Judd Jones: Healthy connective tissue

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Recently, I have had some friends and acquaintances experience serious muscle, tendon, joint and ligament injuries. In most cases, this resulted in corrective surgeries and a lengthy recovery process. In all cases, these folks were over 45 years old. This brings up a couple of aspects to think about as we age.

The first point to consider is how our hormone levels change due to aging. These changes affect both men and women, but in different ways. Hormones such as estrogens, androgens, and progesterone that diminish in women during the aging process have a direct effect on degenerative changes to joint and connective tissue, leading to health issues such as osteoarthritis. Men see some similar problems, but less pronounced in most cases. In men, the drop in testosterone leads to muscle loss and weaker musculoskeletal integrity. These changes in men can lead to torn muscles, added stress to connective tissue and severe injury.

New studies are finding that hormone replacement therapy can improve quality of life as we age and help avoid injury in physically active older people. Not everyone is a good candidate for hormone replacement therapy, but it is indeed worth checking with your primary care doctor or be referred to a physician that specializes in hormone treatment.

The second aspect that you should consider if you are over 30 is incorporating strength training regimens for your tendons, ligaments and connective tissue. Most people go to the gym to build muscle and work on body composition. Strengthening and conditioning your body’s critical connective tissue is often overlooked, even by many fitness professionals. Therefore, it is essential to be aware and plan your workout to include a full body workout, if you are an athlete or just physically active. The older you get and the better your efforts are at working tendons and ligaments along with maintaining muscle tone, it will be essential in avoiding critical injuries and enjoying a quality of life during the aging process.

Since tendons and ligaments are vital regarding physical exercising, they are essential leverage points for muscles to move your skeletal structure, allowing the muscles to carry the resistant and load of basic movement, lifting weight, and other daily activities.

It comes as no surprise that strengthening connective points in your body should be a focus in your training. So what can you do to start building and maintaining a full body workout that covers your connective tissue?

1. Keep in mind that targeting tendon and ligament exercises needs to be done through precise movements. It is often best to work with a certified personal trainer to ensure you have proper posture, action, and resistance.

2. Connective tissue strengthens in time. It’s a slow process compared to building muscle. You will need to work with a precisely targeted exercise program which will allow your body to adapt to the exercise, reducing the risk of injury. Less weight and resistance with more repetition is better for the targeted strengthening of connective tissue.

3. For tendons and connective tissue in the legs, try a slow squat regimen which is an excellent way you can strengthen vital connective structures in your legs. Be sure to work your core regularly to help control a slow, almost isometric method that is helpful for strengthening tendons and, for example, your pelvic hip complex.

4. Another area that can become weak and prone to injury is the shoulder girdle area which is made up of three primary bones: the clavicle, coracoid, and scapula. When you have tears and damage in this area, it can often be related to your rotator cuff, biceps, and loss of full motion. Working your shoulder area for flexibility and strengthening can prevent these very painful occurrences.

5. Working in almost every resistance exercise with half or partial range of motion and lighter weights can be a great way to build up your tendon and ligament strength. Often as we get older, we focus on full motion and heavier weights to build muscle. Your muscles outperform your connective tissue and leads to tears, ruptures, and breaks. Again, work with a knowledgeable trainer to keep all components equally strong to avoid injury.

6. Be sure to do a full body workout. Cover all aspects of each primary muscle group so you can build on the connective tissue for each group consistently. If you focus too much on one area, you could be setting yourself up for an injury in a connected area that is weaker. Often larger core tendons, for example, are over-strengthened and place pressure on weaker areas, which can cause injury such as tearing or ruptures in that weaker area. Keep your workouts complete and well balanced.

If you want to be active and healthy as you age and we all would like to avoid injury, be aware of the two factors that are often missed. Hormones diminish as we age and this can have a more significant impact on your physical structure more than you may think. Always keep in mind that you want a healthy connective system, so building on their strength is every bit as important as building muscle.


Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.


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