Olympic swimmer Dana Torres won three silver medals in Beijing in 2008 and set an American record in the women's 50-meter freestyle. At 41 years old, she was nearly twice the age of many of her competitors.

Torres is not the first athlete to compete at an elite level after age 40. Baseball Hall of Earner Nolan Ryan threw a no-hitter at age 44...golfer Jack Nicklaus won the Masters Tournament at age 46...quarterback George Blanda remained in the NFL until age 48...tennis star Martina

Navratilova won a US Open mixed doubles title at 49...and hockey player Goalie Howe played professional hockey until he was 52.

Here's what older athletes can teach us all about remaining physically active into middle age and beyond…

  • Fight the real enemy. The enemy isn't age—it's inactivity. The widely held belief that physical decline is inevitable once we pass 30 is a myth. There Is no scientific reason why we cannot continue to perform at or near our peaks into our 50s. Serious declines often can be staved off until our late 70s.

Most people over age 40 experience more precipitous physical declines not because their bodies fail them, but because they fail their bodies. The vast majority of Americans get less and less exercise as they age. This inactive lifestyle, not the passage of time, is the single greatest cause of their physical deterioration.

  • Push hard, but not all the time. Older :athletes must make a few concessions to their advancing age, but easing up on the throttle during workouts is not one of them. Don't just go for a walk.. so for a jog. Don't just try to repeat the same performance in each exercise session...shoot for faster times and additional reps. (Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.)

People over age 40 should not attempt to go all out all the time, however. Older bodies take longer to recover from strenuous workouts than younger bodies. Schedule a rest day without guilt after a physically challenging day.

Example: If you plan a weeklong hiking trip with the grandkids, schedule challenging hikes only every other day, with days off for relaxing at campsites in between.

If you can't see yourself taking a day off from exercise, at least select an activity that challenges a different muscle group.

  • Try to never get out of shape. Getting back in shape is good, but never getting out of shape is better. Athletes who remain physically competitive after age 40 usually don't have to worry about getting back in shape—most of them have never allowed themselves to get out of shape.

Example: Dara Tortes was swimming competitively just three weeks after giving birth.

For those who are in great shape, staying in shape is like taking a well-tuned sports car out for a spin. But for those who are out of shape, exercising is like pushing a broken car up a hill. Their hearts and lungs are inefficient, and their muscles arc weak. Exercise is unpleasant, so they avoid it.

The psychological challenge of getting back in shape can be equally daunting. Once middle-aged people let their fitness levels slide, they tend to assume that this decline is natural and inevitable, which makes it easy for them to surrender to the process. Those who never get out of shape continue to think of good health and physical fitness as their natural state and exercise as a natural part of their lives.

As difficult as rebounding from a period of inactivity can be, it will only become more difficult the longer this inactivity lasts. If you are out of shape, the best time to begin your return to fitness is today.

  • Ignore advancing age. Successful older athletes don't think of their age as a disadvantage—most don't even think of themselves as old. They feel young, think young and react with surprise when others suggest that competing at their age is unnatural.

Example: NHL hockey player Chris Chelios turned 47 last season. When asked how someone so old managed to stay in the league, he said, “I don't feel old."

When successful older athletes think about their age at all, they tend to focus on its advantages—decades of experience and improved technique. They believe that their younger competitors are at the disadvantage.

  • Work on injury-prevention muscles, not cosmetic muscles. Leave the bulging biceps to the younger athletes. The muscles that matter the most to those over 40 are the ones that help us avoid aches and injuries. Among the most important…
  • Rotator cuff muscles. Injuries of the rotator cuff (the muscles and tendons inside your shoulder) are extremely common among those over 40. These injuries make it painful to swim, swing a golf club or tennis racket, throw a baseball or do virtually anything else that involves the shoulder.

To strengthen the rotator cuff, use an exercise hand, placing one end under your right foot and the other end in your right hand. Raise the hand slowly in front of your body, keeping your elbow straight. Do one set of eight-to-10 reps. Work up to two sets. Repeat on the left side.

  • Abdominals and pelvic muscles. The secret to a healthy hack is a healthy front. Keep your abs and pelvic muscles toned, and hock pain is less likely. A key exercise is the plank. Lie on your stomach, hold in your abs and raise your body on your elbows and toes. Begin by holding for 30 seconds, and work up to two minutes.
  • Quads. Knee pain is not always caused 1w a problem with the joint itself. Strengthening the four large quad muscles on the front of your thighs can make your knees feel as good as new. Quad exercise: Place your hack against a wall with your feet about 18 inches in front of the wall. Place two rolled towels between your knees. and squeeze them with your knees Then lower ynor hack down the wall until your knees are bent about 60 degrees. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. and work up to doing it 10 times. Keep your stomach pulled in.
  • Don't forget flexibility and balance. Successful older athletes almost invariably understand that stretching and "equilibrium train-ing" are just as important as aerobic exercise and strength training.

Our muscles become shorter and stiffer as we age. This shortens our stride when we run and makes full, fluid 360-degree shoulder motion difficult when we swim, golf or play tennis. Daily stretching can allow us to move as we did when we were young.

Stretch the major muscle groups for 30 seconds every day, not just before physical activity. After age 65, double this stretching time to 60 seconds per stretch per muscle group.

Our natural equilibrium begins to decline in our 30s, but most people do not realize that their balance is slowly failing until they start to fall down, typically in their 60s or 70s.

The best way to slow equilibrium loss is to practice balancing every day.

An easy way: Stand on one foot as long as you can while doing the dishes or brushing your teeth, then switch.

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