Patience is the difference between young bucks and successful older athletes. My younger patients set fitness and performance goals and go after them. My older patients set goals and proceed in a step-wise, cautious fashion. My younger patients are often injured. My older patients — especially those recovering from an injury or surgery — avoid repeat injuries by building solid foundations for their workouts and sports.
Nothing demonstrates the difference between the old and the young than CrossFit. At CrossFit, the young set personal bests every time they can. Their volume of weight training, amount of weight, and intensity increases steadily. And their injuries from overuse and technique errors fill orthopedic surgeons’ offices worldwide.
My older fitness-addicted patients learn their lessons. They return to fitness training after an injury with an appreciation of the time and effort it takes to heal — and so they cautiously increase their weights without hurry. Their return rate for repeat injuries is a fraction of my younger patients. My older CrossFit patients, even the nationally competitive ones, turn their addictive personalities to physical therapy and rehab; they are in my clinic every day after surgery, and sometimes twice a day. They follow the therapist’s recommendations and gain range of motion before they focus on gaining strength.
It is my middle age patients who are a problem. They believe they are young bucks but reinjure in weekend warrior work outs and games. They heal more slowly than they want to believe. They see the therapists once or twice a week. They get compensation injuries such as back pain when they are recovering from a knee surgery. I know. I am that patient.
Patience, we are told, is a virtue. But from what I see, it’s is an art form. It takes training. Delaying the gratification of intense exercise means regulating the adrenaline, endorphin and testosterone-driven forces within us. On that score, gender matters, too. My female patients overwhelming outperform my male patients in patience at every age. Many top women runners and triathletes don’t even start their sports until after age 30. After an injury they quickly reset their priorities, introducing more balance into their workouts. Maybe that’s why they excel, at older ages, more than their male peers.
Patience is not innate. It is acquired by recognizing that more victories are won with strategy than with impulse and emotion. Patience grows from experience with failure, and by learning to excel from that experience rather than be diminished by it. Patience comes from accumulating skills and technique, and refining them. Patience is the art form that expresses the wisdom of the long view. Patience keeps you out of my office.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.