Staying physically active helps you stay healthy and functional as you grow older. Many of the changes commonly associated with aging can be slowed or even reversed with regular exercise. Body composition changes with age – body fat increases while muscle mass and bone density decrease. These changes are at least partially due to a lack of physical activity. These days a growing number of people are continuing to work out well after they reach retirement age. Hopefully, you’ll do the same. As you age, you may notice changes in your energy level and find you don’t recover as quickly from workouts. Should you change the way you exercise as you grow older?
The Importance of Strength Training
Most standard exercise guidelines stress the importance of getting 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week. What they fail to emphasize is how critical resistance training is for staying lean, healthy and active as you age. Sarcopenia, or age-related loss of muscle mass, is a growing epidemic in men and women over the age of 60. In fact, sarcopenia affects 30% of adults age 60 and over. As you lose muscle mass with age, your risk for falls and fractures goes up. Plus, you lack the functional strength to do the things you were able to do when you were younger. Research shows inactivity is responsible for the most age-related muscle loss.
The most effective treatment and prevention strategy for sarcopenia is strength training. Strength training increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis to help build lean body mass. Plus, it helps compensate for hormonal changes that contribute to sarcopenia like the age-related drop in growth hormone and testosterone. Sarcopenia is a nutritional issue too. A significant number of older people don’t get enough dietary protein at a time in their life when they need it most. Without adequate protein and resistance training, muscle protein synthesis is reduced and loss of lean muscle mass accelerates.
If anything, resistance training becomes more important as we get older. Still, you want to avoid injury. Muscles, joints and tendons lose some of their flexibility with age. That’s why you shouldn’t skip the warm-up. A good warm-up heats up your muscles and increases their range-of-motion. Having warm muscles and tendons lowers your risk for injury. When you were younger, you may have grabbed a set of weights and started lifting without doing any warm-up at all. Now it’s important to make warming up a priority.
Before beginning a strength session, spend 5 minutes doing a light cardio warm-up, light jogging in place, slow jumping jacks etc. Then do a few warm-up sets using light weights before reaching for heavier ones. Research in older animals show it takes more force to injure a “warm” muscle than it does a cold one. Don’t forget to use good technique when you lift. Never sacrifice form to lift more weight at the expense of an injury. Don’t neglect core work. A strong core improves functional strength and enhances your performance in all areas of exercise.
As with resistance training, a pre-cardio warm-up increases blood flow to muscles, tendons and ligaments and reduces the risk of injury. As you get older, add more variety to your cardio workouts so you aren’t working the same muscles over and over and placing repeated high-impact stress on your joints. Alternate high-impact exercise with lower impact workouts like spinning or stepping. Circuit training is another way to get your heart rate up with minimal impact to your joints. Vary what you do. You have so many options for getting your heart rate up and burning fat: take advantage of them.
What about HiiT training? Older adults sometimes hesitate to do high-intensity workouts, believing vigorous workouts are too strenuous. A study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine showed HiiT training is a safe and effective alternative to traditional endurance exercise for older adults. Keep doing those high-intensity workouts, assuming you’re healthy, but give yourself adequate recovery time between vigorous workouts. You don’t need to do a HiiT routine more than twice a week to get the benefits. Recovery time becomes more important as we age.
Add More Balance to Your Workouts
Cardiovascular and strength training are two components of an effective anti-aging workout but they aren’t the only ones. Focus on flexibility and balance too. Balance skills decline with age and without good balance you’re at greater risk for falls. The more you train and fine-tune your sense of balance, the more resistant to injuries and falls you’ll be. You can even incorporate balance challenges into your regular workouts by doing unilateral exercises like one-legged squats. Another way is to perform exercises you normally do seated or lying on a mat or chair on a stability ball. You can also do exercises using a Bosu ball. Work on balance when you have a few free moments during the day Balance on one foot as long as you can. Then see how long you can balance with your eyes closed. Try to increase the amount of time you stay balanced.
Another way to improve your balance skills is by doing a yoga workout several times weekly. Yoga is also good for flexibility, another area of exercise to focus on as you get older. End each exercise with a series of stretches that target all the muscles in your body. You lose flexibility with age and this increases the risk for injury.
More Recovery Time
As you age, you need more recovery time between workouts. That’s because the ability of your muscles to repair and regenerate slows with age. You may have been able to do a high-intensity workout every day when you were in your 20s but your muscles need more recovery time now. Another integral part of the recovery process is sleep. Make it a priority. Most adults need seven or more hours of sleep a night for optimal health.
The Bottom Line?
Exercise just might be the best anti-aging medicine there is. With proper planning and modifications to your exercise routine, there’s no reason why you can’t continue training in some capacity for the rest of your life.
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