There is no doubt the question “fitness over 40” is a matter of discourse in most doctor’s offices, social groups and between friends. Older people may complain because they can no longer climb flights of stairs due to uncomfortable knee, back or hip pain.
In the not so distant past, starting an over 40 fitness program would have been considered a waste of time. It was commonly thought that once you turned 40 it was too late to get in shape. But exercise science has proven that you can become fit and healthy at any age.
Muscle loss and decreased cardiovascular fitness are not the normal result of aging; they’re primarily the result of a sedentary lifestyle. Once the average inactive person reaches age 65, they will have lost up to 40% of their muscle mass and aerobic capacity compared to when they were young adults. You can prevent this physical decline by remaining active as you age.
Numerous studies have shown that older people respond very favorably to both strength training and aerobic exercise. Most fitness experts agree that a 15-20 year decrease in biological age can be achieved with simple lifestyle changes. There can be a huge difference between biological age and chronological age.
Don’t put limits on yourself just because you’re over 40. Your fitness program should be based more on your goals and fitness level than on how old you are.
Here are 10 tips for starting an over 40 fitness program:
#1. Check with your doctor. If you have any existing health conditions or you’ve been inactive for a long time, you need to get medical clearance before you start to exercise.
#2. Evaluate your current fitness level. In order to develop an effective over 40 fitness program, you need to know what your current fitness level is. Cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition are all factors that need to be evaluated. Having a personal trainer evaluate your current fitness level is a good idea, even if you don’t plan on working with a personal trainer on an ongoing basis.
#3. Define your goals. What goals do you want to achieve? Do you want to lose 20 pounds of fat? Do you want to run a 10K race? Do you want to bench press 200 pounds? Goal setting has to be part of any over 40 fitness program.
#4. Be consistent. Once you start an over 40 fitness program, you have to follow it on a consistent basis if you want to derive any permanent benefits from it.
#5. Warm up before exercising. A warm up should be part of everyone’s exercise program regardless of their age, but it’s especially important for older exercisers who might be more susceptible to injuries. Warming up will stimulate blood flow to your muscles, increase your joint flexibility and range of motion, and get you mentally prepared for your workout. Do several minutes of easy aerobic exercise prior to more intense aerobic exercise. Do one or two light sets of each weight lifting exercise before using heavier weights.
#6. Stretch after exercising. Stretching and warming up are not the same. Warming up should be done before exercise and stretching should be done after exercise. Stretching is especially important for older exercisers who may have lost some flexibility over the years.
#7. Emphasize form and technique when lifting weights. You want to challenge yourself when lifting weights, but not at the expense of good form and technique. The over 40 exerciser needs to be especially careful to use good form and technique in order to avoid injury. Use muscle power, not momentum, when lifting weights. Don’t heave, swing or bounce the weights. Lift and lower the weights in a steady and controlled manner. Concentrate on feeling the muscle that you’re working.
#8. Give yourself enough recovery time after exercising. As you age, you need more recovery time after exercising. Give your body the time it needs to rest and recover and it will get stronger and healthier.
#9. Start slowly and build up gradually. Don’t push yourself too hard too fast. Slowly and gradually progress from your existing fitness level.
#10. Enjoy yourself. A fitness program has to be enjoyable if it’s going to become a regular part of your life. When you first start a fitness program, especially when you’re older, you may think it’s a chore. But the more you keep at it, the more enjoyable it will become. Your fitness program will become a positive addiction in short time.
Whatever you do, don’t let age slow you down. An over 40 fitness program will help you stay fit and healthy regardless of your physical age. Regardless of your age when beginning a fitness program there are some things you’ll need to know about smart fitness:
Get comfortable. If you’re new to exercise, that may mean joining a low-key gym like Curves or a walking group rather than a gym full of 100-pound dumbbells. Conversely, if you are used to an intense level of exercise and have retired to a new city, you’re probably going to get bored at the aquatics class in your gated community’s pool. Get out and find like-minded athletes of all ages.
Find activities that are right for you. Do what you like to do. Do what you can-whatever fits into your schedule. If you have fond memories when you think back on your Little League days, join an adult baseball league. If you were never athletic but always wished you knew how to tap dance, sign up for a class. Don’t do something you don’t enjoy because it fits your idea of what’s appropriate for your age. For instance, many people find walking boring! Not surprisingly, if you’re one of them, planning a walking program is setting yourself up to fail.
It’s not all about aerobics. There are so many changes that happen to our bodies when we age, and changes to our heart are only part of it. There’s a shortening of muscles and tendons, weakening of our bones, and a decrease in pathways between the brain and muscles that can hurt our balance. So, yes, get in your 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise on most days. But also be aware of the need for strength-training, flexibility, and equilibrium-building exercises.
Start slowly. There is never an age or activity level that is too old or sedentary to start exercising. But if you’re new to exercise or haven’t done it in years, start with simple plans-like walking every day after dinner. Once that becomes a habit, build on it. Start slowly during individual workouts, too. No matter how experienced you are, a good warm-up becomes more essential as you age.
Change it up. You’re vulnerable to injuries, not to mention boredom, when you do the same thing every day. Changes in the body as you age only make overuse injuries more likely. More than ever, cross-training is your friend. That goes for strength training, too. You’re going to make progress only by steadily jacking up the amount of weight you lift. And don’t forget to switch up your routine periodically. Add and subtract exercises to increase variety. If you need help, consult books or pay for a trainer session every couple of months.
Make it a priority, and don’t make excuses. Write down the top barriers to working out-time, kids, whatever. Also write on cards, strategies for overcoming those barriers. Laminate them and carry them around. The point is that people need to treat exercise the way they treat other essentials in life. We schedule office meetings, so why not workouts? “If you don’t feel like going home to kids and a husband one night, do you check into a motel? Probably not! We get over it. Apply that same tough love to your physical activity.
Reduce the risk of illness, lower stress, and improve overall health with a well-designed and consistent fitness program. Increased physical fitness will result in the muscle strength to support joints and lessen pain related to arthritis and other aches and pains.
Sadly, 60% of the population in the U.S. do not get the prescribed amount of workout and 25% are not physically active. These statistics are slowly increasing, as is the number of folks who suffer from stress related diseases such as stroke, elevated cholesterol, raised blood pressure, and diabetes.
However, fitness over 40 plans usually don’t begin in the gym, and exercise is only worth it when your heart rate is raised for 30 minutes at least. That may mean walking quickly for 30 minutes in the neighborhood, jogging, bicycling with the children, rowing, and treadmill in front of the television or bouncing on an exercise ball or trampoline.
If you’re over 40, it’s time to think about the impact these changes will have on your ability to make the needed changes; including your current nutrition and habits. Adding more whole grains, vegetables and fruit to your diet is another must-do for those over 40 to keep fit. A way to improve your health immensely is to eat 5 – 7 servings of vegetables and fruit, drink 8 to 10 glasses of water as well as to lessen the amount of white flour and sugar consumed per day. The point is not so much what you do as the fact that you – just do it!
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