I am all about the first steps when it comes to fitness – that first run or incorporating a fitness or Pilates class into your week on a regular basis. Something is ALWAYS better than nothing. And – it’s SO important to find an active thing that you enjoy.
#ThisGirlCan is a much better place to be than #ThisGirlDidn’tBother
If you want to get results – and I’m talking here about results like managing joint pain or age proofing your body – you need to get smart with your workouts.
Once you approach or get past 40, there are six key ways you need to workout in order to look after your body and mind now and in the future.
Gone are the days when a basic ‘one size fits all’ weights programme in the gym or studio will work its magic on your body.
As much as it’s nice to defy ageing, we can’t get away from simple facts about older bodies:
- Our muscles are less elastic and prone to muscle loss (sarcopenia).
- Our joints are more prone to chronic health conditions like osteoarthritis.
- The discs in our back are likely to have some degree of degeneration. According to the Spine Health Association 30% of 35 year olds will have some form of disc degeneration with most of us having it by the age of 60 (not everyone’s will be symptomatic).
- Our bones are prone to losses in density.
I’m in the fortunate position where I understand how to train my body (even if I don’t always do it) but I see so many people take up running or yoga, cycling or swimming with the best of intentions to improve their physical and mental wellbeing. And whilst having any fitness ‘thing’ that you do and love is important, if you start to hurt, get injured, lose motivation or progress, it’s time to rethink your workouts and activity.
So how can you workout smarter? We think there are six specific focuses for your workouts as you get older. Get these right and you’ll help age proof your body whilst staying fit and strong for your life now.
1. Train for an event or a specific goal
Whether you want to run a sub 25 minute 5k or do a handstand in yoga, at some point you’ll need to push through a mental or pain barrier rather than being comfortable at coast-along level. For example: If I’m planning a 5k and want to improve my time, then I need to do some workouts to get there. I’d plan speed and interval work; power work in the gym (jumping lunges and such like); and also heart and lung work like swimming and cycling up hills. I suppose I’d consider it the slightly less pleasant side of my exercise regime. No one wakes up one day and relishes the prospect of speed intervals but the improved performance the hard graft brings to your workouts feels amazing.
2. Manage your own weak spots
For some people it’s a history of injury, for others it’s post birth trauma or a chronic health condition. Rather than stopping and succumbing to pain, there are ways of working out which can help with physical weak spots. For me it’s a right hip that niggles, especially when I’m stressed; my neck and mid back are prone to seizing up; and I’ve recently lost muscle mass due to simply not eating enough, not doing enough resistance training for me and being over 40 (the muscle loss trajectory is no longer naturally in my favour). In order to manage all of these issues I need to do some specific strength and conditioning exercises and mobility work. Without it, I know nothing will get better!
3. Age Proofing Workouts
The older you get, the more you need to move. I’m aware of the need to age proof my body now I’m into that over 40s era of slow decay! We may notice dryness in skin or nails but that dryness is on the inside too. Our joints are no longer plump and springy with synovial fluid. I’ve noticed my ankles and knees take longer to warm up on the tennis court or when heading out for a run. Women need to pay particular attention to bone density – ensuring there’s sufficient impact and resistance training in their workouts to maintain bone density. Strong, powerful legs have been linked to brain size. I certainly don’t want my brain to atrophy as I age. And of course there’s the link between exercise and DNA. Exercise can have a direct impact on minimising the impact of stress and free radicals on your DNA on a cellular level.
4. Mobilise and Stretch
Even if you are the ultimate cardio goddess, skip the mobility and flexibility and your body will, at some stage, grind to a halt. If you need some motivation to mobilise, consider it could make you a more efficient (faster) runner. Hips, ankles, backs and shoulders all need a little love when it comes to movement.
It’s not all specific or high intensity. It’s important to have activity you do for fun too. For me it’s pleasant run with friends; a game of tennis; or taking my bike into the forest for some tree bathing. It’s the stuff that the workouts make easier. Just don’t rely on your fun stuff to see you through to your 60s and 70s. At some point your body will begin to give you more feedback, so get in quick before age gets you.
6. Workouts for the Mind
Let’s not forget the importance of your mind and soul when it comes to exercise. Whether it’s the endorphin buzz of a HIIT class; the quiet mindful place to breathe of a run in nature; or the powerful meditation of yoga, our souls and mental health need exercise too. Sometimes it is purely this type of workout which gets me out of the house and up to the top of the hill on my bike. Once you’ve found out what this is for you – you’ve found the elixir of an active life.