Keeping Fit as You Grow Up (What are the differences in fitness from 20 to 50 and beyond).
Updated: Apr 3
So you might like working out, or not. But certainly, when we are younger, we seem to be able to get away with doing more, pushing our limits more, and feeling confident in doing it.
We know our bodies change as we get older, and at the gym or on the street, you've no doubt seen people a couple of generations above you (and your own age) get weak, stiff, and do less.
But this doesn't have to be. You don't need to be less capable. Yes, you will lose capability as you get older, but ensuring you have the right attitude and approach to maintaining or improving your body will make a huge difference.
Getting older is going to happen. Your body will go through changes that make things more challenging, but there are actions you can take to decrease these challenges.
Before I go through them, I will bring up the age-old issue of motivation. You do need to find your motivation. Mine is a 75-year-old who goes to the YMCA on the North Shore. He lifts weights. This old man doesn't just lift weights, he out lifts men half his age. I want to be like him when I'm 75: strong, flexible, and with great motor control.
Challenge #1 - Strength Loss
The older you get, the weaker and frailer you're going to get, right? With age comes a decline in strength, but the age at which that sets in and the severity of that decline depends on your exercise habits. A lifelong exerciser in his 70s is going to have a significant advantage over a lifelong couch potato of the same age. Simply put, active people with exercise programs hold onto their strength better and longer and can improve it if new to strenuous exercise.
Challenge #2 - Decrease in Flexibility
We struggle with flexibility our whole lives, but the decline post-55 is significant. One study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3703899/) showed a decrease in shoulder flexion of 5-6 degrees per decade and hip flexion of 6-7 degrees per decade. Ouch!
Flexibility training has a huge impact on retaining and increasing range of motion as you get older, even if you have already lost mobility. You can moan about losing the flexibility you once had, or you can start flexibility training.
Challenge #3 - Impaired Motor Control
This is a big one as it is the most dangerous of the three. This is responsible for older people losing their balance and falling. What is motor control? We are basically talking about our level of coordination. It's what turns our flexibility and strength into controlled motion. When performing exercises, if you don't rush them and ensure that you are carrying them out properly and with coordination, then you are practicing your motor control. Sometimes, proper training is necessary. Maybe you aren't concerned now, but will you be so confident in 20, 30, 40 years? Train it and you will be.
Challenge #4 - Menopause
Ok, not relevant to everyone, but well over half of my clients will go through or have gone through menopause. What's going on? Estrogen and progesterone decrease. This impacts your muscle tissues and nervous system, always negatively. But guess what? Yup. Exercise mitigates the negative impacts. Menopause causes decreased muscle mass, bone density, and metabolism. Strength training increases all of these. Menopause causes stiffness and aches. Flexibility training prevents these. Menopause causes fatigue, sleep disturbance, and low moods and yup again. Consistent exercise helps against all of these.
Keep doing the things you love for as long as long as you can. Don't stop moving! Think about how you want to be in 20, 30 or 40 years time. Think about that when you work out.
Make sure you change out your exercise routines. Don't repeat the same exercises and classes over and over again. Your body gets used to it and stops improving. Patient, directed, consistent effort will always win over a manic rush to improve.
Assess your weaknesses. Take a critical look at your strength, flexibility and otor control. Don't think about working on it later. Work on it now. Be systematic and critical.
Focus on recovery. Don't overdo exercise. Your body needs rest and relaxation, just like your mind. That doesn't mean sitting on the couch, it means, go for a walk, a cycle, a swim.
Think about being young. Work towards staying young.