Staying Fit as you Age!
The 2nd part of the series is a little late because I sprained my wrist in an old boys rugby tournament and I’ve been limiting my keyboard time to let it heal. The minimum age at this rugby tournament was 40 which was a testament to what I’m writing about; there were a number of men in their 50s and 60s who still play rugby on a regular basis. The fact that a number of men in the tournament have been playing rugby for as many as 30 or 40 years reinforced the fact that staying active, working out and maintaining your fitness level is the BEST way to progress through each decade of the adult lifespan.
In this blog, I’ll review tips for how to stay fit and active from your 50s and beyond. Enjoy!
Up to this point I’ve been able to write from personal experience but now I’m going to share what I’ve learned from clients, friends, relatives and the scientific literature. Once you are in your 50s, exercise IS ESSENTIAL for maintaining good health to avoid age-related health conditions like high cholesterol, heart disease or arthritis. The reality is that these conditions can happen no matter what, but if you stay fit and active, you can significantly reduce their ability to interfere with your life. Here’s the great news, as long as you maintain your fitness and they do not cause you any severe discomfort, you can continue doing your favorite activities. I see example of this everyday here in San Diego as people in their 50s (and beyond) continue to ride the waves, skate the skateparks, get out on their bikes and otherwise enjoy an active lifestyle. As Mark Twain said, “Age is mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Types of Exercise
In this decade changing exercise is important not only to keep your muscles working differently but to engage your brain. Make sure to include at least one or two high intensity workouts a week because exercise that elevates levels of growth hormone can also elevate levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) the neurotransmitter responsible for producing new brain cells and improving cognitive function.
Learning a new sport or a physical activity, like martial arts, are not only great ways to stay active, but learning a new activity requires developing new neural pathways in your brain to control your muscles. If your kids are out of the house and you have more free time you can learn a new sport like pickleball or start a new hobby like dancing or martial arts, all of which will provide mental stimulation as well as physical conditioning.
Hopefully your fifties is also when you will have a little more free time and disposable income to take vacations and visit parts of the world you’ve always wanted to experience. I’ve helped clients in this age bracket train for vacations like hiking to Machu Picchu, do a cycling tour across France, kayaking in New Zealand and skiing in Switzerland. If you have the luxury to enjoy these options then picking active vacations can be one way to help keep you engaged and motivated in your exercise program. Even if you can not afford exotic destinations you can start cycling and hiking by exploring the parks and trails in your area.
You’ll have to check with your medical provider on this one. You will wan to avoid foods that can elevate cholesterol or affect any medications you may be taking to manage a health condition. If your kids have left the house you can enjoy nice dinners out or, even better, take cooking lessons so you can prepare nice dinners in and enjoy the company of your spouse sans kids.
Yup, still important, especially after you exercise. In this decade you may experience sleep disruptions like waking up in the night or not being to get to sleep in the first place, if that’s the case make sure to mention this to your healthcare provider.
When you’re young, 60 seems old, but once you’re hit your forties you quickly realize it’s not, which explains why many people claim that 60 is the new 40. If you made smart financial decisions (an entirely different blog all together) this is the decade in which you will probably retire from your career and decide what you really want to do in life.
Types of Exercise
Continue to change your workouts on a regular basis to keep using your muscles in different ways. This may be the time to move away from the free weights and start using more weight training machines which can allow you to use heavy resistance with minimal stress on your joints. Improve your physical literacy by learning new movement skills, and if there are any activities that you didn’t do in your sixties, don’t wait, now’s the time to get going!
It’s more important than ever to exercise most days of the week, you should continue to do high intensity workouts but limit them to short workouts of 20 minutes or less (when it comes to HIIT, it’s the intensity, not the duration that is the most important factor) and allow at least 2 full days for optimal recovery. If you enjoy resistance training this may be the time to start using more machines than free weights to be able to use heavy weights while minimizing wear and tear on your joints.
If you do retire during this decade you will have the extra time for your workouts so continue to experiment with new types of exercises and sports to give your muscles and brain new learning opportunities.
Just like young adults in their 20s, taking group classes is a great way to combine physical activity with social time and, if you’re recently retired, can be an effective way to make new friends. Aqua fitness classes, a good choice at any age, are a good option for exercise because they use a lot of muscle mass while reducing stress on your joints which is important if you’re dealing with any arthritis.
If you go through a major life change like retirement and you find yourself with extra time make sure you avoid mindless snacking. If you know you’re a muncher while puttering around the house then be sure to have plenty of healthy options and leave the sugary stuff on the grocery store shelves.
While it is important in every phase of life, sleep now becomes essential for maintaining optimal health. You may want to invest in your sleep hygiene with a new mattress.
In this episode of All About Fitness, Dr. Norman Lazarus (in his 80s and still going strong) shares the secrets to a long and active lifestyle!
If 60 is the new 40 then 70 is the new 50. More and more I meet people in the gym who are in this decade but look much younger because fitness has been an integral part of their life for years. If you are in your 70s and into working out, the chances are that you have made fitness an essential part of your life for a number of years and this decade is when you will really reap the benefits of all of those workouts. Do not let the number slow you down, continue to participate in your favorite activities but be smart about it by listening to your body and not forcing it to do any extremely uncomfortable exercise.
Strength training, especially on machines can help enhance quality of life. Exercises that focus on multi-planar movements can help improve integrity of your myofascial system leaving your with more youthful muscles and connective tissue that is more
resilient against injury.
If you’ve been a sporadic exerciser up to this point consider this: staying fit and strong now can help you maintain your functional independence longer and keep you from having to rely on assisted living. Resistance training is completely appropriate and can help increase lean muscle mass and improve your functional strength for activities of daily living.
If you feel the effects of arthritis don’t let it stop you from cardiorespiratory exercise but do look for types that can reduce impact on your joints. Activities that require you to move your body in all directions, like Tai Chi, dance or yoga, are more important than ever for helping maintain balance and reducing the risk of orthopedic injuries.
Keep making healthy choices. If you notice you start slowing down make sure you reduce your caloric intake and watch what you eat so you can maintain a healthy bodyweight.
If you experience any disruptions of your nightly sleep habits, make sure to mention it to your healthcare provider to identify a solutions. The good news is that now you’ll probably have the time for an afternoon naps, so feel free to indulge, especially if it gives you the energy to participate in your favorite activities.
Ageless Intensity: High Intensity Workouts to Slow Aging will be released from Human Kinetics on August 1, 2021 – order your copy now to learn how to use exercise to mitigate the effects of time on your body.
If you make it to your eighties, congratulations because currently the average adult life span in the United States is 78 years. Up to this point I haven’t used the ‘o’ word (old) but now is the time when you will really start to feel your age. Do any physical activity you enjoy and do it as often as possible. Continue to seek out new activities because learning new movement skills helps your brain as well as your body. If you’re considering moving to an older-adult community, look for one with many recreational activities.
Resistance training becomes extremely important because it can help you maintain your strength allowing you to remain functionally independent and machines are the safest, most effective way to receive this benefit. If you are considering relocating to a retirement community look for one with a robust schedule of recreational activities so you have plenty of options for exercise.
You are never too old to learn new things so consider going back to school because social interactions and learning are both great ways to reduce the risk of developing cognitive diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s. You can continue to participate in your favorite activities but respect your age and try not to push your body beyond its existing limits.
Continue to seek and follow the advice of your healthcare provider for the best options given your current health status. Continue to avoid excessive drinking and calorically dense, low-nutrition foods. But then again, you’ve already beat the odds so enjoy yourself but be smart about it.
By now you know the importance of a good night’s sleep, make sure to communicate any disruptions in your sleep patterns to your healthcare provider immediately.
If you’re here, keep doing whatever you’ve been doing because it’s working. Whatever physical activity you can do, do it as often as possible. If you’re not already doing strength training ask your medical providers if they can recommend any strength-training programs specifically for your age group because you can add muscle mass at any age. If you want to enjoy an active life well into your nineties then it is important that no matter what happens to you NEVER STOP EXERCISING. Even if you can only do a few minutes at a time, regular exercise and physical activity can provide health benefits in every decade. If you exercise for no other reason, do it to take control of the aging process so that you can enjoy all of your favorite activities at all stages of your life.
I specifically left out the mention of cancer in each decade because it could strike at almost any stage of life. While there is no cure for cancer, throughout your life practicing healthy behaviors and avoiding certain activities like smoking, drinking alcohol to excess or remaining sedentary for excessive periods of time can certainly lower the risk of developing it. I’ve been fortunate to have not been directly affected by it but I’ve seen enough friends and loved ones affected by it that all I’ll say is F cancer; do your best to live your healthiest and reduce your risk of developing this dreadful disease.
Slow Down, but NEVER Stop
Your age is no excuse for not enjoying your favorite physical activities; my ex-mother-in-law, who lives in Alaska, still cross country skis and goes on bicycle tours even though she’s well into her 70s. I’ve worked with a woman who was top ranked tennis player in her 80s. Your age is only a number, as the years pass you will need to adjust how you exercise, but you should NEVER, EVER, STOP exercising! Being fit will give you options for how you can live your life. Said another way, fitness is freedom – the freedom to do all of the things you want to do. Now, STOP READING and go get sweaty!