We live in a world geared towards the young. In the professional sports world elite athletes are considered over the hill after the age of forty. We also see this in the Sport Karate arena, where it is rare to see competitors over the age of forty, unless in a Masters event. However, martial arts offer many benefits to the older practitioner, which are not limited by age or competition.
Ageing is a fact of life that catches up with all of us. Studies have shown that after the age of thirty we begin to lose flexibility in our joints. Also, there is a reduction in muscle mass and strength. Bones can also become more brittle, sometimes leading to osteoporosis. These effects are doubled in those that do not take any form of exercise. Sounds depressing.
However, training offers a great way of reducing the effects of ageing. As we age, we need to train smarter. Our training focus should be about maintaining our health. To help combat some of the factors of ageing martial arts can offer the older practitioner the following benefits:
The cardiovascular system comprises of the heart, veins, and arteries. It helps transport oxygenated blood around the body. Weakness in the cardiovascular system is often characterised by weakness, tiredness, and shortness of breath. At its worst a poor cardiovascular system can lead to a heart attack. Studies have shown that the best way to improve the cardiovascular system is to engage in activities that cause the heart to work harder. This has the effect of making the heart stronger, which in turn allows it to operate for longer periods in a healthier way. Thus more oxygenated blood is pumped around the body.
Strength & Power
As previously stated, one of the effects of ageing is a reduction in muscle mass and bone density. Resistance training in the martial arts can increase muscle mass and strength. Again, studies have shown that bone density can increase with some of resistance training such as callisthenics or lifting weights. It was once thought that lifting weights had a negative impact on martial arts training. This has now been proved to be largely incorrect.
Endurance & Stamina
One of the undisputed benefits of martial arts training is an improvement in aerobic endurance through regular training. Training regularly has the effect of building muscle endurance. This means that activities can be performed longer without one becoming tired quickly or developing overly sore muscles.
Carrying extra body weight can provide unwanted stress on the heart. Also carrying unneeded extra body weight can lead to obesity and stress on joints and ligaments. Martial arts coupled with a healthy diet leads to proper weight management. Martial arts training burns a lot of calories and increases the body’s metabolic rate. Over time the body will reach its ideal weight. By reducing the risk of obesity, the chances of developing obesity related diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure is greatly reduced.
Flexibility & Balance
Flexibility and balance are an integral part of martial arts. Regular stretching will improve flexibility. With improved flexibility comes better mobility and less aches and pains in the joints.
I am now in my fifties and I am still training regularly. Part of this has been because I’ve changed the focus of my training. I now focus on maintaining good health. Also, I have realised that I am no longer twenty-one. This is what Gichin Funakoshi tried to impart to his students in his 20 Guiding Precepts. Karate is a life-long pursuit, and the key is to adapt how we train as our body ages.
More than ever, one needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In this post I have tried to look at some of the key benefits that martial arts have offered me as I have got older.
In summary, to reduce the effects of ageing, try to focus on the following:
- Listen to your body
- Do some form of resistance training to increase strength
- Always warm-up and stretch to increase flexibility and better joint mobility
- Concentrate on proper form and technique to move in an optimal way
- Watch what you eat
Above all, enjoy the journey. Ageing does not have to be a limiting factor on how we train.