When many people reach age 50 they tend to start saying things such as: “I’m getting old.” “I’m over the hill.” “These aches and pains in my body are a part of life, there’s nothing I can do about it.” However, now there are even more middle-aged people who are defying aging and not looking to settle in Florida and watch the sun set over the water. In fact, according to many fitness experts, there have been a growing number of people over 50 who have begun what they call – a second act of their life – by taking up martial arts.
Training in martial arts offers physical benefits for older people. This is a time when they start to experience health problems, e.g. cardiovascular disease, weight gain, menopause, osteoporosis, joint problems, and lost of bone density. By engaging in martial arts the training includes exercises that help improve cardio conditioning, strength and power, endurance, weight lost, muscle mass, and toning. It has also been noted that it reduces stress, builds confidence and self-esteem, and aids in cognitive awareness, which is of particular importance to people older than 50, who may be starting to experience memory loss.
In a 2004 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine, it stated the benefits of martial arts for middle-aged people. For their study researchers had nine middle-aged practitioners of Soo Bahk Do, a Korean martial art, tested against a group of non-exercisers. Both control groups focused on exercises for aerobic capacity, strength, flexibility, and body-fat percentage. The results revealed the martial artists, ages 40-60, significantly out performed the non-exercisers.
“Strength, coordination and endurance diminish in old age. These are precisely the things that martial arts can train very well and help improve,” noted Martin Halle, a sports medicine physician at the Technical University of Munich.
In fact, hospitals see over 300,000 older patients annually for broken hips because of falls. Additional benefits for older people who engage in martial arts include improved balance, coordination and range of motion, which helps them avoid falls.
Which Style Is Best?
Be wise when it comes to the style of martial arts you want to take. You know your body, your fitness level and your limitations. Research the various styles to find the best fit for your age, your body, your fitness goal, and what you’re trying to achieve.
Muay Thai, Boxing, Tae Kwon Do are some of the styles that are considered hard because striking is involved. The kicking, knees and elbow drills may also be too hard on your joints and limbs. Unless, you want to engage in combat in class or in the ring there is no need for practitioners to go home with blood, bruises or broken bones. Kung Fu, Aikido or Tai Chi, which are considered softer forms of martial arts, may be better suited for your body as they don’t include sparring or rapid, explosive moves. Also, be mindful of styles such as Judo, Aikido, or Jiu-Jitsu. Most people over 50 may not want to start out with those grappling or throwing styles. Getting thrown to a mat or defending yourself against an armbar or rear-naked choke is hard on the body for any age.
When it comes to elder abuse it can include physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Older people are at greater risk for abuse due to factors associated with aging. Elder sexual assault has not been well researched and is often not recognized or acknowledged. Perpetrators of sexual assault search for vulnerable persons to victimize. The physical and cognitive impairments that can be a part of aging make older people more vulnerable. Being dependent on family members or professional caregivers puts them at an even higher risk. Senior citizens are also less likely to report sexual abuse due to the dependency on others, and they feel a greater sense of shame and guilt.
Martial arts training will sharpen older people’s mental state, which will help reduce cognitive impairments, plus improve strength and cardio conditioning, flexibility and power throughout their entire body. Plus, people over age 50 will learn how to protect themselves against rape, sexual assault or other violent attacks.
Any good martial arts instructor will understand that it’s important to train older beginning students differently than teenagers or those in their 20s and 30s. The goal is to help those over 50 feel like they can participate and reap the benefits and to minimize the chance of injury. This is why most schools don’t require middle-aged students to engage in contact sparring. Not saying they can not participate, if that is their goal, but it’s not necessary. The key is to listen to those nagging aches or twinges as your guide, and go at your own pace even if you do train with students who are half your age, and stronger, faster and more flexible.
One great thing about training middle-aged people is that adults grasp concepts faster than children. According to Jeff Albright, who teaches Aikido, in Castle Rock, CO, he enjoys teaching older students. “We have a tendency to attract more of an intellectual, mature and introspective student, which may come with age, I suppose,” Albright stated.
When researching schools be sure to take time to visit each one first. Talk to the head instructor and notice the quality and availability of the instructors. How do the instructors interact with the students? Are they patient? Do they answer questions? Are the instructors qualified to teach? What’s their background in fitness and martial arts? Is there a high degree of respect among the other students? Does the school allow you the opportunity to train for a short period of time without you having to shell out cash or get roped into a long contract on your first visit? Do the school hours fit into your schedule? Are their prices within your budget?
As with any exercise program, anyone new to martial arts, especially someone over the age of 50, should see their doctor or health care provider for an exam first. Many older people have medical conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart disease, and they don’t even know it. Also, let your instructor know of any previous health problems or injuries you may have had or any medications you are currently taking.
The important thing about taking up martial arts as a middle-age student is that you want to feel comfortable at the school where you will be investing your time and energy, hopefully for many years to come.
By Jillian Bullock
You can also follow The MMA Zone on Twitter here.