Should You Change the Way You Exercise as You Age?

Should You Change the Way You Exercise as You Age?

(Last Updated On: August 8, 2018)

Should You Change the Way You Exercise as You Age?

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.

 Cardiovascular 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.




Nutrition Reviews. Volume 61, Issue 5, pages 157-167, May 2003.

Active. “The Real Reason You Should Warm Up”

Am J Clin Nutr May 2008 vol. 87 no. 5 1562S-1566S.

Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 14 No. 9 P. 62. (2012) “High-Intensity Interval Training”

Am J Lifestyle Med. 2012; 6(5):382-386.

National Institute on Aging. “Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging”


Related Articles By Cathe:

Longevity: Is There a Limit to How Long We Can Live?

Can You Slow Down the Aging Process?

3 Lifestyle Habits That Increase Your Risk of Disability Later


4 thoughts on “Should You Change the Way You Exercise as You Age?

  1. Great article Cathe! Very motivating! Your workouts provide all of these elements; at 52 years young I am more fit than at any other time in my life. I look forward to the future with you!

  2. Yes great article. I am 60. I have been weight training and cardio since my early 20s. I love HIIT and Tabata training. I workout with a group of incredible women, who are all up in years – late 40, 50s and up. They are fitter than many men and women half their age!

  3. I am 58 and have been an indoor video exerciser for 19 years. I definitely try to do at least 2 days of pure strength training and try to use heavy weights and love Cathe and Kelly Coffey Meyer for their weight workouts. I also love HiiT and Tabata, but realize I have to be mindful and stagger my workouts for impact and recovery. I also love metabolic training. I have found if I do a long tough workout one day, will do a 30 minute workout the next. My body actually seems to do better with shorter workouts. I always warm up and stretch after. I am bad about not taking a true rest day, but prefer an active recovery day. So far it is working for me, and I have to say the one thing I am very religious about is mindfulness when I do a move. The last thing I want is an injury.
    This is a great article and reinforces smart training!

  4. Agreed – great article!! I am 62.5……From age 30 – 50 I used to work out “irregularly” at the gym at work at noon but discovered Cathe when I turned 50 and for the first time had a new home with a basement to work out in. And, for the past 12 yrs. I join Cathe et. al. in my basement 6 days/week most weeks and have never been fitter, healthier and all round “feelin good”. And I credit Cathe for most of that (tho I do occasionally “cheat” with Kelly Coffee-Myers and Jari Love – have to support a Canadian after all…!). THANK YOU Cathe for all your inspiration and GREAT videos and I plan on sweating with you to the end!! Next dream…to make it to a road trip!! 🙂 How about Nova Scotia, Canada??

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