THE IMPORTANCE OF EXERCISE AFTER 50
When you are in your 20s, 30s, perhaps even 40s, and are of reasonable health, you can go several weeks, even months without exercise and still be able to tag along with your “fit” friends. A spontaneous hike one weekend, a game of volleyball on the beach, or a bike ride tackling some hills can be done with relatively few negative side effects. Yes, you notice your breathing gets heavier before the others, you can tell your thighs could do with some strength work, but overall, you can do the activity and leave feeling absolutely fine.
Fast forward into the 40s for some people, 50s for most, and 60s for almost everyone and this carefree attitude towards fitness puts you in poor shape, if not bad shape, potentially resulting in an inability to enjoy life. Once we hit 50, if we go a week without movement our bodies are very aware. The first day back at exercise is hard and the soreness felt the next day can make you not want to repeat the experience!
Lesson to be learned, don’t stop exercising! Or, if you’re not exercising, start now, but start slow, and then never stop! Here are the reasons why:
As we get older, we don’t have as much muscle mass and as a result are not as strong. Couple this with deteriorating visual and sensory perception, and a poorly functioning balancing mechanism in the ear that comes to most people with age, and you’ve got balancing concerns.
We can improve our balance through strength exercises and, not surprisingly, balance work. The best strengthening exercises are ones where your center of gravity is thrown off. Strengthening exercises help with muscle mass but it's exercises where you feel off balance that engage your small stabilizing muscles (those around the ankles, knees, etc) and therefore improve overall balance. Single standing leg lifts, single arm raises, and rising on to your toes are all great exercises that challenge your stability while challenging your strength. Similarly, good ol’ fashion standing-on-one-leg, closing your eyes and trying your best not to fall, will help you improve your balance over time.
At 40, it is estimated that our metabolism slows 5% every 10 years. It is proven that having lean muscle increases metabolism. Your best defense against an aging metabolism is strength training, also known as resistance training.
Doing everyday activities just isn't enough once we get older. Even if you're very active with gardening, walking, and house cleaning, this simply isn't providing enough of a stress on the body for muscle development. We therefore need to pick up the slack by incorporating some weight lifting, or weight bearing exercises into our life. Working with dumbbells (also known as free weights) will provide you with good training. Bicep curls, chest press, shoulder raises and tricep extensions all help to strengthen the arms and back and contribute to lean muscle mass.
It is of greater importance to work the larger muscle groups like the thighs, glutes and core. Any work on all-fours, lifting and extending your leg into the air will work the glute muscles. Squats are often the go-to for thighs but sadly they're not always the safest exercise to do if you have knee problems or are just starting to strengthen the legs. Straight leg lifts, when sitting in a chair, can provide enough of a workout for the legs to begin developing those muscles. Strength doesn't come quickly when we're older, but it does come and the benefits to metabolism and overall wellness are too good to not persevere through the tough workouts.
The common cold
The common cold is common because everyone gets it. There doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason as to why some people get colds and some people don't. Unhealthy people get them, healthy people get them, call it luck (or perhaps good hand washing), but for the most part there's little we can do to avoid catching a cold. The part that does seem to be under our control is how long that cold stays around and the severity of that cold. When we're older, all these shots at our immune system start to take their toll. The more we can stay illness free the better we are.
The obvious cold fighting techniques still apply, like getting more sleep, eating well, drinking lots of fluid, and bumping up your vitamin C, but having a strong body (through the weight training you've been doing) and a healthy cardiovascular system put you in a good position to keep that cold short-lived and barely interrupt your life. It has not gone unnoticed in my own life that when I'm running more (preparing for a race) I'm less susceptible to colds. There have been times when my family is falling apart around me, sniffling, coughing, shivering, and all I can feel in myself is a sore throat. The cold is in my system, but it never fully gets me. It has also worked for me that when I feel like something might be trying to get me, I go for a run to "shake-it-out" as I say, and, 90% of the time, that cold never got me. Day one was it's last day.
Keeping cardio as part of your life, at least three times a week, will keep your heart and lungs healthy. Taking an aerobics class, going for a walk, or, if you're so inclined, going for a run or bike ride will all help to keep your cardiovascular system healthy and help to keep those colds to a minimum.
Once you reach 30 (that's right, I said 30) you don't build bone mass as readily as you used to. Having frail and weak bones is often a terrifying prospect. Falling when you're younger is annoying. Falling in your 40s and up comes with the thought of "Uh-oh, what have I done? and Will I ever be the same again?" Diet certainly helps in this matter, but exercise that places stress on our weight-bearing bones helps keep and increase bone density too.
The following exercises have been linked to increasing bone density:
- weight training (unfortunately squats are the best so, if you are able to do these, try to keep them up)
- stair running (and yes, running up and down on the steps in the Body Blast class counts!)
- body weight exercises (like lunges, situps and pushups)
- high-impact aerobics
Although some of the exercises above might not be an option, nor should they be for everyone, it's important to try to incorporate at least one. The one that tends to be the safest for everyone is weight training. Just remember that weight training doesn't mean pumping serious iron. If it's heavy to you, it's heavy, be it 2lbs or 25lbs. If you feel you're having to work then you're doing your body a favour and your older self will thank you for it.
The final word
It's hard to plan ahead when things are going so well. If you're currently healthy you assume you'll always be healthy and perhaps you will be. However, aging does come to us all and the body, as noted above, does deteriorate and slow down. To make this process a slow one, a late one, or maybe even an inconsequential one, we have to put in the work now. We all want to be agile and sprightly into our 80s so, keep up the exercise, be kind to your body in the process, and remember that everyone's "challenge" is different. If you're working hard for you, and taking rest when needed, then you're doing what's right for your body