Chances are if you know someone who has lived a long life, that person would tell you what they believe is the secret to their longevity. Some might say “clean living”, whatever that means, while others may attribute it to their spirituality or faith. My grandmother lived to age 105, and she definitely would have stated the latter. Another distinct possibility is that most of these folks probably never joined a gym, counted calories, or even worried about what they ate. Perhaps that would explain why people like my grandparents may have lived long lives, but did not necessarily have the quality of life that they could have had. As for the rest of us, life is different now. In this fast-paced new age of technology we are more stressed and less active. In 2014, U.S. fitness centers had a total membership of over 54 million, and 67% of us never used them. Those of us who do exercise regularly (at least three times a week) may not be putting the focus, where our workout is concerned, in the right areas. After all, the reasons for exercising and the overall physical needs of someone in his/her 20’s or even 30’s, are somewhat different from those of us above the age of 40.
Generally speaking, after age 45, we start to gain more fat mass, as we begin to lose about one quarter pound of muscle each year. By age 50, a few key things begin to take place; the process of bone and muscle loss begins to increase, while stamina will more than likely decrease. Semi-Centurions may also find themselves experiencing more aches and pains, as well as limited range of motion. Whereas before, building bigger biceps, and having perfect six-pack abs were the main concern, at this time in our lives, the game changes. The onset of some chronic illnesses, such as hypertension, and heart disease are more likely to occur around this time. For these reasons, as we reach this pivotal age our focus with regard to diet and exercise must change. Cardiovascular health, now more than ever, should be of particular concern. Foods that are high in protein, low in sugar and sodium, as well as those which help to lower your cholesterol will play an important role here. It will in fact play just as much, or an even greater role than what you do physically. However, we know that staying active is a vital part of maintaining cardio health. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that “an object in motion will stay in motion and an object at rest will stay at rest”. This is a fact that is not lost on a large percentage of those over age 45. We know, all too well, that if you take too much time away from being active, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to get back in the swing of things. However, it may surprise you that merely staying in motion is just the first step. Whether you engage in taking exercise classes, interval training, or just taking long walks, many of us still may not be doing enough to ensure that we are in the best possible shape, as we reach the golden years.
Three examples of where to focus your workout efforts as you reach your fifties, and why:
Circuit Training should be added to your workout. When weight training, many will perform a number of sets of an exercise before moving to the next. Circuit training is completing one set of an exercise, then moving on to another exercise, completing one set, and so on. You repeat this process until you’ve completed your list of exercises, and then you may repeat the entire circuit a number of times. Perhaps you currently engage in a strength-training program with weights, kettle bells, medicine balls, etc. That’s a great start, but depending on how you perform these exercises, you may only be using the anaerobic metabolism, and therefore are not burning enough fat. Perform these same strength-training exercises in a circuit, along with weight bearing aerobic exercises (jumping jacks, step ups, or lunges), and you will build lean muscle, burn more fat, and increase your stamina.
Range of Motion and Weight Bearing Exercises are especially important for those who are age 50 and up. The loss of bone density and range of motion are inevitable as you age, however, these effects can be avoided or even reversed. There are different ways to improve your range of motion. Yoga, and even Tai’ Chi are helpful, but one of the best routines which incorporates range of motion and weight bearing exercises, was developed in the late 1950’s, by a Russian heart surgeon named Dr. Nikolay Amosov. It is twelve exercises of which you should complete 100 reps daily: squats, side bends, push ups, forward bends, straight-arm raises, trunk twists, elbow push backs, one-legged jumps, leg raises, birch tree, sit-ups, and sucking in the stomach. These exercises help to restore, and maintain bone health and joint mobility. With my clients, I also like to use an exercise called the single leg balance reach. I have the client bring one knee up, raising the foot up off of the ground to the height of the adjacent leg’s ankle. Then, slightly bending the knee of the supporting leg, they proceed to slowly extend the raised leg, reaching outward with the foot. After bringing the raised leg back into the original position, they repeat several reps of this, and then switch legs. Having the client perform this move in all three planes of motion, not only exercises the joints, but also addresses possible muscle imbalances; by forcing the body to recruit lesser used muscles for stability.
Relaxation Training is important at any age, but as we reach our 50’s, we may face some challenges that may not have been issues before. Many chronic illnesses can threaten this milestone age. Things like stress and anxiety can exacerbate, or even cause these illnesses. Exercises such as QiGong, Yoga, and Tai’ Chi are meditative exercises that use deep breathing, and fluid motion to attain a state of calmness, as well as mental and physical health. As a personal trainer, I often recommend these exercises to my clients. My grandmother always said faith and prayer played a big role in her living such a long life. Well if you really think about it, prayer can be a form of meditation and a source of relaxation. Whatever you do to bring about that inner peace will have a positive impact on your physical state. Without a healthy mind, the body cannot thrive.
There are many programs and facilities out there that offer classes, and group training in the three areas discussed in this article. JCC Rockland for instance, offers many classes in Tai Chi, Yoga and Strength Training. Their Active Adults Fitness Program is an excellent way to begin your journey into fitness. With classes running daily, and all times of day, there is truly something for everyone, regardless of your schedule. http://jccrockland.org/class-schedule/ – prettyPhoto/0/
Perhaps you need more a personalized approach to getting fit. One-on-One training with a certified personal trainer is a safe and effective way to get the results you want, and the guidance you need to achieve them! http://jccrockland.org/feature/personal-training-2/
While there are no guarantees in life, where health and longevity are concerned, it certainly makes sense to be as proactive as possible. In other words, you should not wait to get into your 40’s and 50’s to incorporate these practices into your exercise routine. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The bottom line is, living a long life, as my grandmother did, can be great, but the more important factor is the quality of life. Up to age 100 she was still as spunky and sharp as ever, but years of dealing with arthritis and many other physical ailments had really taken their toll. Despite her longevity, it had been a long time since she had enjoyed a true quality of life (physically speaking). Adversely, I know a gentleman who is well into his 70’s, who goes dancing on Friday nights, and then play’s full court basketball every Saturday. I have to believe that he is a prime example of Newton’s Law. He is the “object in motion”, and it is likely that he will remain in motion. As a result, he is enjoying a quality of life that some people, even younger than he, are not. You may not subscribe to Newton’s theory, but here is some other food for thought. My Grandmother use to say, “we don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing”. Keep moving, keep playing…it sounds like Newton and grandma were pretty much on the same page.