There are several exercise guidelines to follow as you head into your 40’s, 50’s and beyond. Do it right and there are numerous positive outcomes.
Guy Leech practices what he preaches. Once an elite athlete who dominated the world of Ironman, he is now a living example of how the body need not break down as it ages. One of Australia’s fittest 51-year-olds, Leech’s health has a lot to do with regular exercise. Interestingly though, it has just as much to do with the exercises he has given up.
Leech realised in his 40s that his body was not reacting favourably to long runs, so he cut back and has now almost removed running from his program. Other typical exercises from his younger days, such as squats that put strain on the knees, have also been dropped.
“The human body becomes less malleable the older you get,” Leech, now director of Guy Leech Fitness, says. “Our 40s tend to be the first time we begin to see signs that we’re not as young as we used to be.”
“Plus, we all have injuries from when we were younger. Some old injuries can become bigger problems. So there are different rules as you grow older.”
The good news, Leech says, is that there is plenty you can do to work around the issues of an ageing body. Success has to do with recognising limitations, and understanding how the body responds to exercise.
Don’t punish your body
When you turn 40, impactful exercises that put stresses on your body should be cut back.
“You should do less running and less cross-fit, and more exercises like bike riding, swimming, walking or kayaking,” Leech says. “These are things that do not put huge strain on joints and tendons.”
“If you are doing the same thing all the time, chances are you will get repetition injury. It is easy to think you’re safe doing what you have always done. But a good strategy is to mix things up by swimming one day, doing yoga the next, and walking the next etc.”
Measure your progress
How does one go about measuring their fitness success? Leech and Gardener say the single best way to measure progress is also the simplest way – around the waist with a tape measure.
“It is less about your weight and more about the circumference of your waist,” Leech says.
“Fat on the body is at its most dangerous around the internal organs, which is around your stomach. That is called ‘subcutaneous fat’. Fat in that section can grow around your internal organs, which can be fatal.”
Ashley Gardner, Senior Exercise Physiologist at PACE Health Management, says variation is vital for ongoing fitness.
“The body needs to be challenged in order to adapt,” Gardner says. “A lot of people stay in their comfort zone when they exercise. The problem is your body gets used to it, so it is not challenged and will not build muscle tissue. Your exercise program needs to change every four to six weeks.”
Strength training is vital
As the body ages, the most important form of exercise is related to strength rather than stamina.
The average adult’s muscle mass peaks at the age of 25, Gardner says. After that our bones begin to lose density and muscle tissue decreases. By the time we’re 80 we have lost 20% to 40% of our muscle tissue. This is a big issue.
“Muscle tissue serves a lot of functions,” Gardner says. “Muscles burn 70% to 90% of the body’s glucose, or blood sugar, so muscle helps keep weight down. In burning sugar, muscles also reduce incidence of type 2 diabetes. And muscles load up the bones, encouraging them to maintain their density.”
Weight training does not have to mean a gym membership, Gardner says. It can be as simple as standing from a chair repeatedly without using the armrests, or doing push ups against a table. However you do it, the Australian Government’s Department of Health recommends muscle strengthening activities at least two days a week.
Improve your balance
The other big area for improvement is balance. Once you are of a certain age, Gardner says, you tend to avoid situations where you are required to balance. This leads to slower physical reactions and to more falls.
Balance exercises can be as simple as standing on one leg for as long as possible, perhaps as the kettle boils or during TV commercials. Or simply walk, heel-to-toe, along a line on the floor as if you’re on a tightrope. As your balance improves, try doing balance exercises combined with strength exercises – standing on one foot while doing bicep curls, for instance.
Exercising throughout your life offers endless benefits, Leech says. “It clears the mind and releases endorphins in your body. These are your natural happy drugs,” he says. “So it makes you feel good.”
“Obviously it makes you fitter and therefore you feel better. This means your quality of life is improved. We all want to feel better in later years and do the things we’d like to do. And if you want to play golf but can’t walk the course then you’re not going to enjoy your retirement.”
Source: Count Financial
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