competed in the office.

  • Think through options

When it comes to staying active as an older athlete, it’s key to evaluate all of your options. “It’s so important to give patients choices, instead of telling them that there is only one treatment that will work best,” Dr. Walters said. By educating patients, and by laying out the top several options, older athletes can make the best decision for their goals and lifestyle.