Gotta Run: How to make the best of your yearly physical

Published 12:04 am Saturday, March 12, 2022

I have made sure to get my annual physical for as long as I can remember. Many active folks think if they exercise, eat well, and have managed to stay injury-free for years, then there is no real reason for a physical. But if you ask your doctor the right questions, you can get the information you need to boost athletic performance, decrease your risk of injury and disease, and generally feel better as you get older. The key point here is to ask questions. Most of the time, we don’t, just hoping to get the physical done and not hear anything bad.

It’s easy to feel invincible through your 20s and 30s, but your bone density starts declining around 30, says Brad Abrahamson, a Colorado-based sports-medicine physician. Vitamin D3 can help mitigate these losses and reduce risk of stress fractures, but many of us struggle to get enough vitamin D through diet and sun exposure alone. I found myself to be one of those during this past winter. Ask your doctor to test your D3 level; if it falls below 50 micrograms per milliliter, then you need to get a high-quality supplement. He could also order a ferritin test if you avoid meat, says Ashley V. Austin, a sports-medicine doctor and team physician at the University of Washington. This measures your stores of iron, an essential mineral found primarily in meat that supports muscle recovery and bone health. I had this one too.

During your 40s and 50s, aches and pains can settle in. But as Ryan J. Lingor, a sports-medicine doctor at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, puts it: “We don’t need to accept the fact that we’re going to feel worse as we get older.” Describe your diet and exercise routine to your doctor and ask if there are any modifications they recommend. Research suggests that certain foods — including those that are high in healthy fats, such as avocados and nuts — can decrease inflammation and slow arthritis. You should also note any discomfort in bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, or nerves, no matter how minor, says Abrahamson. Doing so gives you a chance to address the issue now, through physical therapy and other treatments, rather than undergoing joint replacement later. If you are menopausal, discuss your calcium and D3 intake. Make sure you’re getting enough to reduce your risk of bone-health issues like osteoporosis (brittle bones) and osteopenia (thin bones), advises Austin. Regular weight bearing exercise helps with both of these.

In your 60s and early 70s, your joints are likely worn down some from regular activity. Incorporating resistance bands into your exercise routine can strengthen your muscles and bones without stressing your joints, says Austin. Not familiar with resistance bands? There is lots of information online and your local gym professional should be able to help. Now is also the time to understand how any medication you take might impact your athletic performance and overall wellness. Statins have long term effects, a certain class of acid-reflux medicine known as proton pump inhibitors can deteriorate bone health and certain over the counter pain killers can damage the kidneys. Finally, map out your fitness goals for the next 30 years. Say you want to road bike deep into your retirement. Ask what steps you can take now that can help you achieve this goal, such as tweaking your routine to reduce impact on bones and joints.

On into your 70s and 80s, we are all affected by loss of muscle mass. If we don’t practice strength and conditioning exercises, we will become weaker and more prone to falls, Austin says. This is where assistive devices — hiking poles, knee braces and supportive, well-cushioned footwear, which can protect arthritic joints as you move — come in. Ask your doctor what they recommend. It’s also important during these years to lift light weights, so we can maintain the strength you need to safely perform everyday tasks. Discuss which preventive exercises you should be doing and how to incorporate them into your routine. Austin, for example, recommends chair squats, leg lifts and biceps curls.

Make your physical not only about testing results, but also a conversation about what’s ahead. We all need to keep the body moving.

Next up is the Mt. Hope 5K on March 26 at Salisbury Community Park. Just ahead of that, the spring Beginning Runners Class on March 22. More information is at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org .

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