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Exercise Heals at Any Age – Room for Debate – NYTimes.com.

Leon Benson

Leon S. Benson is an orthopedic surgeon at the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute. He also a clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, an associate editor of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

Updated May 11, 2012, 10:52 AM

Right off the bat, this seems like a no-brainer. A 45-year-old man on a skateboard? Midlife crisis: no question about it. And what could be more dangerous than a weekend warrior riding on a teenager’s toy? The inevitable crash qualifies as certainly embarrassing.

This inherently simple assessment, of course, is also wrong. As a 52-year-old man who participates in dog agility (running with Cooper, my Portuguese water dog, through an obstacle course), I can speak with some authority about why middle-aged men pursue apparently dangerous and embarrassing behavior.

Hip and knee replacements do not mandate many physical restrictions other than perhaps no jogging.

As I have gotten older (and questionably wiser), the importance of exercise has become clearer. Physical activity is the key to a healthy lifestyle. Participation in a sport you enjoy not only makes you happier but also healthier. Exercise in almost any form is a natural tonic for your body and has a positive effect on your weight, blood pressure, cardiac physiology and psychic balance.

As an orthopedic surgeon, certainly I must have a conflict of interest here. Perhaps my advice is just a ploy to enroll another patient with a broken wrist. Actually, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons supports exercise as a key step in maintaining bone health. Like any sport, the best way to participate safely is to follow the three rules: master the skills, understand the risks and use appropriate gear. So instead of discouraging skateboarders, the academy would recommend that skateboarders, of any age, practice before attempting complicated moves. They should understand how to minimize danger (staying out of traffic; avoiding rough surfaces) and wear wrist braces, knee guards and a helmet. These simple guidelines can be used to make any activity safer, and like the A.A.O.S. says, staying young is all about how you “Get Up, Get Out, and Get Moving!” Americans can stay healthy by being a nation in motion.

Leon Benson with his dog, Cooper. Leon Benson with his dog, Cooper.

And what about the fact that many middle-aged “athletes” have undergone hip or knee replacement surgery? The three rules of participation still apply because in most cases, hip and knee replacements do not mandate many physical restrictions other than perhaps no jogging. So most sports, like tennis, basketball, golf and swimming pose no greater risk in these patients. That goes for skateboarding too. Just remember to watch where you are going. But budding skateboarders should check with their orthopaedic surgeon to get specific advice! And remember the rules about distracted driving: don’t text and skateboard.

The 45-year-old skate boarder is truly inspiring and life-affirming. Safety is important but can be managed by following the three rules. Use common sense, but get out there and affirm your life! Remember that the relationship between exercise and health is simply magical. Now if only I could teach Cooper how to ride a skateboard through a tire-jump.