By Phil Faris
As we get older, the number and strength of our muscle fibers decrease. Starting as young as thirty, we lose an average of two to four pounds of muscle every decade. In addition, most people start gaining two pounds a year starting at forty. At age 50, we can be 12-14 pounds fatter than when we were 40. Thus, extra weight and muscle atrophy due to inactivity leads to decreased flexibility, strength and range of motion. Besides a thickening mid section, many people begin experiencing discomfort in doing every day activities like bending, reaching or moving objects.
The key to reclaiming the vitality your body once provided is increasing muscle with exercise. Exercise not only strengthens muscles, but also stimulates the repair mechanism within the muscle so that new muscle is formed. Research has shown that it’s never too late to receive the benefits of exercise by staying physically active after age fifty. You can maximize muscle tone and minimize fat.
Adapting regular exercise into your lifestyle provides many benefits including
- Strengthening your heart
- Boosting your metabolism
- Improving circulation
- Reducing fat
- Increasing flexibility
- Strengthening bones
- Increased energy
- Increased muscle mass
- Improving your mood
To get the most from your exercise, you need to invest time in each of the three types of exercise cardio, resistance and flexibility.
Cardio or aerobic training is systemic exercise. It engages a large number of muscle cells at an intensity that challenges both the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and can be continued for at least 20-30 minutes. Examples include:
- Brisk walking
- Cross country skiing
Research suggests that the amount of cardio exercise required for optimal health (this does not mean fitness) is three 30 minute sessions per week where you increase your heart rate to 80% of your age adjusted maximum (220 minus year age). The benefits of cardio exercise are many including:
- Lowering LDL cholesterol
- Raising your healthy HDL cholesterol
- Lowers blood pressure
- Decreasing inflammation
- Weight management
- Stress management
- Reducing risk of lifestyle related diseases
The key components of cardio training are:
- Intensity – enough to challenge your respiratory system.
- Duration 20-45 minutes
- Frequency 3-4 times a week.
Resistance training is exercise that works by isolating specific muscle groups with enough intensity or resistance to reach momentary muscle failure, which is simply the inability to complete the next repetition.
Adding lean muscle through resistance training will help you consume more calories and make it easier to maintain your weight. Resistance training helps you achieve optimal health by:
- Increasing lean muscle
- Increasing bone density
- Burning more calories
- Maintaining your weight
- Strengthening muscles
- Increased flexibility
- Increased muscle tone and shape
- Reduced aches and pain
- Improved posture
- Improved self esteem
For many, resistance training means lifting weights. Although weight training is a good method of resistance training, it’s not the only method. The key is to do weight – bearing exercise, ones that requires your body to push or pull against resistance. Thirty minutes a week is all that is needed to maintain bone density. Building lean muscle can be achieved with as little as three twenty-minute sessions per week.
The keys to resistance training are:
- Intensity – to momentary failure
- Repetition – 8-20 reps
- Sets – 1-3 sets per body part
- Frequency – 2-3 times per week (all major groups)
- Recovery – allow a 48-hour recovery before working a body part again.
- Balance – for symmetry and reduced injures, train all major muscle groups equally.
Flexibility training is often the most overlooked and underrated form of exercise. The goal of flexibility training is to increase your range of motions for your major muscle groups. This provides the following benefits:
- Increased mobility
- Improved balance
- Decreased aches and stiffness
- Improved sports performance
- Reduction in injuries
- Increased energy
There are many ways to increase your flexibility including Yoga, Pilates and basic stretching. You can achieve significant benefits with just five minutes a day. Be sure to use proper form, hold your stretches for 25-30 seconds. Don’t bounce and breathe while you let your muscles stretch. Be sure to work your core muscles (i.e., abs and lower back) as well as your limbs.
When starting an exercise program, it is extremely important to have realistic expectations. Depending upon your initial fitness level, you can expect the following positive changes.
- From 1-10 weeks: feel better and have more energy
- From 2-6 months: lose size and inches while becoming leaner. Clothes begin to fit more loosely. An increase in muscle and a decrease in fat
- From 6 months: weight loss becomes more rapid.
You can achieve optimal health and fitness after fifty. You need to commit yourself to a program that’s right for you and one that embraces the guidelines outlined in this article. Before starting an exercise program, it’s best to consult with your health care provider.