The benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle as we age seem endless. Exercise can help delay the onset of age-related decline, ward off physical and mental illness, promote general well-being and allow us to make the most of life without being continually restricted by tiredness or lack of mobility.
Should disease or accident takes us down, being physically fit puts us in a better position to survive and come back.
Sadly, studies and perceived wisdom indicate that the only fitness marker that might increase in our 40s is the body’s ability to deal with lactic acid. Every other fitness indicator, including endurance, power, flexibility, muscle mass, balance and aerobic and anaerobic capacity, will decline in varying degrees.
For most of us, that decline is irrelevant. Unless we were an elite athlete during our 20s, we have probably never been close to our maximum possible fitness. If we’re only at 60 per cent now, then there’s plenty of room to get closer to what’s possible even as those theoretical maximum values decline. A more relevant comparison would be our fitness this month relative to last month or last year or a decade ago. We can still improve at all sorts of activities well into our 40s and 50s and any of those fitness metrics can be nudged a little a higher than they were.
There are many different theories about the best ways to make fitness improvements, but most people agree that as we age, it’s a case of “use it or lose it.” The important thing is to do whatever exercise we can and move as much as we can. The absolute worst case scenario is inactivity; a sedentary lifestyle without regular exercise makes life harder and possibly shorter, too.
So what is the best workout, the best weekly schedule, the best bang for our exercise buck? Well-rounded fitness comes from doing a little of everything so try a variety of activities and intensities; this will also keep things interesting and help prevent injury. Ideally, include resistance training with weights, functional body-weight training, high intensity cardio and low intensity cardio with a total of four to six activities each week.
Whatever our chosen workouts are it’s important to remember that change comes slowly and one super hard workout is not going to be transformative. Building fitness requires patience, sustainability and repeatability. We need to push hard enough to make a difference, but not so hard that we feel like a train wreck the next day and need a few days off to recover. Honour where your fitness level is at today and work accordingly.
Tony Watts is a 50-something-year-old fitness fan who teaches cardiovascular and weight/resistance training classes at gyms on Grand Cayman.