How to Enhance Your Workouts as You Are Aging

For Americans, the average life expectancy now surpasses 78 years, an increase of more than 4 years since 1980. So, at what point do you decide to sit down and stop moving?  Never!  New science proves that our bodies are constantly growing and renewing as we age, and we can continue to improve our function, mobility, longevity and quality of life with movement.

How does your workout evolve over time? Lifelong exercisers embrace training with an appreciation of the body’s wisdom and an awareness of its capabilities.  We need to keep our youthful edge by pushing back against the signals of aging while protecting our priceless health.

Here are seven ways to enhance your workouts as you’re aging:

1)  Warm Up: The warm-up prepares your body for more strenuous work and reduces the risk of injury.  As the years go by, all the physiological systems need more time to adapt to the demands of exercise. Start slowly and increase the intensity gradually. Performing any series of rhythmic movements for 5 minutes or so will increase blood flow to your muscles, increase your core-body temperature and lubricate the joints.

2)  Protect the joints:  Anyone who has experienced a neck, shoulder, low back, hip or knee injury knows how painful it can be and how long it may take to recover.  Joint injuries pull you off track while you address the individual problem with physical therapy before you can return to a full-body conditioning program.

To protect your joints, learn proper body alignment, perform exercises in good form, progress gradually and do not overload excessively. For instance, in strength training, the last few repetitions of an exercise set should be somewhat challenging while maintaining correct form.

3)  Stretch:  Just a few minutes of daily stretching can help maintain flexibility, keep the muscles supple and counteract the wear and tear of everyday life, allowing you to maintain a youthful appearance and active lifestyle. By enhancing your mobility, stretching increases your efficiency in all activities so that they require less effort and leave you feeling less tired.

The constant downward pull of gravity and gradual dehydration of the body’s tissues cause us literally to shrink over time. Muscles, tendons and ligaments naturally tighten with age, but stretching can help by lengthening them. To avoid tendon ruptures, muscle tears and painful joints from exercise, use gentle, sustained stretches during and after your workout.

4)  Switch to low-impact cardio exercise and add intervals of higher intensity: Low impact activity is defined as keeping one foot on the ground during the exercise (walking); whereas in high impact exercise both feet are off the ground (running). You can achieve the same physical fitness level without injury by using low impact activities and adding intervals of faster pace.

If you are doing the same kind of steady pace cardio routine over and over, say walking for 30 minutes most days of the week, your body will stop improving because it has adapted to that level of exercise. It’s the law of diminishing returns:  as your body adjusts to the exercise and adapts to the stimulus, it eventually stops changing.

To give it a boost, using any low-impact cardio exercise – walking, biking, the elliptical machine – break your 30-minute workout into five sequences, three minutes of moderate pace, followed by 3 minutes of higher intensity.  Repeat this sequence five times, and then allow a few minutes for your cool-down.

5) Build muscle: At around age 45-50, you start to lose about 1.5% of strength each year, or about 10% per decade. At 65 or 70 the loss speeds up to 3% per year or 30% per decade. The loss of muscle fibers causes you to slow down, lose strength and vigor. Specifically, the fast-twitch muscle fibers, which provide for rapid, high-intensity movement, shrink in size, causing not only a loss of muscle mass, but also a loss of power.

In the U.S. 2/3 of women over the age of 75 can’t lift 10 pounds. Strength training makes you stronger, more stable, more active and energetic.  Weight training creates stability in the large muscles of the legs, helps balance and stability. It restores fast twitch fibers and mitochondria, the power engines of the cells, to stimulate muscle growth and repair. It helps maintain healthy joints and prevent falls and fractures.

6) Cross-train: Challenge yourself with a variety of activities to keep your workouts fresh and stimulate all systems of your body. Take a dance class or go for a hike. Plan an active vacation and train for it. You don’t have to exercise at set times. Think of ways you can fit it into your routine throughout the day.  Vigorous housework, gardening, playing with your grandkids can all add up to more activity.  Find opportunities to bend and lift, twist and turn, and reach overhead.

7) Add balance exercises: After the mid-70s, loss of balance begins to affect our quality of life.  In the U.S., falls are the leading cause of injury for people over age 65.  Studies show that much of the sense of balance can be preserved and even restored through exercises that require no special equipment. Add yoga, tai chi or balance training into the mix.  Try standing on one leg while brushing your teeth!

Modern aging is optional. It’s never too late to begin exercising, and the earlier you start, the longer you’ll benefit. Regular participation in cardio, strength training, stretching and balance exercises can delay and may even prevent a loss of physical abilities well into your 90s. Furthermore, regular physical activity has been shown to be the most effective approach to combating cognitive decline.

This blog was originally published on Joan Pagano’s Blog, you can visit her website by clicking here!

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