Congratulations, the day you turn 40 you’ve officially reached middle age. The good news? Forty is the new 30. The bad news? As we age, our bodies go through physiological changes: our metabolism slows down, our body composition shifts as we trade muscle for fat (hello, annoying paunch!), and we start to lose range of motion as joints stiffen up. At the same time, our eyesight begins to deteriorate (hello, reading glasses!) and we may experience vestibular changes, too, meaning we’re not as aware of where our bodies are in space—this can make us more prone to falls and even fractures thanks to decreasing bone mass.
But don’t worry, regular exercise and physical activity can help put the brakes on this process. In fact, research shows that the older you are, the more dramatic the benefits from exercise. Even better—physical activity will sharpen your mind and help you hold on to your memories. But take it easy if you’re just starting a fitness program—as you age, your muscles are more susceptible to training-induced damage, and those little injuries also take longer to heal. The key is to work out smarter—not harder—than you did in your 20s and 30s. Experts agree that gym-goers beyond 40 should focus on strength, balance and flexibility.
It’s still important for adults—including older adults aged 65 & up—to protect heart health by engaging in 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. But as you age it’s even more important to step up strength training, or add it to your fitness regimen two to three times a week if you haven’t already.
Strength training with weights, resistance bands, or using your own body weight and gravity (think squats, lunges, stair climbing, push-ups and planks) maintains the muscles we need to stay active and agile. It also builds bones and helps prevent osteoporosis, not to mention it boosts metabolism and burns fat. The NVRC offers a number of fitness programs and drop-in fitness classes that incorporate strength training such as Circuit Fitness.
Life is all about balance, but it becomes literally so as we age. Be cheered by the fact you don’t have to do cartwheels on a balance beam to maintain it. Legs lifts (seated or standing), bosu ball exercises (where you use the ball’s instability to execute movements that require stability, such as squats or push-ups), and activities of daily living like stair climbing or walking on uneven terrain, keep the legs and core—the muscles that help us get around without stumbling—strong and firing. What’s more, maintaining good balance will keep you confident so you will continue to be active.
And don’t neglect your posture, either. Long hours at the computer contribute to the dreaded shoulder hunch, so remember to sit up straight and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Good posture will also engage the core, maintain balance, and help prevent lower back pain.
It’s time to get serious about stretching. Warming up muscles before exercise, and stretching them out after the fact, will help flexibility and improve or maintain your range of motion by keeping muscles loose. Stretching also helps prevent injuries and soreness after working out. Invest in a foam roller to loosen harder-to-stretch muscles like the glutes and quads, or check out NVRC’s drop-in yoga or stretch classes.
Don’t neglect your joints, either—they are also important to flexibility. Roll your shoulders, wrists and ankles to keep the synovial fluid moving and doing its job of lubricating joints. The NVRC offers Joint Rehabilitation programs for older clients facing hip or knee replacements, and Active with Arthritis programs that help manage joint inflammation with gentle exercise.
Classes for older adults?
NVRC facilities offer classes rated by intensity; so older members can choose what’s right for them. And remember, form and technique matter when it comes to exercising. If you’re not sure whether you’re doing it right (or operating the machine correctly), ask a staff member for help or book a Get Started Consultation with a professional trainer who can help customize a fitness program for your age and activity level.
Remember, age is just a number, and it’s important to stay active no matter how many candles you’re blowing out on the birthday cake.
Age-related physiological changes
Exercise can help, even in your 90s
New reason to hit the gym: fighting memory loss
Benefits of strength training, Mayo Clinic story
Otago falls prevention
Lisa is a B.C.-based journalist who writes about health, parenting, travel, outdoor adventure and cocktails. Formerly a lifestyle reporter at the Calgary Herald, she is now a freelance scribe for a variety of publications including WestJet Magazine, Best Health, BCAA Magazine, Today’s Parent and Just for Canadian Doctors/Dentists, as well as Postmedia newspapers.
When not skiing, travelling, researching or writing, you’ll find Lisa hanging out with her husband and two school-age kids, or hiking with her Brittany spaniel.