This is the second post in a series devoted to debunking some of the most common excuses people make to avoid making healthy lifestyle changes. Today we tackle aging and fitness. You can read the original post HERE where I run down the entire list. Each week I will be challenging these excuses and giving you the reasons why you need to get past them and some advice on how to get started. The rest is up to you! Do you want to get past these excuses and make lasting changes to your life? Read on as we tackle the first one today.
Do you find yourself uttering Lt. Murtaugh’s catch phrase when thinking about exercise?
I am going to give you some very good reasons why you should ignore these thoughts and consider increasing your activity level instead of decreasing it.
Why should you continue or even begin to exercise as you age?
I’m here to tell you that you are never too old to add exercise to your life. In fact, it is even more important to maintain a high activity level when you are older than when you are in your 20-s and 30s. Exercise is a natural anti-aging serum.
We know that as you age, muscle and bone density begin to deteriorate. This process begins around the age of 40 and continues throughout the rest of your life. While you can’t stop this completely, regular exercise including resistance training will help stave off the worst effects.
A recent study has also confirmed a correlation between active people and the health of their telomeres. Telomeres act as protective caps on the end of our DNA strands that help protect them from damage during replication. Shortening telomeres are associated with aging, mortality and age-related diseases. These caps shorten degrade as we age, but it has been found that the telomeres of active people are much healthier than those of less active people. These results are strongest for those between 40-65. There is a nice summary of this study in an article published in The New York Times in October of 2015. So by staying active, you can postpone the effects of aging related to shortening telomeres.
Exercise can also make your brain younger. Much like our bones and muscles, cognitive skills decline as we age. In this article published by Neurology, researchers confirmed that those who reported regular physical activity performed better on cognitive tests than those who did not. Their test results were equivalent to those 10 years younger than their physical age. The researchers suspect that this improvement in cognitive performance is related to better blood flow within the brain for those who participate in regular activity.
We can’t stop aging completely, but with regular exercise, you can slow down the effects of aging significantly. See, exercise is like a mini fountain of youth!
How do I get started?
OK, hopefully you are convinced that just because you are a little older exercise may be even more important to add to you life, not omit. How do you get back at it if you have been sedentary for a decade? First step would be to have a discussion with your primary care provider. Make an appointment to discuss your intent with them and have them assess your ability to take on regular exercise. Depending on your age and your overall physical health, they may restrict some of your activities. Don’t let this discourage you!
First step would be to have a discussion with your primary care provider. Make an appointment to discuss your intent with them and have them assess your ability to take on regular exercise. Depending on your age and your overall physical health, they may restrict some of your activities. Don’t let this discourage you!
Don’t let this discourage you! Even if you are significantly limited there are undoubtedly numerous activities you can take on. Simply ramping up or adding daily walks are a great start. If you are limited from even doing this, water therapy is accessible to almost everyone regardless of your physical condition. Your primary care provider should be able to recommend activities for you to start with. As you improve, you may be able to expand those activities with your Dr.’s blessing.
There are a few things you may need to change
First, start slow. When you were younger, is was no big deal to head out on a Saturday for a few pickup games of basketball after couch surfing for the week. You won’t be able to get away with that after you enter your 40’s. You can still play hoops, but you should get back into it slowly and build to those long weekend sessions. Good news here is that if you build some consistency into your exercise you should be able to work up to a similar intensity and duration as you did earlier in life. Just take your time getting there.
Don’t plan on working out at max intensity every day. Your body can’t recover from a hard workout like it did in your 20’s. Decreases in hormones associated with aging mean your body requires additional recovery time. This doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to exercise only once or twice a week. It does mean you can’t perform at max effort every day. Limit your max intensity days to no more than twice a week preferably with different exercises.
So one hard cardio workout a week and one intense resistance session are probably the most you should shoot for. On the other days, go for steady effort you can maintain without pain or exhaustion. Your body will still be reaping rewards. As you get fitter, you will be able to push more on these “off” days.
You also need to take extra care to avoid injury. Aging does make you more injury prone. While exercise will help fend this off, you need to recognize that your balance, eyesight, and agility will degrade over time. Take some precautions to take as much risk out of your activities as possible. For example, if you are taking up jogging, make sure you choose a regular surface and try to run in daylight hours. This will lessen the chance you roll an ankle or trip and take a hard spill.
If you do get injured, you need to take your recovery seriously and slowly. As we get older, it takes our bodies longer to recover from an injury. What you may have recovered from in a couple of days may take a week or more. This can be very frustrating and can derail the great progress you have been making.
Take your rest days seriously. You will need to make sure you take one or two days off per week to allow your body time to recover. Your body can take exercise later in life, but it does require a little more time to rebound than it did when you were young. If you don’t give yourself proper rest during the week you may suffer an overuse injury.
Need some more motivation? Check out these aging athletes!
– In October 2016 Ed Whitlock ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 3:56, shattering the record for the 85-90-year-old age category
– 73-year-old South African Otto Thaning became the oldest person to swim the English Channel (~21 miles in 64-degree water!)
– Svend Stensgaard grew bored in retirement and decided to take up powerlifting. At 93, he is still going strong and competing!
Just look at Sgt. Murtaugh. He ended up following Riggs around for 3 more movies when he decided not to let his age get in the way. Commit, make a plan, and get after it!