<p>Ways for aging athletes to keep the spring in their step:</p>
<p><b>Keep things in balance. </b>Balance is a learned skill, "although we tend to forget that," said Mia Bremer, fitness manager at Friendship Village of Bloomington. "As toddlers, we had to learn how to balance, and as we get older, we need to continue to train ourselves."</p>
<p>Improper balance can lead to pain in knees, hips and backs. She recommends strengthening the body's core muscles -- basically, the stomach and lower-back muscles -- as well as doing balancing exercises, which can start with something as simple as standing on one foot.</p>
<p><b>Focus on form. </b>Runners often wax poetic about "zoning out" as they pad along their familiar routes, but don't let inattention destroy your bliss. "Pay attention to the mechanics as you execute movement," said Sarah Hankel, a personal trainer at the Lifetime Fitness club in St. Louis Park. If you've developed bad habits, fixing them requires focus. "It takes 3,000 reps for a muscle to acclimate to a new movement pattern," she said.</p>
<p><b>Remember the basics. </b>The importance of keeping hydrated increases with age. "Ligaments and tendons need the fluid," said Mark Richards, vice president of program development for the Welcyon Fitness After 50 clubs. The experts also urge paying heightened attention to nutrition and sleep patterns.</p>
<p><b>Follow the rules. </b>We've all heard the guidelines about starting gradually so our muscles can warm up and then allowing for a cool-down period at the end of an exercise session. Aging bodies need those allowances more than ever. Time is often the villain in this scenario, Hankel said. "If we only have 45 minutes [to work out], there's an urge to go fast right away to make the most of the time. Be patient."</p>
<p><b>Stretch it out. </b>Tight muscles and tendons can pull the body out of alignment. "As we get older, the harder it is on the body if we don't stretch," Bremer said.</p>
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