Your physical fitness in middle age can be a powerful protector against the energy drop that sometimes comes with aging, joint deterioration, heart conditions, and more.
- In fact, staying fit during the midlife years is one of the most powerful ways to prevent chronic illness, according to the latest study done at UT Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute.
This thorough study on your physical fitness in middle age examined more than 18,000 participants with an average age of 49 and found that the more fit men and women were, the lower their chances of developing serious health conditions.
And the study monitored the participants with 26 years of follow-up testing.
Not enough reason to get moving? Ok, how about this?
- Your physical fitness in middle age can help stop osteoporosis, as shown by yet another study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
In that study, it was shown that pre-menopausal women who worked out for as little as two hours a week maintained healthier bones than those who did not exercise.
Still not convinced? Try this
➡ Research published in the Journal of **Neuroepidemiology found that regular exercise can help stave off dementia, too.
**Neuroepidemiology is a branch of epidemiology involving the study of neurological disease and the causes/frequency in human populations.
➡ An even earlier research study around exercise and brain health published in the Archives of Neurology indicated that regular physical activity, including both aerobic workouts and strength training, is a smart way to support the brain.
➡ And earlier this year, researchers found that elderly women with the first signs of memory decline might be able to halt full-blown dementia by adopting regular resistance training.
If that’s not convincing enough, in a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, women in their seventies and eighties completed either strength training, aerobics, or balance and toning programs.
Six months later, the strength training group saw significant positive changes to the part of the brain associated with cognitive ability.
So, if you’re worried that you’re too late to the party to make a difference, you’ll need to come up with a better excuse for not breaking a sweat.
➡ You can make gains in your strength and cardiovascular health even when you’re in your sixties, seventies, and eighties, according to the associate director of Columbia Orthopedics Sports Therapy in New York.
➡ Even moderate exercise is so good for overall health, that it can put the brakes on the gradual loss of muscle mass that starts once you hit age 40.
➡ Starting at the age of 40, you lose between 0.8 and 1 % of our muscle strength each year.
➡ At age 60, it can accelerate to 1.5 % a year
➡ And if we don’t do something about it by age 70, it can increase to 3% a year.
I know that those percentages don’t seem that high, but in terms of muscle loss…oh yes they are.
- Muscle loss can lead to balance problems, increasing the risk of falling.
- Falling can result in serious injuries, such as hip fractures.
- A serious injury can increase the risk of an early death.
The questions are easily answered by a cartoon found in one physician’s office:
It shows a doctor talking to a patient and asking, “What fits your busy schedule better? Exercising 30 minutes a day or being dead 24 hours a day?”
Blunt? Let that simmer a bit…
Baby Steps to Middle-Age Fitness
If you’ve never exercised, just starting can feel overwhelming. But the first (and most important) step is to set a goal.
1. Find your WHY: Define for yourself why you want to start a fitness routine. Is it to lose weight, get stronger, or improve your overall health? Or all three?
Once you have a goal, you’ll have something to work toward.
2. Next, check in with your doctor. The older you are, the greater your risk for medical conditions, so it’s wise to have a full checkup and talk to your doctor before starting.
- Make sure you discuss any pre-existing conditions, which may influence the type and intensity of exercises that will be safe for you.
To get the most from your middle-age fitness routine, you’ll want a plan customized for you. If you cannot afford to work with a personal trainer, start slowly and build slowly. The operative word is S L O W L Y.
3. The key to your success is a gradual progression.
- Don’t be surprised if, after your first workout — even if it was just a brisk walk — you’re sore.
Some soreness is to be expected. However, if you’re so sore that you can’t move, you may have overdone it and should take it slower the next time. Just be sure there is a next time.
- If you can’t do 30 minutes at a time, break your workout into 10-minute intervals and rest in between.
Any exercise counts as long as it’s sustained for at least 10 minutes at a time and is of moderate to vigorous intensity.
- To build over time, slowly replace physical activities that take moderate effort, such as brisk walking, with those that need more vigorous expenditures of energy, like slow jogging, or using a treadmill at a little higher speed setting.
As you start making progress, keep challenging yourself.
Try “Interval Training” which includes adding more intense spurts at regular intervals during the workout.
➡ For instance: If you’re walking, increase your speed until you reach the next street sign, and then drop back to your usual brisk pace until you reach the next sign.
➡ Repeat the pattern for the entire length of the walk. Brisk, then your usual pace and back to brisk, and so on.
4. Exercises for Your Health
A well-rounded fitness plan includes three types of activity:
A. Cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise that targets your heart.
Options for cardiovascular activities include anything that pushes your heart rate up moderately.
- Brisk walking
- Playing tennis
B. Strength Training that targets muscles and prevents muscle loss that comes with aging.
- For strength training, work out every third day, when starting—never on consecutive days.
It’s the rest in between, not the working out, that makes you stronger. Working out breaks down muscles and the rest builds them back up
C. Flexibility training to keep you limber and help you maintain your balance.
- Exercise choices that focus on flexibility include Tai Chi and Yoga, but there are many other simple exercises and stretches you can do.
**Read about the multiple benefits of Yoga here: Reducing Stress With Yoga – How To Rescue Your Heart
In fact, all three types of exercises described above can be done at home with proper instructions.
Sample Middle-Age Fitness Plans
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer many suggestions for creating a weekly workout schedule.
➡ Click this link and do a search at the top right side of the website for physical activity for adults. There are excellent guidelines and free videos with instructions and great tips for every age.
➡ Above all, make exercise for health enjoyable. If you pick an activity you like, you’re more likely to stick with it.
➡ If you find a partner to exercise with, you’re also more likely to continue your routine.
➡ Know that activities like gardening (when you’re digging and shoveling) count.
Some exercise disciplines are motivational and do double duty:
➡ Yoga increases flexibility and develops your muscles, as well as relaxes you and relieves stress.
➡ Pilates strengthens muscles and works on flexibility and balance, too.
Best of all, when you choose workouts you like, the energy and sense of accomplishment you’ll get will serve as motivation to continue.