Getting older is inevitable, but that doesn't have to mean becoming less active. As you age, your body starts to slow down and tasks that used to be easy now require a bit more effort to accomplish. On top of that, your metabolism slows down, causing you to gain weight. You lose muscle mass, your cardiovascular fitness declines, and your reflexes aren't as sharp as they once were. While this might sound like a doomsday diagnosis, there is some good news: It's possible to slow down the aging process through regular exercise.
Activities such as strength training and high-intensity interval training, as well as regularly changing up your exercise routine can help maintain muscle mass, prevent cardiovascular decline and improve balance. All three of these components are essential to living a long, healthy and independent life.
Add these activities to your weekly fitness routine to slow down your body's clock.
- Endurance exercises. Activities such as running, cycling and swimming are the best ways to improve your cardiovascular function and prevent your metabolism from slowing down. Aim to get at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio (aerobic) activity most days, for a total of 150 minutes each week.
- Interval training. Instead of a steady-state bout of running or cycling, with high-intensity interval training, you alternate bursts of intense activity (that makes you breathe heavily) with lighter activity. An example workout would include five intervals at a higher intensity (which may mean increasing speed, incline or resistance) for one to two minutes with a one- to two-minute period in between at a slightly lower intensity. An easy way to determine if you're working hard enough is whether you can talk (or sing) easily. If you can't, you're working hard enough during your intervals. Add interval training to your workout routine one or two days each week.
Strength training. Maintaining muscle mass is very important as you age, since both men and women lose muscle mass as they age and replace it with fat. Skeletal muscle burns more calories at rest compared to fat tissue. It also protects your joints and can help your bones become stronger and maintain their density, which can prevent fractures. Maintaining and increasing muscle mass can also help improve balance and agility, which is crucial as you get older.
So how can you stop the loss of muscle mass and increase it instead? It's simple — lift weights! And no, you don't need to become a bodybuilder. If your routine doesn't currently include strength training, start by doing one set of 10 to 15 repetitions of exercises that challenge your major muscle groups, including your chest, back, arms and legs. For example, a chest exercise is a bench press, a back exercise is a row, and a leg exercise is a squat. Do these moves two to three times a week. If you're already lifting weights, increase the weight regularly. Aim for a modest increase every few weeks — in the range of 2.5 to 10 pounds — and keep track in a diary or journal to make certain you're increasing regularly. Even if you keep your routine exactly the same, increasing the weight so that your last few repetitions are challenging (but still doable) will help you become stronger, which means more lean muscle tissue — and better calorie-burning potential!
The last way to help slow down age-related changes is to keep adding challenge and variety to your workouts. When you perform an exercise routine over and over, with no change in frequency, intensity, duration or type of exercise, you can plateau. Over time, this lack of challenge may allow age-related changes to creep in before you know it. If you get complacent with your workouts, your body will, too.
Experiment with incorporating new fitness ideas into your exercise routine using these suggestions.
- Incorporate high-intensity interval training in one workout this week, and then build from there. Over time your goal should be to aim for two to three interval workouts each week.
- Keep track of your strength training workouts this week. Gradually increase the weight as you get stronger.
- Vary your exercise routine. Experiment with cardio, weights, interval training, yoga and leisure sports.