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You Want a Good Gut Feeling About Sports Nutrition

by Jenny Hitchings

I came to competitive running at 40, and 13 years later, while I’m nationally ranked and often an age-group winner, I don’t have everything about the sport figured out. Along with a 2:46:10 marathon at age 47 (just ten seconds shy of qualifying for the Olympic Trials), and an age-group win at the 2015 Boston Marathon, I have gastrointestinal (GI) issues.

My GI challenges have, too often, led to one or more Porta Potty stops during races, and while my own problems usually begin at 10 miles and beyond, GI distress hits all types of endurance athletes, and at different distances. The issue has attracted a lot of scientific research, and one survey even says that younger runners might suffer more than older ones.

For me, however, all that science is of little consolation—because it’s overwhelmingly inconclusive. I may sometimes like to think of myself as some sort of “Super Master” masters athlete, but the GI problems are humbling and frustrating.

I largely know what foods work and don’t work for me when I’m training. I know what works when I’m not in a pair of running shoes. But sometimes when I run very long and often when I race, my persistent GI woes create emotional havoc. They’ve crushed goals that I had worked long and hard to achieve.

I’m also a running coach, and my clients and running friends barrage me with fueling questions: “What should I use?”  “How much?”  “How often?” “Before, during, or after?”

I now tell every client, training partner or friend with GI issues what I finally told myself: Explore and experiment with your nutrition, similar to the way you might research injury prevention, fatigue, or unfamiliar workouts. I tell folks that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been running. Keep probing. Through experimentation, you’ll find that some food and drink products will likely work for you, and some won’t, and virtually every sports nutritionist would agree.

The long list of variables that can contribute to GI distress include: gender, hormonal issues, food intolerances, stress levels, dehydration, metabolism issues, overtraining, blood flow rates, body weight, allergies, duration of exercise, and taste. Yes, your perfect nutritional solution might be undermined by the realization that, two-thirds of the way through your race, you simply cannot swallow any more of what you previously believed to be the magic bullet.

My racing fuel once consisted of energy gels and water. But almost like clockwork, around mile 10 in a race my gut came to scream “Uncle!” I tried to eat fewer gels, and also tried to eat more. I played with my wake-up times: I discovered that 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. races caused me fewer GI problems than 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. events. I ultimately figured out that getting my butt out of bed very early every day for about two weeks prior to an early competition helped train my body to use the bathroom earlier. I also found the time needed to take in a light breakfast and some coffee (I’m unwilling to sacrifice my pre-race coffee—with cream).

But there’s been plenty more experimentation. I’ve tried Metamucil, and reducing lactose, fiber, and vitamins and/or supplements for a few days prior to a race. I’ve eaten very simple, easily digestible foods on both the day and night before my races.

Finally, after a decade of testing, I received some guidance from other athletes. Personally, I think that a thoughtful and successful fellow-athlete can be a great resource, and so I took a different direction. In 2015 I tried a relatively obscure (to me, anyway) sports nutrition product called Generation UCAN.  Soon after trying it, I was encouraged by the energy I enjoyed, and the lack of need to take in any other fuel for the first 90 minutes of my runs and marathons.

UCAN’s key ingredient—called SuperStarch—is, technically speaking, a low-glycemic, non-GMO cornstarch. SuperStarch was originally developed (about seven years ago) to help stabilize blood sugar levels in kids suffering from life-threatening hypoglycemia. But because SuperStarch helps maintain even levels of blood sugar—thus preventing the huge energy spikes and drops that some endurance athletes experience with sugary or caffeinated gels—runners took notice. I’m in honorable company: Four-time American Olympic runner Meb Keflezighi was an early adopter of the product.

Finally, I have some of my sports nutrition wired. Along with that light breakfast, I consume a serving of UCAN (I like Tropical Orange; it tastes like a Creamsicle!) around 30 minutes before a race, or long run. I now know that the less sugary or fibrous fuel I take in, the better.

Consuming UCAN during the run is next on my sports nutrition to-do list. But rather than drink a 10-ounce serving, I’ll make it more like a paste that I can store in a portable container. If that approach doesn’t work (and it might not), I can always turn back to my gel-and-water ways.  Right now, deep into my long runs and races, one or two gels every 45 minutes seems to work—sometimes.

As I said, keep probing.

If I sound like something of a poster child for UCAN, that’s because I am. I’m officially a company ambassador. But when you find something that really works for you, whatever it is, you’ll want to wave a banner, too.

I’m always interested to know more about endurance athletes’ successes with sports nutrition, as well as their frustrations. Please feel free to email me: runnerjen@surewest.net.

Jenny Hitchings lives in Sacramento. She’s a running coach, product ambassador for Generation UCAN, and member of the Sacramento Running Association’s Elite Racing Team.

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The Secret to Aging: Use It or Lose It

by Bill Gifford

Following is an excerpt from Bill Gifford’s wonderful book Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying). The book recounts the author’s adventures into the world of anti-aging research, which is populated by characters ranging from wanna-live-forever crackpots to serious scientists exploring the physical secrets of life. It’s entertaining, highly informative, and ultimately inspiring—for middle-aged athletes, or for anyone who suspects that health and fitness may not conquer death, but can help guarantee a vital life.

While I was working on this book, nearly everyone I told about it wanted to know the same thing: “So, what’s the secret to aging?”

So far, the “secret” seems to be: Use It or Lose It.

Which sounds simple, even simplistic. But it kept coming up, almost like a mantra, not only in conversation but in high-level research: It applies to your cardiovascular system, your muscles, your sex life, and your brain. Howard Booth, a 70-year-old pole-vaulting biology professor whom I met at the National Senior Games,  had it all figured out.

By contrast, not using it can have dire consequences. Even retiring from working—the capstone to the American Dream—can be dangerous to your health. A paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a prestigious private think tank, found that “complete retirement leads to a 5–16 percent increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activities, a 5– 6 percent increase in illness conditions, and 6–9 percent decline in mental health,” over the next six years. Although early retirement has been found to decrease mortality risk, at least in Europe, newly retired people often report a loss of their sense of purpose— the Okinawans’ ikigai, again—which can be hard to replace.

Physical parameters like strength and VO2 max tend to move in one direction with age: downward. But it’s not the same for everyone. A recent study of aged Scandinavian cross-country skiers found that the older athletes had preserved much of their aerobic capacity, relative to their youthful selves; and they were far ahead of the age-matched control group, a bunch of sedentary older guys who lived in Indiana.

Which seems like the ultimate unfair comparison—Nordic ski gods versus Midwestern couch potatoes—but who would you rather be? The skiers had done a better job preserving their ability to pump blood efficiently, the elasticity of their arteries, the suppleness of their lungs. Biologically, they were simply younger. On a practical level, this meant that they had an easier time walking around, climbing stairs, and as Howard Booth put it, participating in life. They’d never stopped using it, so they didn’t lose it.

If you look at older athletes’ muscles and bones, the contrast with their sedentary peers becomes even more dramatic. One of the hallmarks of middle age—and one of the first things I noticed—is that it becomes much more difficult to gain and keep muscle. We begin to lose muscle mass gradually at around age forty, and as time goes on we lose it more rapidly: Between fifty and seventy, we say good-bye to about 15 percent of our lean muscle per decade. After that, it jumps to 30 percent per decade. “You could make the case that aging starts in muscle,” says Nathan LeBrasseur, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic who studies muscle.

But even as we’re losing muscle in middle age, we don’t lose weight overall (duh). That means our muscle is gradually, insidiously being replaced by fat. More fat and less muscle means your metabolic “engine” runs at a much slower rate; less muscle means you have fewer mitochondria, which means your body becomes less efficient at burning the sugar out of your bloodstream. Not coincidentally, most new cases of diabetes appear in people in their mid-forties and older. This loss of muscle may also be why our cholesterol levels tend to surge as we get older.

Exercise not only preserves muscle mass, then, but it keeps our blood sugar and cholesterol levels under control—among myriad other benefits. “If you could put the benefits of exercise in a pill,” says Simon Melov, a researcher at the Buck Institute for Aging Research in Novato, CA, “it would be an astonishing pill.”

Excerpted from Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying) by Bill GiffordCopyright © 2016 by Bill Gifford. Used with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

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shea and friend

So You’re Middle Aged With a Torn Meniscus: What to Do?

by Bob Howells

In our previous post, we cited a number of recent studies that resoundingly concluded that arthroscopic meniscus repair among middle-aged patients is pretty much useless. Yet more than 400,000 middle-aged and older Americans a year undergo this surgery.

What are we middle-aged athletes with knee pain to make of all this?

We turned to an expert who happens to be one of us. Kevin G. Shea MD (pictured above on the right, with his friend and fellow surgeon John Werdel MD) is an orthopedic surgeon based at St. Luke’s Clinic in Boise, Idaho. He’s 53, a trail runner, XC skier, road and mountain bike racer—and chairman of the Evidence-Based Quality and Value Committee for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons—the group responsible for issuing clinical practice guidelines to the academy.

We focused on the benefit, or lack of, meniscus surgery among middle-aged athletes—who, when experiencing knee pain, are very likely suffering from osteoarthritis. They hope that a meniscus repair will somehow put their knee pain to rest. Are their hopes in vain?

TMA: Given these recent studies, are orthopedic surgeons backing away from meniscus surgery?

Dr. Shea: There’s slow but progressive recognition that osteoarthritis patients are not going to benefit from meniscus surgery. Many, if not most, orthopedic surgeons have moved away from routine arthroscopy in these patients. It’s fair to say that if there’s a fair amount of arthritis present, the knee won’t get better from arthroscopy in most cases. People in their 40s and 50s with significant osteoarthritis probably won’t benefit from surgery.

TMA: Are the clinical guidelines regarding meniscus surgery likely to change soon? Will orthopedic surgeons be getting (and giving) new advice based on these recent studies?

Dr. Shea: It’s a high-priority topic for us (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons), but it takes about 18 months to generate new guidelines.

TMA: Okay, so I’ve got a torn meniscus and a lot of knee pain. I show up in your office. What do you tell me, and what should I do?

Dr. Shea: Well, first, my job is not to tell the patient what to do, but to present the options. Much depends on the level of arthritis. In the middle-aged patient, arthroscopy is the third or fourth choice of treatment. We need to get better at communicating the alternatives. An appropriate therapy program, activity modifications, and weight loss may be just as effective as surgery, with lower cost, and lower risk. For older, active patients without significant osteoarthritis, treating symptomatic meniscus tears with surgery may be very beneficial in carefully selected cases.

TMA: What are other alternatives?

Dr. Shea: Sometimes it’s weight loss, or changing the physical activity. Go to cycling, elliptical training, or swimming instead of running. Or reduce the amount of running, and replace it with lower-impact fitness and cardiovascular activities.In many cases, meniscus symptoms may go away with time. There’s typically no time urgency. So I’m here to help patients know what their options are.

TMA: Are the days of “let’s go in there and clean it out a bit” over?

Dr. Shea: For the most part, yes. If you’ve got significant osteoarthritis, “cleaning out a knee”—trimming away loose, torn bits of meniscus or worn fragments of bone cartilage—is not a good idea. At one point we thought it was of value, but most of the time, for most patients, cleaning it out is not indicated.

TMA: But are there times when a meniscus repair is still indicated?

Dr. Shea: It may be indicated for acute symptoms. If a 40- to 50-year-old doesn’t have any osteoarthritis, we might treat them like a 20-year-old. Surgery may be indicated. In Idaho, we see see a fair number of 40- to 50-year-old skiers and mountain bikers with acute traumatic ACL and meniscus tears. Many of these patients may have better knee function with ACL and/or meniscus repair surgery. Furthermore, many of them do not have significant osteoarthritis. But I would still suggest options like switching activities for a while, especially for those with osteoarthritis.

Kevin Shea concluded the interview by recounting his own experience with a suspected meniscus tear. About four years ago, a couple of days after playing soccer, he suddenly felt popping and intermittent pain in one knee. He thought he had a tear of the outer meniscus. When it didn’t improve after a month or two, he went to a surgeon friend and said, “Hey, want to scope my knee?”

His doctor suggested an MRI first. It turned out that Shea simply had a small, loose piece of bone cartilage in his knee, possibly from an old high school injury. He opted for a couple of steroid shots to address significant swelling. And time.

“I stopped running almost completely for four months,” Shea says, “but continued cycling, swimming, and some elliptical training almost immediately, but at reduced intensity and volume. At one year, I resumed a more normal running program, and have had no return of symptoms over the last four years.”

Kevin Shea MD, orthopedic surgeon, middle-aged athlete—and poster guy for the benefit of shunning the all-too-common practice of meniscus surgery.

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Meniscus Surgery for Middle-Aged Athletes Is Pretty Much Useless, Studies Show

by Bob Howells

If you’re a middle-aged athlete who hasn’t had meniscus surgery, you probably feel left out. It seems like most of your friends have, and many of those who haven’t are considering it.

But recent research and a growing medical consensus are telling us that this rite of passage for aging athletes is probably unnecessary and very likely useless for most of us. What might be indicated for younger athletes may well be useless for those of us with aging, and likely arthritic, knees.

Yet 400,000 Americans a year undergo arthroscopic meniscus surgery, according to a recent New York Times article.

Quick anatomy lesson: Meniscus is your knees’ shock absorber—the cushion that keeps your femur and tibia bones from painfully rubbing on one another.

Meniscus damage and wear/tear is common in our middle-aged cohort. Thirty-five percent of us who are past 50 have some degree of damage. Fortunately, two-thirds of us experience no symptoms at all.

But another one-third of us with meniscus damage endure pain, grabbing, popping in the knee . . . and it’s those athletes who go looking for a fix. Hundreds of thousands of us find their way to a bone doc who goes in with an arthroscope and trims back or repairs the meniscus tear.

But here’s the deal: A significant number of those middle-aged athletes have osteoarthritis of the knee—a condition that afflicts 9 million of us. And when that’s the case, meniscus surgery is virtually useless, especially in cases of more advanced osteoarthritis.

The Evidence Against Meniscus Surgery

Here’s a quick summary of the mounting evidence against meniscus surgery in middle-aged patients:

 

    • “Considering the enormous volume (of meniscus surgery among middle-aged to older adults), it is natural to think that there is compelling evidence for the procedure being beneficial. Remarkably, this is not so,” the BMJ goes on to report.

 

Let’s see…PT or cut the knee? Same outcome. Which would you choose?

  • Maybe even more eye-opening is this article in the BMJ titled Arthroscopic Meniscal Tear Surgery Is No Better Than Sham Surgery, Study Shows.” The title says it all. The article describes a trial that compared arthroscopic meniscus surgery with a completely fake surgery and found “no clinically important difference between the arthroscopic and nonoperative groups with respect to functional improvement or pain relief over a period of 24 months.” (Emphasis added.)

So if you’re a middle-aged athlete with knee pain, significant osteoarthritis, and a torn meniscus—and this apparently useless surgery is offered up as an option—what should you do?

That’s exactly the topic of our next post.

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The author tops out, proud to finish 107th.

Return of the Middle-Aged Racer

by Bob Howells

Me, run a race? Nah. I’d quit running races a good 25 years ago, telling myself that I was beyond my competitive phase. Actually, for a long while, I’d given up running altogether. Injuries. No running at all, let alone racing.

So a lot was going on in my head as I waited for the starting gun last weekend in my hometown’s annual race, Conquer the Overlook —The Toughest 5K and Stair Climb. I couldn’t resist entering this one because I work out frequently on the course, which is a huge local favorite. It’s called Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park, a build-it-and-they-will come place that incorporates a crazy, 282-step riprap staircase as well as zigzag dirt trails to one of the best viewpoints in metropolitan Los Angeles.

My mind drifted to memories of races past, when I was a pretty fast 10k racer. That was back in my 30s; I’m 62 now. Wistful? No. I’ll never be a gazelle again. I was feeling gratitude for being able to run at all, after those various injuries and surgeries on my hips and one knee.

And I was aware of a stronger, more mature sense of who I am than I ever had during my harder-core racing days. I had nothing to prove. I fell in with a friendly cohort of graybeards, all of us joking about being happy if we just complete this thing as we dutifully ambled way back behind the rabbits, both out of respect and out of fear of getting trampled if we did otherwise. There was a lot of friendly geezer banter. We exchanged injury stories. Someone hollered, “Beer bellies and bald spots to the back, please.”

I liked this version of myself. All I wanted to do was be outdoors in the company of others who wanted to be outdoors in the company of others, all of us committed in our own way to being our best. I was here to have fun. It wasn’t a competition. It was an expression of health.

Now, admittedly, the presence of a lot of other runners was an energizing contagion. There was spirit in the air that I don’t feel during my quotidian workouts. But as pro athletes say in clichéspeak, I was just going to run my race. I’d pay no attention to what others were doing.

The early going was mostly downhill, which is not at all the strong suit for a masters athlete who values his skeletal system. Multitudes with spongier joints than mine left me in the dust. Downhills are pretty much a tippy-toe affair for me these days. But when we bottomed out and started the 320-foot climb up a winding road I call Alpe d’Huez (after a notorious climb in the Tour de France), a funny thing happened—I felt great. Nearly everyone around me was walking. I jogged past dozens of athletes of all ages.

I felt proud. Not competitive. Just proud.

Hey, I was still way, way back in the pack. We still had to repeat the downhill, then the climb up that crazy-steep stone staircase, many of the 282 steps 14 to 18 inches high. My heartrate maxed out. A calf muscle momentarily cramped up on me.

But I mustered a little burst on those last few stairs, topped out, and looked out at the world and a sea of athletes, some still climbing up the steps, others drinking and posing for hero shots. It felt more like a celebration than a race. I thought, Really, racing at any age can simply be an expression of health and togetherness. Nothing to take too seriously. But definitely something to feel proud about. And, yes,  do again.

[For those scoring at home, I finished fourth in the 60–69 age group, and 107th out of 231 overall. Yeah, of course I checked the results. Competitive juices? Well, let’s just say I intend to do better next time.]

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Be Like Jack (LaLanne, That Is): The King of Fitting It In

OPMD* 5: Perseverance

By Andrew Tilin

Some days we’re far richer in inspiration than time. So how about we share—via a little fitness nostalgia and video of a 90-year-old pushup monster—a reminder that you can squeeze in some physical activity at almost any time and  age?

Deep breaths at the desk; 20 minutes of walking or hitting some stairs during a coffee break; a gentle stretch of those tight shoulders while cooking; or perhaps 22 pushups before taking your bedtime shower.

Today’s memory-fueled OPMD (Old Person Move of the Day) comes courtesy of Jack LaLanne (RIP) and his wife, Elaine LaLanne (still kicking; and honest, that’s her name). According to the couple’s eponymous and swaggering website, LaLanne (who died in 2011) was “The Godfather of Modern Fitness.” So why shouldn’t the site strut? LaLanne was a very impressive turnaround project, going from a junk food–eating teen to Mr. America, to, for 34 years, a pioneering, feisty, tireless, unitard-wearing fitness instructor beamed by television camera into America’s homes.

There’s so much more of a LaLanne story to tell, and we here at TMA are suckers for inspiration. So figure that from time to time, we’ll celebrate this fitness legend. He was the ultimate masters athlete. And today, whether  breathing or not, he can take us middle-aged athletes to new places.

For now, why don’t you think about dropping down and giving us—and yourself—22. Or even 10. Five.

You could never tell the ever-salty Jack LaLanne that you were too tired, too busy, or too old.

“Don’t talk age!” LaLanne once barked to  writer Don Katz. “Age has nothing to do with it.”

Apparently, it really doesn’t. Here’s 90-year-old Elaine LaLanne, recently pumping out 22 pushups.

*Old Person Move of the Day

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Oksana Chusovitina by Thomas Coex, Getty Images

Rio’s OLDlympics, Where Middle-Aged Athletes Reigned

By Andrew Tilin

We here at The Masters Athlete enjoyed a significant game-within-the-Games during the just-concluded Rio Olympics. We’re talking about the Oldlympics—brilliant performances by middle-aged competitors. The drama was plentiful, and impressive.

Over the course of these 31st Games, middle-aged athletes not only reminded us that people over 40 can enjoy world-class fitness and skill, but also admirable passion and grace. “Gratuitous,” however, the graybeard contingent was not. These are the Olympics; you don’t earn a national-team slot by reminding your coach of some treasured auntie.

The 40-plus crowd came to Brazil looking for podiums, and some of them took home hardware. But our TMA gold goes to 41-year-old Uzbekistan gymnast Oksana Chusovitina (pictured above), who finished seventh in the women’s vault. For various reasons, we—and many others—think that the five-foot, 100-pound Chusovitina stood ridiculously tall.

“How many out there do you see like her?” says Jeb Tolley, a one-time elite gymnast who has owned Gymstrada Gymnastics in Virginia Beach, Virginia,  for over 40 years.

“One.”

Back Back Back in the Saddle

For middle-aged athletes, the 2016 Summer Olympics started beautifully. Only five days after the opening ceremonies and just hours before her 43rd birthday, American cyclist Kristin Armstrong (unrelated to Lance Armstrong) earned her third consecutive gold medal in the women’s individual time trial. Making Armstrong’s feat even more impressive: The mom with a day job rode hard for a good portion of the 88-mile women’s Olympic road race only three days earlier. The amazing Armstrong, who in a testimony to her talent, wisdom, and training had only come out of cycling retirement in early 2015, essentially called the road race a warmup.

Other great middle-aged moments emerged. Equestrian medalists included Germany’s 48-year-old Ingrid Klimke and 52-year-old US athlete Phillip Dutton. Dutton was competing in his sixth Olympics, and came from as far back as 15th place during the competition to win bronze in individual eventing. The shooting competitions were dotted with 50-somethings, too, and 41-year-old Hoang Xuan Vinh won the 10 meter air pistol event. The victory was Vietnam’s first ever Olympic gold.

Honor on the Track

And when lung power mattered at least as much as firepower? Statistically speaking, American marathoner Meb Keflezighi, 41, who won silver a dozen years ago at the Athens Games, finished a dispiriting 33rd. But Keflezighi—who courtesy of bad luck and a bad stomach ended up vomiting, dry-heaving, and falling his way to the finish, did not complain. Instead he saluted the event and his competition, and performed pushups at the finish line. Aussie Scott Westcott, 40, finished 81st.

American Bernard Lagat, who at 41 participated in his fifth Summer Games, won bronze in the men’s 5,000-meter race, and then he didn’t: Lagat crossed the finish line a credible sixth and, briefly, moved up to third when runners ahead of him were temporarily disqualified for technical infractions.

“To disqualify people when they didn’t gain an advantage is not the right spirit,” a respectful Lagat told reporters. “I like to know I earned my medal.”

Jo Pavey, the 42-year-old British runner who finished 15th in the 10,000-meter final (and two years ago won the same event at the European Championships, 10 months after giving birth to her second child), told nymag.com that her athletic achievements nowadays come without visiting a gym. She’s got kids.

“I do exercises in the lounge, often while multitasking, or with children sitting on me,” said Pavey.

That same excellent story largely focused on the increasing potential of aging bodies. An equally informative si.com story addresses age-related performance of notably young and old Olympians, citing how older endurance athletes have become increasingly adept at maintaining their cardiovascular capabilities. In short, they work hard, and take their rest and recovery very seriously.

“The trick for the older elite endurance athlete,” wrote Mayo Clinic human-performance expert Michael J. Joyner on si.com, “is to keep the intensity of their training up and at the same time avoid injury.”

A Gymnast Older than Grandma

But with sincere nods to our impressive cohort of aging endurance jocks—as well as equestrian and pistol-wielding Olympians—our top Oldlympics honors still go to gymnast Chusovitina. Rio was the Uzbeki athlete’s seventh Olympics (during her career, she has competed for several countries—it’s a long story). She won a gold for the former Soviet Union in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games.

What makes Chusovitina singular is that she is truly singular. According to research cited by Joyner, while Olympic track and field athletes continue to trend older, Olympic gymnasts keep getting younger. In Rio competitions that were packed with teenage girls, 22-year-old US gymnast Aly Raisman answered to the nickname “Grandma.” Chusovitina’s son Alisher, meanwhile, is 17.

How does Chusovitina do it?

“She has to condition every day,” says Tolley, the longtime Virginia Beach gymnastics teacher, who has sent many students onto collegiate gymnastics programs, and has worked with national team athletes. “It’s constant training.”

Tolley says that Olympic-caliber gymnasts often train twice daily, frequently logging seven hours of gym time before going to bed. They work endlessly on speed, power, balance, flexibility, and yes, chutzpah.

Chusovitina told The New York Times that she only trains once daily for as little as two hours, and that she frequently fuels herself on coffee and dark chocolate. Over the years—the decades—she’s also had remarkably few injuries, and yet in Rio Chusovitina still attempted arguably the hardest vault of them all. The Produnova consists of a front handspring followed by 2.5 somersaults. Many gymnasts won’t attempt it.

Chusovitina didn’t nail the landing, but thankfully she also avoided mishap. She finished seventh out of eight vault finalists, and yet still won wide praise and media attention.

“Holy Geez… and I Can’t Even Touch My Toes,” tweeted none other than an admiring Sarah Palin.

“Chusovitina’s skill level has risen some, but she’s staying pretty much the same,” Tolley told me. “But hey—all I know is, when I was 41? I wasn’t competing.”

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Quiet Your Creaks With a Foam Roller

OPMD* 4: Body Maintenance

By Andrew Tilin

You age, your body’s key connective tissue steadily degrades, and you purchase a piece of curious therapy equipment to become more pliable. Then you quickly surmise that your new foam roller delivers thumbscrew-intensity levels of torture. Soon the roller sits upright and unused in a corner of your room. It becomes a mini coat rack.

Rescue that roller! Growing proof indicates that a foam roller effectively soothes a middle-aged athlete’s groans and creaks. It really can make you feel better. The key is to familiarize yourself with the tool—we’ll help ease the introduction—because according to researchers, you’ll feel looser and less sore after strenuous workouts.

Foam rollers and their related technologies, which come in the form of stick-rollers, massage balls, and other self-massaging devices, all at least partly exist to perform one duty: myofascial release.

Fascia is like both a second skin and an internal framework—membranous connective tissue that works invisibly to stabilize, position, anchor, and protect muscles and organs. But over time or due to injury or stress, areas of our fascia can become tacky and uncooperative. Aging muscles and fascia can stick together, sort of like overcooked pasta. These adhesions cause tightness, strain, and pain.

Research argues the case for rolling. A small, recent study demonstrated that, following intense exercise, foam rolling reduces muscle soreness. A 2015 review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy (IJSPT) surveyed more than a dozen peer-reviewed studies on self-myofascial release (SMR) and found that such work largely, if not temporarily, provides relief. Businesses and websites preach SMR therapies as cornerstones of fitness.

But the more important foam-rolling question is, how do you best do it? Unfortunately, no definitive methodology for foam-rolling and other self-massage exists. To some extent, our bodies are the dough and the devices are our rolling pins. Flatten those lumps.

“Due to the heterogeneity of methods among studies,” wrote the authors of the IJSPT’s 2015 review, “there currently is no consensus on the optimal SMR intervention.”

Two established foam-roller companies, however, are in agreement on key SMR strategies.

“Don’t wait to roll until you have a big problem,” says Addaday’s Chelsea Sodaro.

“Some foam rolling,” says TriggerPoint’s Janelle Ronquillo, “is better than none.”

Indeed, bodyworkers frequently prescribe rolling or other forms of self-massage about every other day, even for just 10 concentrated minutes at a time (consider rolling while you watch TV).

Back to that initial pain. If the act of rolling really hurts—as it does for many knotted-up folks—start with less rolling per session. TriggerPoint suggests that beginners might give the therapy but one minute at a time.

Also, consider a relatively soft roller (Melt Method’s Soft Roller ($70),TriggerPoint’s CORE Roller ($30-$60)), or a gentle massage stick (Addaday’s Type A+ Ultra Roller ($47)).

The more you roll and/or self-massage, the less painful the process becomes, the firmer the tool you might consider (Addaday athlete and two-time Olympian Kara Goucher is pictured above  on the knobbier Nonagon ($45)).

Here are some additional guidelines, and a couple self-massage how-to videos, to get you started.

Self-Myofascial Release at a Glance

  • Work your way up. Perhaps roll as little as one body section per session: calves (lower legs), quadriceps (upper legs), glutes (butt), and back.
  • Massage particularly tender and knotted areas in at least two directions—up and down, and side to side.
  • In order to relieve a single point’s acute pain, try pressuring that one point for anywhere from several seconds to half a minute. But rolling should never equal suffering. Roll around any points that create intense discomfort.
  • Breathe deeply while you roll, as if receiving a massage. You’ll move more slowly (some fitness instructors recommend only an inch rolled per second). You’ll also better relax muscles—which is particularly key when rolling out your lower back.
  • Ideally, roll before and after exercise.
  • With experience, dig into other areas like the pectorals, hamstrings, and upper arms. And simultaneously stretch while applying pressure to problem areas.

Roll out your lower legs:

Take a massage stick to your lower back:

*Old Person Move of the Day

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running2

Zwift Gets Some Running Shoes

By Andrew Tilin

Try as they may, sometimes Robin Roberts and Matt Lauer don’t feel like welcome company. You’re at the gym and on a treadmill, squeezing in and sweating out some miles ahead of another workday, and the whole endeavor feels solitary. No matter how many Today show smiles you see on the club TV just above you, the televised folks just aren’t breathing hard. No matter that you’re running alongside a guy pushing through a workout on the treadmill next to yours.

But the lonely days of indoor-running might soon end. And the advantages of an emerging technology might even make you think twice about running outside on any but the nicest of days.

Why? The answer is Zwift, a gaming app that for two years has turned indoor cycling into a video game played around the world by at-home riders pedaling their avatars over virtual mountains. Now Zwift may soon come to running. Earlier this month, ZwiftBlog.com reported that Zwift lead game developer Jon Mayfield has been running fictional roads—via treadmill—that until now have been dedicated to cycling. Check out the screenshot of Mayfield’s avatar, above.

I believe that Zwift could very well overhaul the experience of indoor running. It certainly has transformed the experience of indoor cycling. I’ve spent the better part of a year cycling on Zwift, and my story about the experience will appear in the October 2016 print edition of Outside magazine.

Here’s how Zwift works. I set up my own bike on a trainer and position it to face my computer screen—as do Zwift “gamers” from around the world, all of us riding together on one of several courses that are exotically scenic and surprisingly realistic (Zwift rotates the venues).

Thanks to a bit of wireless wizardry delivered by Bluetooth and ANT+ technologies, pedaling gets harder when I’m climbing a Zwift hill, and easier when I descend. When I’m chasing a bunch of other Zwift riders, whether or not they’re real, I think less about the effort and more about keeping up. I’m exercising, having fun, and weird as it may seem, feeling like I’m part of a community. Barrier to entry has its costs, as a “smart trainer” can run many hundreds to over $1,000. Zwift membership costs another $10 monthly.

Mayfield’s Zwift runs haven’t been some poorly kept secret—he posted his workouts, plus images, on the sports-oriented social networking site Strava. Obviously Zwift is working on the requisite technology, which likely involves considerable communication between running treadmill and software. Since Zwift already employs electronics to control the resistance on that stationary trainer for cycling, it’s a safe bet that they can pull off the same effect on a treadmill. You could run hills at home.

Zwift runners would enjoy more than community during their workouts. Not to sound old and a little paranoid, but imagine runs where you don’t have to worry about dogs, cars, or cyclists. Where you never trip on bad or broken pavement. Zwift roads never have black ice, and you won’t have to carry pepper spray, no matter what time of day you run. Run any pace you like, and you’re guaranteed to go, uninterrupted, as long as you want, and past trees and beaches. You’ll probably be able to wave at other runners, who like you never before thought that gaming and exercise could successfully co-exist.

Company insiders say more running-oriented news from Zwift should come in the next two months.

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Five Reasons to Stay Fit in Middle Age That Might Surprise You

by Bob Howells

Middle-age fitness undoubtedly enhances our daily quality of life, but there are other less-heralded yet excellent reasons for older athletes to become or remain active. Surviving a shark attack or heart attack, to name two. Read on…

1. Survive Shark Attacks

The shark didn’t know who it was messing with.

When Maria Korcsmaros, 52, was wheeled into the emergency room after a Newport Beach shark attack over this past Memorial Day Weekend, she had tooth marks and lacerations from shoulder to pelvis, plus an open chest wound and rib fractures. She had lost a pint of blood. After three hours of surgery, the doctors said that Korcsmarcos survived because she was fit. Read the Los Angeles Times account here.

If Korcsmaros hadn’t been in good shape, she arguably would have never reached the ER. But the personal trainer and triathlete was able to tread water after the attack until she was rescued. Despite the shredded skin and trauma.

“[Her] wounds would have bled a lot, and she was able to tread water and hold her own until help arrived,” an attending E.R. doctor told the Times. “That’s pretty remarkable.”

Not that we want to go around taunting great whites. But if one decides we look tasty, apparently we have a better chance of surviving by entering the fray with a triathlete’s level of fitness.

2. Cope With Heat

Ever notice that your more sedentary friends wilt in the heat quicker than you do? We’re not just talking during exercise; we’re talking about while mowing the lawn, walking the dog, or rocking in the porch swing.

Those workouts of yours have made you more than strong. You’re a trained sweating machine.

Perspiration is one of the body’s most effective cooling mechanisms. Your body dilates blood vessels near the skin to transfer core heat to the skin, and the heated surface dissipates heat and aids in the evaporation of sweat. The entire process renders you cooler. Unfortunately, the process becomes less and less efficient as we age.

However, as longtime elite cycling coach Chris Carmichael points out in this excellent Web post, fitness at any age facilitates the functioning of our natural cooling mechanisms. Heat transfer to the skin happens quicker. Sweat volume amps up.

Acclimation is a big help in the heat, too. But fitness has a way of mimicking acclimation. “Training induces a lot of the characteristics that you typically see in somebody that is actually heat-acclimated,” says Heather Wright, a research officer in the Flight Research Lab at the National Research Council Canada in Ottawa.

Don’t get cocky. You still need to hydrate, dress appropriately, maintain your electrolyte levels, and so on. But being fit gives you a real edge when the temperature soars.

3. Deal With Pain

Anyone who exercises regularly knows about endorphins, that exercise-induced release of feel-good chemicals in the body that temporarily alleviates minor (and sometimes major) discomforts. But this New York Times piece by our friend Gretchen Reynolds cites a study that suggests there may be something more significant going on.

The cited study showed that a group of exercisers was far more tolerant of pain than a control group of non-exercisers. The induced pain was unrelated to exercise, by the way. And the more that the test subjects exercised, the more they could live with the pain. Reynolds implies that the relatively modest study (two-dozen subjects) can’t be called definitive. But scientists think that such results pose hope for people with chronic pain—something that dogs plenty of us in middle age.

4. Survive a First Heart Attack

Heart attack? You’re thinking, I exercise to prevent a heart attack!

Bravo. But whether you’re an exerciser or a sloth, it could happen, and if it does, your chances of surviving afterward are greatly enhanced if you’re of the non-sloth persuasion.

This Johns Hopkins survey, based on the medical records of 2,000 men and women (average age: 62), showed that exercisers were 40 percent less likely to die after a first heart attack than other, less fit subjects. Sadly, one-third of those with lower fitness scores died within a year of their first heart attack. Fitness, in this survey anyway, was defined by the intensity with which the surveyed subjects could exercise.

Considering that about 550,000 Americans a year experience a first heart attack, the numbers suggest that it’s time to get up off the couch.

Study author Dr. Michael Blaha said that this research also bolsters the evidence that regular exercise reduces the risk of a heart attack, as well as death from all causes.

5. Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

Zombies are ubiquitous these days, and their taste for human flesh suggests another very strong reason to get in shape. Just because we skew above the average age in the human population is no reason to think we oldsters are automatic zombie fodder. Not if we’re smart. According to the folks at nerdfitness.com, that means first and foremost being hard to catch.  Favor the fast-twitch approach. In other words, work some sprints into your regimen, because those first 40 yards are so may make all the difference. It’s unlikely you and the zombies will be toeing the line for a 10k.

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Tools and Inspiration for Lifelong Fitness