Recovery & Aging

By: Martin Leland, MD

A Decade Older – But No Less Active!

Have you noticed that your body takes longer to recover after workouts than it did when you were younger? Is this a normal part of aging? Is it a sign that you are doing damage to your body?

It depends. As we age, our muscles take longer to recover from strenuous activity. The soreness we feel a day or two after a new or particularly strenuous workout is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS. It is caused by the microscopic tearing of muscle fibers that occur during exercise. As the muscles heal, they rebuild stronger, leading to increased strength. As we age, this rebuilding process takes a little longer and, as a result, the soreness can take longer to resolve. However, as you get used to a particular workout, the soreness should decrease with time and almost disappear. Varying your exercise routine may cause a normal increase in your post-workout soreness. If your exercises aren’t changing but your pain is increasing, it is a sign that you may be making an injury worse.

DOMS is very different from the acute, sharp pain you feel after a joint sprain or a muscle strain. Both can improve with rest (give your body a chance to recover), ice (decrease swelling), gentle stretching and anti-inflammatory medications. If this doesn’t help, it may be time to seek professional help.