Although we may feel no “older” than we did when we were 25 years old – in fact, because of wisdom, experience and accomplishments, we may even feel more vibrant and ‘alive’ – our bodies tend to sing a different tune. If you were very active in your earlier years then you know all too well the toll strenuous physical activity takes on you body as you get older. If you have led a more sedentary lifestyle you, too, know the unfortunate affects related to aging which may include: poor posture, weak muscles and stiff, achy joints.
Fitness as you age shouldn’t change much from what you’re currently doing (and if you’re not doing anything at all, I encourage you to find a fun activity that will allow you to get the minimum daily requirement of exercise for your age group) however, your body is changing, whether you feel it or not and there are important considerations for safely and effectively training beyond your 30s. Below is a list of 3 factors to consider to optimize your fitness routine!
- Weight matters: If you’re 48 years old bench pressing 400 lbs every “chest day”, ask yourself why. No judgment! From a physiological perspective, the stress you’re loading on your joints from lifting heavy weights may be detrimental to your body in the long run. Arthritis, joint pain, and chronic back pain may be the result of continuing to lift heavy weights on a regular basis. If you’re ok with that, then have at it but if longevity, maximum mobility and optimal physical function are a priority, keep the weights manageable and geared towards your fitness goals (i.e., for muscular endurance, rep ranges of 15-20 for 3 sets is ideal).
- Ignite the fire and cool the flame: Warming up and cooling down are necessary for anyone participating in moderate to strenuous physical activity. It becomes especially important when your body is in the early stages of the natural aging process, which includes the gradual breakdown (or “drying out”) of cartilage (the connective tissue that cushions your joints), a decrease in the elasticity of your tendons and ligaments and the accelerated decrease of muscle mass (which begins at age 35). Preparing your body for the rigors of your workout – whether you’re running a trail through the woods or prepping for a “Butts & Guts” class at your local fitness center, may be the major key to preventing injury during the activity. A proper warm-up routine is highly individual and the selection of exercises will depend on your current impairments and fitness level. Dynamic stretching is favored over static stretching and you want to ensure you dedicate at least 10 minutes to your warm up. Don’t have that amount of time? Make it. Better to spend an extra 10 minutes warming up than to be unnecessarily side-lined by a preventable injury (i.e., hamstring tear – ouch) suffered because of tight, stiff muscles.
Cooling down is equally important! Do not underestimate the value of normalizing your heart rate and bringing your body back to a baseline (neutral) state after moderate or strenuous physical activity. A good cool down will include exercises or movements that promote relaxation, regulate breathing and help to decrease short-term muscle and joint pain. Spending 5-10 minutes doing a low-impact activity such as walking or static stretching is a great way to restore your body to its resting state.
- Love it or leave it alone. Well, you don’t have to love working out but you should at least like it. Right? Yes and no. If the thought of sweatin’ it out in a gym or fitness studio sounds way less than appealing, you don’t have to do it at all! Find a calorie-burning, strength and endurance building activity that you do love and do it as often as your schedule and body (recovery is important – more on that later) will allow. Fitness should be fun! Especially when you’re older and have a lot of other things going on that are causing you stress (kids going off to college, career demands, caring for your parents, etc.)
Knowing your “why” and making decisions accordingly is a huge factor in determining whether or not you’ll stick with maintaining your healthy, fit lifestyle. Choose physical activities that you truly enjoy doing. Challenge yourself, too! If you enjoy working out in a gym and lifting weights, maybe you can participate in a strength-based group fitness class once or twice a month. Or if you enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking or running, maybe you can sign up for a local obstacle course race. Whatever you decide to do, you gotta love it (or at least like it) if you want it to be sustainable over the long-term.
Honorable Mention: Recovery & Nutrition
Rest, recovery and optimal nutrition go hand-in-hand. Some studies have shown that, as we age, our ability to utilize protein to nourish and repair muscle tissue after moderate to strenuous exercise diminishes. Ensuring you are taking in adequate amounts of quality protein from various sources may help you recover faster. Scheduling rest days into your fitness program is essential – allowing your muscles to rest and repair will increase overall performance, strength and endurance. Including a stretching and self-myofascial release protocol into your recovery routine will help to reduce the risk of injuries that occur from compensations due to soreness, muscular imbalance or stiff joints.
Maintaining a fit lifestyle is one of the best ways to age gracefully! Overall strength, endurance and balance are all affected by the natural physiological aging process but can be greatly delayed with proper nutrition and an effective, consistent exercise routine.
Train often and train to your individual needs. Stay hydrated, eat well and trust the signs your body is giving you!
American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids. (2018, April). Retrieved July 8, 2019, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults
Hutchinson, A. (2017). Do You Recover From Workouts More Slowly in Middle Age?. [online] Runner’s World. Available at: https://www.runnersworld.com/training/a20861644/do-you-recover-from-workouts-more-slowly-in-middle-age/ [Accessed 4 Jul. 2019]. Scarbrough, M. (2019). New Science for Aging Muscle: Recovery for Masters Endurance Athletes. [online] Team USA. Available at: https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Triathlon/News/Blogs/Fuel-Station/2016/February/01/Recovery-for-Masters-Endurance-Athletes [Accessed 4 Jul. 2019].
Scarbrough, M. (2019). New Science for Aging Muscle: Recovery for Masters Endurance Athletes. [online] Team USA. Available at: https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Triathlon/News/Blogs/Fuel-Station/2016/February/01/Recovery-for-Masters-Endurance-Athletes [Accessed 4 Jul. 2019].
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Tawana McNeill, MS
Master Coach & Trainer
“I help you reduce pain, get stronger & lose body fat after injury, surgery &/or debilitating illness.”