Even if you’ve been exercising regularly for years, workouts can become more challenging once you enter midlife and beyond.
As our bodies age, “muscle mass breaks down, metabolism slows and flexibility decreases,” say the folks atSouth Florida Orthopedic Group (SFOG).
Eventually, no one outruns Father Time. To remain active, “you need to listen to your body’s cues,” notes SFOG. “With increasing age comes increasing wisdom about what your body needs. You should know how far you can push yourself.”
Why Exercise Is Important as You Get Older
Staying fit is important no matter who you are. TheCenters for Disease Control (CDC) recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, plus two days of muscle-strengthening activity, each week for all adults.
But maintaining fitness is especially crucial as the years roll by. For one thing,studies support the idea that exercise can help stave off many disorders that become more common with age, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Weight-bearing activities (running, stair climbing, etc.) have been linked tobetter bone strength, while balance work has been found toreduce the risk of falls—a major cause of disability among older people.Researchers believe that exercise also helps to sharpen thinking and brighten mood.
What’s more, “strength training is important for aging bodies because muscle mass fades quickly,” says SFOG. “Strong muscles are needed to protect your joints from injury.”
Reducing Injury Risk
The first step in an injury-reduction plan involves speaking to your healthcare practitioner, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.
You can also consult acertified physical trainer for help in designing a fitness routine best suited to your needs. A trainer may be especially helpful in modifying weight-bearing exercises with an eye to increasing workout safety.
In addition, you can reduce your injury risk by:
- Incorporating stretches into your routine. Yoga or a simple stretching sequence can help loosen tight muscles and tendons.
- Always warming up before a workout. If you go for walks, spend the first 10 minutes or so walking at a moderate pace over flat ground before picking up speed or tackling hills. If it’s weight day, hit the stationary bike or elliptical trainer for 10 minutes first.
- Using machines instead of free weights. The equipment will place limits on your range of motion; while this may reduce some of the training benefit, it does add a layer of protection.
- Working on your balance. Even something as simple as standing on one foot, then the other several times a day (holding onto a chair or wall if necessary) can help improve your ability to stay upright. (You can find a balance-focused yoga sequencehere.)
- Never ignoring your body. Learn to tell the difference between effort and pain; pain means you should stop whatever you’re doing. You shouldn’t wind up with muscle soreness that lasts more than a day or so, or ever feel as if you can’t catch your breath. (Gohere for muscle recovery tips.)
Adjusting Workouts for Common Age-Related Concerns
Many people develop joint discomfort, feel more tired or experience limits on their mobility as they get older. In addition, women often experience discomforts in the runup to menopause that affect workout quality.
Exercising with Joint Pain
Understanding your body’s pain cues is crucial to exercising when you have joint issues.
“One rule of thumb is trying movements that don’t cause pain higher than about a 5 out of 10,” saysAlyssa Kuhn, DPT. Muscle pain may occur during or after exercise.
On the other hand, joint swelling or pain is a sign of “doing too much,” notes Kuhn. “Decrease the amount of repetitions next time.”
The CDC offers the following tips for exercising when you have joint problems:
- Start low, go slow. Add activity in small increments (such as 10 minutes a session) and give your body time to adjust before adding more.
- Modify activity when symptoms increase. When it comes to symptoms, you’ll probably have good and bad days. Remain as active as possible without making your symptoms worse.
- Choose joint-friendly activities. Biking and walking are good options. So are pool aerobics, since the water’s buoyancy keeps pressure off your joints.
- Find safe places to be active. Walk or bike in level areas that are well lit and separated from heavy traffic.
Exercising When You Feel Tired
Ever think, “I’m too tired for exercise today?”
It’s not easy to work out when you don’t feel like it…but it’s crucial that you remain active anyway. What’s more, continuing to exercise should help improve your energy levels (if it doesn’t, speak to your practitioner).
The idea is to keep workouts short in the beginning—a 15-minute easy walk, for instance—and then lengthen them in short increments (10 to 15 minutes). Stretch at the beginning and end of each session.
When it comes to resistance training, start slow by using resistance bands, or light hand weights or kettlebells. You can also engage in low-impact bodyweight exercises, such as gentle yoga (if you’re not sure whether or not a particular class is suitable, ask the instructor).
Exercising With Mobility Issues
Mobility problems bring with them an understandable fear of falling.
To make things safer, use supports—chairs, tables, counters, even yoga props such as blocks and bolsters—so that you can concentrate on what you’re doing.
Still need help? Consult a personal trainer orphysical therapist.
Working Out During Perimenopause
What many people refer to as “menopause” is actually perimenopause, the years before periods stop for good. It’s when fluctuating hormone levels can lead to discomforts such as hot flashes, mood swings and weight gain.
Aerobic exercise can help.
“Raising the heart rate with moderate cardio for just 30 minutes every day can make a significant improvement,” says personal trainerJessica Jones, NASM-CPT. “You can start off moderately with 10 to 15 minutes of brisk walking and work your way up to more intensive aerobic activity as your body adapts.”
Deal with hot flashes through hydration, looser clothing and using a cold, wet towel at the gym; at home, simply lower your thermostat. If a flash hits mid-session, take a minute or two for some deep breathing.
Workout Tips By Decade
When you’re young, exercise isn’t that tough: You’re in good shape and can pack on muscle mass with relative ease. What’s more, recovering from sprains and muscle pulls is pretty straightforward.
That’s why your 20s and 30s is the best time to establish good exercise habits. “This is the prime time to fortify your body, be fit and protect yourself from future ailments caused by inactivity,” says the team at the fitness websiteDamnRipped.com.
In this prime-of-life period, “you should be able to work out at least three days a week for anywhere between one and three hours,” says DamnedRipped.com. The site recommends high-intensity workouts “to preserve range of motion, fortify your balance, loosen tight muscles, grow your endurance and build muscle.”
As you age, however, your exercise needs change.
Exercise in Your 40s
“Assuming you can perform just as well in your 40s as you did in your youth is one of the biggest mistakes people make,” says DamnedRipped.com, adding that you should now focus on preserving the lean mass you gained when you were younger.
As you approach middle age, SFOG suggests “adopting a training strategy that balances high-intensity workouts with lower-intensity exercises. Some experts recommend doing one or two weeks of intense training followed by one week of recovery workouts.”
In addition, you may have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can “cause a buildup of visceral fat,” according to DamnedRipped.com. Cardio can help counteract that tendency; the site recommends jogging and aerobics, along with pushups, squats, lunges and presses.
Exercise in Your 50s
For most people, the 50s decade brings a slower metabolism and reductions in bone mass and muscle mass.
Your secret weapon in fighting these changes? “Unknown to many, weight training can reverse or slow down these signs,” says DamnedRipped.com; schedule at least two training sessions a week, 20 to 30 minutes per session. Focus on your leg muscles, which need some extra love at this point.
Don’t slack off on the cardio, either. Dancing, Pilates, swimming and walking are all good options. (Gohere for tips aimed specifically at women aged 50 and beyond.)
Exercise in Your 60s and Beyond
The need to tailor your fitness routine is extremely important once you pass your 60th birthday.
“Your bones become more fragile; your ligaments and tendons become drier. Consequently, the odds of getting injured during physical activity increase,” notes DamnedRipped.com. “Picking appropriate workout activities is therefore very important.”
The site recommends mild-to-moderate exercises that “increase flexibility, reduce tension, boost athletic performance and improve posture.” These include spaced weight workouts (“never work out back to back in your 60s”) plus activities such as water aerobics and Zumba.
Once you’re in your 70s and beyond, listening to your body—while remaining active—becomes even more crucial.
“Balancing exercises are very important, as people in their 70s can be prone to falling,” says DamnedRipped.com; recommended activities include chair aerobics, arm raises, leg lifts and water exercises.
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