Don’t get me wrong, I love that my 50+-year-old body is strong, capable and reliable, but I also realize that some of my chronic aches and pains are from overuse and my years of rigorous training (and teaching). The older we get the more important it is to identify age appropriate exercise for wellness. Today’s wisdom is a result of my own training in addition to that of my clients, my friends, my parents and the elderly rock-stars in the gym.
Late teens and 20’s: Basically, you are moving to move – for the activities you enjoy and also to build and strengthen bone density. You don’t have to go into intense overload although you certainly can because at this age you can do just about anything. I remember jogging 45-minutes, six days a week in college and adding weight training on a three days on/one day off schedule soon after my first job. Even then, the injuries started for me.
30’s: Finding balance begins here. We feel like we can abuse our bodies but we often don’t rest and recover enough. Job and family stress often pushes us to do more in less time. Stress causes breakdown. You might still love basketball but only be able to do it on the weekend. That leads you into the weekend warrior syndrome. Balance what you love with what your body needs – like yoga, pilates, a 30-minute elliptical session, a swim, dance or something less stressful. Too many pull-ups or push-ups can irritate your rotator cuff and heavy squatting can be a killer for low back and those aging discs. A Saturday morning pick-up game of hoop sent my husband to the emergency room with a torn calf muscle. It has been a problem ever since. Also, remember that we have already started to lose muscle so keep up the weight training or resistance work at least twice a week.
40’s: Quit the weekend warrior stuff and go for consistency, especially if you want to try something new. Nothing wrong with taking on a triathlon for the first time, but not if your training consists of running on Saturday, biking on Sunday and not much else in between. Your joints and cartilage are not as forgiving. Those tough weight training sessions or anything with a lot of “time under tension” can actually set you back. Start listening to your body and be honest with yourself. If you are in pain and it’s not muscular, stop doing what is causing it until you heal, or trade in the activity/exercise for something else. Probably even more work and family stress which means more breakdown. And, don’t forget about that muscle loss issue – it doesn’t go away – but your muscle will if you don’t do resistance work.
50’s: Joint alert. You might still feel strong and powerful in the gym or during your workouts, but you have to face the facts, your body is half a century old. Check in and stay focused during your routines. Pay attention to balance, stability and flexibility as well as strength and endurance. I see a lot of overuse injuries. I have them myself. Don’t set yourself back with an over-the-top, extended or super advanced workout. Too much of a good thing is actually not a good thing.
60-70’s and beyond: Although my Dad is 90 and still walking – for about an hour – every day, he has lost quite a bit of muscle because he doesn’t and hasn’t done any lifting for years. I have spin students in their mid-60’s and early 70’s that are intense in their workouts but still practical about their overall routines. Ironically, I’ve noticed that my fellow fitness enthusiasts that take up running or other recreational sports later in life seem to have less injuries. I’m assuming that’s because they don’t have all those prior years of pounding.
No matter what you choose when you pass the 60’s, be appreciative of your joints and especially your knees and elbows. Even yoga and pilates can be tough. I tried some tai chi recently and a few of the positions were painful due to my chondromalacia. That fact that you can move, get out of breath and feel strong is a huge plus. No falling at this age. Work on your core strength and balance all the time. Enjoy your life. Feel good. Take in your walks or swims. If you are still able to train at an intense level, congratulations. There are a lot of you and that rocks! Either way, take good care of yourself and remember that rest and recovery are critical for proper repair and restoration, which are critical for maintaining your workouts, which are essential to keeping you consistent in any exercise program.