Learning to Love Sprinting When You’re 40-Plus
Dr. Umar Burney – My love affair with sprinting came about like a classic cinematic screenplay: I was not looking for sprinting, but sprinting found me.
Like most love stories, it began when I was young. As a high school soccer player, my coaches moved me from an offensive position to a mid-position where I shared defensive duties. For some time, my instincts led me to stray into offensive plays during opposing teams’ counterattacks. To avoid being chewed out from the sidelines, I learned to sprint back into place. So began my relationship with sprinting that's continued for decades.
Today, I sprint not out of worry that I am in trouble, but to ward off health-related woes and to increase my overall physical abilities. Similar to sprinters of the medieval era who worked for royalty as intelligence officers, warriors, and scouts, I have honed my skills to ratchet up my fast running acumen.
Still, I am not immune to the physical detriments of age.
Now that I have moved past the ripe age of 40, I am watching peers lose their ability to participate in physical recreation. Their biggest complaints? A lack of speed and conditioning, leading to chronic conditions like arthritis, back discomfort, worn and torn cartilage, and a host of other concerns. As a result, some unwillingly retire their jerseys, footwear, and uniforms. But age should not be a barrier for fitness.
What my peers need is a heavy dose of the most efficient, glycogen-burning anaerobic activity I know: Sprinting.
Speed, not Stress
As a surgeon with an extremely hurried schedule, I understand the pitfalls of heading home and falling into a lazy trance. It is easier to lounge in front of the TV than to pick yourself off the sofa and head out for a brisk sprint, especially on a crisp, cold night. But the benefits of spending a mere 45 minutes moving — less than 4 percent of your entire day — are absolutely worth it.
Sprinting brings clarity of mind, releasing stress-busting endorphins and incinerating extra calories. Even if you can spare 10 minutes, it is easy to squeeze sprint-based running into your routine. Sure, you might want to launch into an 8-mile run instead, but time is often short.
This is where sprinting offers an ideal alternative. If you are like me and thrive on frequent small victories, the challenge and satisfaction of a muscle-exhausting, all-out sprint can be invigorating. Sprinting offers me a quick way to get my “runner’s high” on days when I’m too impatient.
I am not suggesting that sprinting carries zero risks. As an orthopedic surgeon, I realize not everyone is cut out for it. People with heart disease cannot support the sudden upsurge in blood flow and heart rate. Plus, others who have not appropriately stretched or conditioned their muscles might unduly strain their joints and ligaments, leading to muscle injuries.
What if you (and your physician) decide you are healthy enough to sprint? First, do not give up your preferred exercise regimen; just add in a bit of sprinting. In time, you may decide to make it a bigger part of your routine. Research shows that incorporating high-intensity sprinting spells into your fitness regimen can improve your personal longer-distance running records.
Think about it this way: If medieval courtiers could sprint while wearing gear that would make us cringe, you can try it, too. Not to mention that you can don joint-protecting running shoes instead of ill-fitting archaic footwear. Nothing but a lack of momentum is holding you back.
Dr. Umar Burney is an orthopaedic surgeon at Orthopaedic Specialists of Dallas, an orthopaedic surgery practice with three locations near Dallas that specializes in general orthopaedics, sports medicine and arthroscopy, partial and total joint replacement, trauma and fracture management, and pediatric orthopaedics.