Exercise benefits us in so many ways that it’s hard to name them all. From improving our physical fitness and reducing the risk of a huge array of diseases to helping reduce stress and improve mental health, the benefits exercise offers us throughout our lives are undeniable. Yet many of us don’t make time for exercise — in fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 80 percent of American adults do not meet the government’s recommendations for physical activity. What’s more, those most likely to exercise regularly are the youngest adults, age 18 to 24. This is a shame considering exercise’s ability to profoundly affect the symptoms of aging, including joint pain, muscle loss, balance limitations and increased risk of disease.
We believe living a naturally healthful lifestyle begins with the foundation of healthy eating and a regular exercise regimen. Read the following tips to stay active at any age. Note: If you are just beginning a fitness regimen, it’s wise to consult your physician to get customized recommendations on the amount and intensity of exercise that is appropriate for you. This is especially important if you have any type of health condition.
In our 30s, our bodies first begin age-related muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia. Physically inactive people can expect to lose three to five percent of their muscle mass each decade after 30. While some of this is inevitable, weight training during this decade is helpful to retain muscle, as well as to begin to strengthen bones, which becomes increasingly important with age. Building muscle will also help prevent losses in metabolism that accompany both aging and muscle loss.
The 30s are the busiest decade of life for many adults, as this is typically when we are building our careers and potentially raising families. That means many 30-somethings are strapped for time. Get the most bang for your workout buck by choosing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, which research supports as the most efficient type of workout. With HIIT workouts, you can experience significant fitness improvements in time periods as short as 20 minutes. You’ll find a huge array of HIIT workouts available if you look online. The easiest way to do your own HIIT workout is by alternating periods of intensity with periods of relative rest. For example, alternate sprinting at your highest capacity and walking. You can choose from a variety of time frames (intense for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds; intense for 1 minute, rest for 1 minute, etc.); some experts suggest the best option is to customize your HIIT workout to your body. This means simply work at your highest possible intensity for as long as you can maintain it, then rest until you feel partially but not entirely recovered, and start again.
Because in our 30s our bodies are resilient, it’s also a great time to experiment with different types of workouts. Diversity is an excellent feature of a good workout routine, as it challenges new muscle groups and keeps workouts interesting. Diversity is also valuable in that it will inform you of the types of exercise you find most enjoyable, most challenging, most effective, most stress-reducing, etc. This knowledge will serve you well as you continue your exercise routine throughout your life. From yoga, tai chi, qigong and karate to mountain climbing, trail riding, swimming and dancing, the options of exercises to try are expansive.
Aim for 3 to 4 HIIT workouts per week; 2 resistance workouts per week; trying one new exercise activity monthly.
Our 40s are quite possibly the years of our lives when it’s most critical to maintain a regular exercise routine. Research by experts at the University of Houston has confirmed that it’s during our mid-40s that we experience key changes that can accelerate our bodies’ natural decline in middle age, particularly a decrease in cardiorespiratory fitness. Lower fitness levels increase our risk of developing a range of conditions including obesity, heart problems, stroke and some cancers. Social changes and new nagging pains often mean 40-somethings work out less than they should, yet by exercising regularly during this time of life, we can literally add years to our lives. Regular exercise is associated with greater longevity, and exercise is the best way to resist the effects of aging that begin to accelerate during this decade.
The 40s is also when most women experience perimenopause — the four to 10 years leading up to menopause in which most women’s estrogen levels begin to drop. Declining estrogen levels can mean potential weight gain, especially an increase in fat in the abdomen, which can be particularly harmful for heart health. Combat this by keeping up with high-intensity cardio workouts. If you have nagging pains in your joints, consider switching to low-impact cardio such as cycling and swimming, although weight-bearing exercises like walking, running and jumping are also important as they help preserve bone density. Many HIIT-style workouts can also be followed using lower-impact versions of the exercises.
Finally, during this time of life, our muscles begin to lose both mass and elasticity, which can slow metabolism and
increase the likelihood of injury. Avert this by regularly stretching — yoga and Pilates are both excellent, low-impact methods to keep muscles toned and supple. Some people also begin to experience increased sleep problems as hormones and body chemistry change, and yoga and stretching can help improve sleep.
Aim for: 2 to 3 30-minute HIIT workouts per week; 2 to 3 resistance training sessions per week separated by days of rest; 1 to 2 yoga or Pilates sessions per week.
The 50s is when most women experience menopause, which causes a wide range of hormonal changes and symptoms ranging from physical ailments such as aching joints to mental health complaints such as depression and moodiness.
Although people often see aching joints as a reason to forgo exercise, a regular exercise routine that includes resistance training is actually proven to reduce joint pain as it helps strengthen bones and maintain a healthy weight. Joint pain and stiffness is a common complaint of aging, yet exercise is one of the most effective ways to both manage arthritis pain and keep joints and muscles flexible. Strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints also offers more support, leading to reduced pain and strain. And while mild depression may make us want to curl up on the couch with a movie and a pint of ice cream, exercise will also improve psychological health and emotional well-being at any age.
As we age, yoga becomes an even more important element of our exercise regimen. Many women experience issues with sexual function during and after menopause. However, a study of sexually active women aged 22 to 55 published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that an hour of daily yoga improved sexual function scores across all six studied areas (desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and pain) and across all age groups, although the biggest improvement was in women older than 45.
Finally, although it’s not specifically tied with menopause, our risk of developing cancer increases with age.
In a comprehensive study by French researchers reported by NPR, experts stated “the more active a woman is, the better her odds of avoiding breast cancer. Women who were most active, with more than an hour a day of vigorous activity, got the most benefits, lowering cancer risk by 12 percent.”
Aim for: 2 to 3 cardio workouts per week such as brisk walking, jogging or swimming; yoga 3 times a week or more; resistance training 2 to 3 times a week separated by days of rest.
Although research has found exercise effective at slowing or even preventing many of the physical symptoms of aging, only 28 to 34 percent of adults aged 65 to 74 report being physically active.
One important effect of exercise is strengthening bones. Bone density decreases with age, and particularly in post-menopausal women. Multiple studies support strength training’s ability to increase bone density, reducing risk of osteoporosis as well as injury. Strength training may involve weight-lifting or body-weight exercises such as squats, push-ups and lunges, and it should comprise about 20 percent of your overall workout regimen. In addition to aiding in joint and muscle health, strength training keeps metabolism up and may reduce sleep issues.
Aerobic activity is also important to continue to maintain muscle, joint and heart health. Choose aerobic activity such as dancing, brisk walking, biking or swimming. If you do these activities at a moderate pace — your breathing and heart rate are noticeably increased but you can carry on a full conversation — aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If you work out at a higher intensity — vigorous activity in which you are breathing rapidly and no longer able to carry on a full conversation — aim for 20 minutes a day, three days a week.
Aim for: Moderate aerobic activity 5 days a week or vigorous aerobic activity 3 days a week; yoga 3 times a week or more; resistance training 2 to 3 times a week separated by days of rest.
Exercise in our 70s and beyond can extend our years of health, functionality and independence. While it’s important to be realistic about your health and abilities, it’s possible for people in their 70s, 80s and even 90s to be remarkably active (the oldest woman to run a marathon was 92!). One increasingly important issue as we age is balance. Every year, more than one-third of people age 65 and older fall, and injuries from these falls can limit activity or make it impossible to live independently. A combination of balance and strength exercises can help prevent falls and reduce the risk of serious injury if falls occur. The National Institutes of Health recommends five balance-improvement exercises you can do daily to help maintain balance. They include standing on one foot, walking heel to toe, and leg raises, among others. Find instructions and example videos at motherearthliving.com/exercise-for-every-decade. You can also help improve balance and overall muscle tone, as well as increase the ease of everyday activities such as carrying groceries and walking up stairs, with daily resistance training using light weights or body weight.
Stretching becomes increasingly important as we age to help prevent injury and make exercise more enjoyable. Devoting extra time to warming up and cooling down may also help prevent injury, as muscles that are warm are more pliant.
Aim for: One hour of exercise each day, including a long warm-up and a long cool-down, plus a mix of moderate cardiovascular exercise and resistance training; at least 10 minutes of stretching daily.
Check out Fitness by Decade for more helpful tips