Getting Fit As We Age

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There’s no way around this – we all age and have limited time on this planet. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Science has worked wonders for human longevity, and it continues to help us not only live longer but live a healthy, happy life deep into our sixties or seventies or even beyond. Science, however, sometimes needs help from you. Think of it this way: who should take care of your body and your quality of life, if not you? Luckily, there are heaps of things you could do to become or stay fit even as you age. You might not have the metabolism of a twenty-year-old who will do things much faster than you, but why would you, anyway? There’s beauty in every age.

It’s possible to have a strong and healthy body capable of things you thought were reserved for youngsters. Of course, you will need to dedicate extra care to your aging body, but that’s okay. The important thing is that it’s possible. You can get fit even at a ripe old age! Just be mindful of your capabilities, as they are unlikely to be equal to decades ago. Listen to your body and vary exercises, then engage in mindfulness in the kitchen as well. This trio will give you the best results you can be proud of!

Changing Bodies

Not many people like seeing their changing bodies in the mirror. Strands of white hair, sagging skin, and wrinkles? Society taught us that these traits are unattractive, so it’s no wonder we reach for anti-aging products and treatments. Somewhere along the way, however, we forget that there’s something even more important than how we look. That’s how fit we are.

You will never truly be able to reverse the clock, and we all know that. What we can do, with various means, is make it go slower. Our aging bodies not only lose the twenty-something visual appeal, but they become weaker, and as such, are more prone to conditions ranging from heart disease to dementia. When you’re actively engaged in physical activity, those risks decrease. Getting older is not an excuse for not exercising – on the contrary, it’s a perfect reason for getting up and moving better! Moving better inevitably leads to feeling better and leading a better life, no matter your age.

You might be worried about exercising as a mature person because you have noticed you are generally slower and gain weight easily. You may also see a decline in the sharpness of your reflexes and general cardiovascular health. Don’t worry, though: through a regular workout, you will be able to slow down the aging process and regain control over what’s happening with your body. If you’re a newbie or an experienced athlete who has taken a long pause in exercising, make sure to pay attention to some general preparation. You don’t want to hurt yourself before even getting started on the path to better fitness and better health!

Why Exercise?

Those of you who haven’t led an active life may wonder why even start. Regular physical activity, even if you’ve never been a sports lover before, has a range of health benefits and extends beyond the apparent physical health.

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Physical Health Benefits

Weight maintenance. This is one of the obvious ones. As your metabolism naturally slows down, it’s a challenge to maintain a healthy weight. This is where the exercise comes in.

Improved mobility, balance, and flexibility. This is bound to happen no matter the age: working out improves your posture and flexibility. But as you age, posture and flexibility become more and more important, because they will reduce the risk of falls. We all know the stories of older people who suffered falling misfortunes, and exercise is the way to reduce the chance of those happening!

Reduced impact of illnesses. First, if you regularly engage in physical activity of your choice, you will boost your immune system. That means less chance of catching a cold when everyone else seems to be down! Furthermore, you’ll have better blood pressure and a lower risk of various diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and even some cancers.

Mental Health Benefits

Improves sleep. Rare are the people who work out regularly and have trouble falling asleep or maintaining quality sleep overnight. You don’t need to work out every day, yet you will quickly notice you fall asleep quickly and wake up feeling more rested and more energetic.

Relieves stress. Exercise produces endorphins that can help you fight sadness, anxiety, and even depression. Being cranky all the time will happen when you maintain a fitness routine.

Keeps your brain going. Crossword puzzles and mind activities aren’t the only way to preserve your gray matter. Physical activity can actually help prevent memory loss and cognitive decline and even dementia. If we haven’t convinced you about the physical help benefits, these should do the trick!

How to Prepare

Talk to your family doctor before committing to a rigorous plan – or even a less rigorous one. It’s essential you get a clear yes for any relevant changes in your lifestyle, especially if you already have any of the risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or family history. Your doctor will also know whether you should avoid any specific activities, for example, because your knees or joints are too weak.

Be mindful of your existing health issues and concerns. There might be some types of exercise that you should either skip or approach with caution – see the point above. If you have diabetes, for example, you will need to take your meal plans and timing of medication into account when coming up with an exercise plan.

Get yourself breathable clothes and good shoes. You don’t need to buy tons of new workout clothes to motivate yourself, but a cute pair of leggings won’t hurt. Also, read up on the specifics for your type of exercise. It’s hard to run in flat shoes, but they come in handy in the gym, where they’re much more appropriate than running shoes.

Commit to a schedule. You want to treat the workout slots in your schedule like every other appointment. That means no skipping! Aim for three or four times a week, and it will soon become a habit. Of course, you are less likely to want to skip if the chosen activity is something you genuinely enjoy.

Warm up. Warming up sometimes may seem like a boring thing you just want to get over with or skip altogether, but by approaching it properly, you will, well, warm up your muscles, get them ready to rock, and prevent injuries by doing so. You should also remember to cool down after a successful workout session!

Focus. The hour or two you spend working out should be devoted to working out and nothing but. This is not the time to go over that conversation earlier in the day, or your finances, or the grocery shopping list. Focus on the form and how your body feels. If it gets too difficult, or if you feel dizzy, don’t persist, just stop. Exercise should not hurt or make you feel weird! Always remember that!

Build up steadily. People who haven’t been active for a while shouldn’t go all in. Yes, we did say three to four times a week, but if the last time you went to a gym was 20 years ago, you cannot expect to perform just the way you did back then. Maybe try one class per week and then increase after a while. Start with easy exercises to improve your fitness and confidence gradually.

So, What Should You Do?

If you’re wondering what you should be doing, you might think there is so much conflicting advice, so you just choose one particular activity and hope for the best. This is generally not a wrong principle, but to maximize the benefits of your fitness journey as an aging individual, you might want to engage in three different types of exercise. We know it sounds like a lot! Hold your horses and hear us out, it’s a lot easier than it may seem.

To maintain muscle mass, improve your balance, and prevent cardiovascular decline, try engaging in three types of physical activities: strength training, interval training, and endurance exercises. Changing up the routine will help you on your health path more than getting used to one type of workout. Of course, you don’t have to do it all at once! Let’s see why we recommend the three types.

Strength Training

Both women and men lose muscle mass as they age, and unfortunately, replace it with fat. Is there anything you can do about it? Yes – lift weights. Lifting weights will stop the loss of the precious muscle mass and instead increase it. This matters because muscles protect your joints and have a role in preventing bone fractures. They also burn more calories at rest, and who wouldn’t want that?

If you’re a woman, though, you might be afraid you would become too Arnold-y. There’s no need to worry! Take a look at our post on why women should be lifting, and hopefully see you in the gym! Aim for an increase in weight every week so that you find the last few repetitions challenging, but still doable. That’s where growth happens – both in muscles and mentally!

Interval Training

Also called high-intensity interval training. The good? It’s over quickly. The bad? It drains the last drops of strength and energy out of you, and then it pushes you some more. You will alternate bursts of intense activity with lighter activity or rest. For example, instead of light jogging for half an hour, you will run as fast as you can for five intervals of one minute each, with one- to two-minute period in between at either lower intensity or rest.

Endurance Exercise

Endurance exercises consist of cardio activities such as running, cycling or swimming. By doing some of these regularly, you’ll improve your cardiovascular function and keep your metabolism at a steady pace without slowing down. Aim to get half an hour to an hour of such an activity every day. It can be a simple walk in the neighborhood at a faster pace than your usual one.

Other Tips

Take Care of Your Bones

As we age, our bones naturally lose density, and “age” is a very broad concept here, as it happens from 35 onwards. Osteoporosis, a disease that causes fragile bones, affects many women and men aged 50-84, and there is no cure. Bump up your bone density right now and don’t wait for them to decline first!

Eat Well

If you’ve taken care of what goes into your body throughout your life, stay on track. If, however, you mainly ate what you felt like at any given moment and noticed that it’s taken a toll on your appearance or energy level, you might feel that you can’t be bothered now. Who starts with new habits at the ripe age of forty-something? Well, you do, that’s who. Focus on brain food – ingredients that will protect your brain and decrease the likes of getting dementia. Eat plenty of fish, omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, olive oil, and fruit. These foods will protect your grey matter and give you heaps of energy!

Say Goodbye to Bad Habits

We’re talking alcohol and cigarettes. Sure, a glass of wine on a special occasion is fine, but you want to keep your liver healthy for a long time, so stick to the recommended alcohol limits. When it comes to smoking, you know already you should quit. It’s a habit with very few benefits if any, and it will age you faster and help ruin your health in many ways. Out of all the changes you could make to your lifestyle, quitting smoking will have the most beneficial effect on your body.

Laugh

“Laughter is the best medicine” is not just a saying. Having fun, in whatever way possible, is likely to add years to your life. Laughing literally protects your heart by increasing blood flow. It also decreases stress hormones, so grab a TV show you enjoy or call your friends for a session of good old laughing therapy.

 

All in All…

No matter how active you were (or weren’t!) when you were younger, starting a fitness journey when you are older than 40, 50 or even beyond, is one of the greatest things you can gift to yourself as you age. Aging gracefully is a goal of so many, even if they don’t want to admit it, and there’s nothing wrong with it. After all, it would be crazy not to want to remain healthy and capable for as long as possible!

So grab a pair of sneakers and do the first step toward a healthier aging today. Remember that you will protect your heart and brain and boost your energy, so that should keep you going. But don’t forget to have good fun as well. You’re not trying to compete as a professional athlete: you’re conquering your health, step by step.

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