When you’re young at heart, it can be difficult to remember that your body is changing even when your outlook on life isn’t—and that’s certainly true when it comes to how you physically respond to exercise. Barring any health issues, your body is at its strongest and most resilient when you’re in your twenties, capable of handling intense activity (and earning you bragging rights for eight-minute miles) often. However, your thirties and beyond can naturally bring about steady weight gain, loss of lean muscle mass, lower hormone levels, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and more. A lot to digest? Sure. Something you have the power to positively affect? You bet your high school football trophies.
Adjusting your approach to cardio, strength and flexibility training can help you deal with these changes and concerns in an effective way. Rethinking your workout can also help address other challenges that may arise, like lack of time, family and job demands and stress. It’s about listening to your body, considering your lifestyle and finding a balance of exercise techniques that work for you.
Let’s take a look at how you can shift your exercise routine to stay fit, safely, through the decades.
Cardio: Aerobic activity is a crucial component of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight—even walking can help address belly fat, a common issue for many men who begin carrying extra pounds. While regular cardio sessions are important and shouldn't be ditched, you can try incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which requires you to alternate between intense activity periods and less-intense recovery periods. HIIT boosts your metabolism and VO2 max (your oxygen use during your highest level of activity) better than steady-state cardio, like jogging at the same pace. HIIT can fatigue you faster, though, so remember: duration matters. Try interval training with the cardio activity you normally do, performing two to three minutes of intense activity followed by an equal amount of recovery time. Repeat that cycle four or five times.
Strength: Now’s the time to make sure you’re including strength training exercises into your workout routine. Why? Your testosterone levels are beginning to decline—which may not be an inevitable sign of aging but rather a result of underlying health issues that can be treated—and it’s getting harder to build strong, lean muscle mass. Lifting weights will also help you avoid packing on excess pounds—something you may be worried about if your changing lifestyle keeps you from being as active (or mindful of your diet) as you would like. Aim to do eight to 10 strength exercises at least two non-consecutive days a week.
Flexibility: If your job requires you to sit most of the day, or you’ve been doing activities that can shorten your muscles over time, you’re likely not as flexible as you were in your twenties. Make sure you’re incorporating some dynamic (moving) and static (active-isolated) stretching before and after your workouts to keep your muscles loose. Consider starting a yoga practice to stretch and extend your muscles through a variety of poses. Just one class a week can help you improve and maintain flexibility—and might become a ritual you grow to love for both its mind and body benefits.
Cardio: As your metabolism slows, so does your ability to burn fat and calories. Interval training will continue to combat weight gain, but becoming more active in your everyday life will also help keep you fit. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk a few blocks to get lunch instead of ordering in, or bike to work, if your commute allows. Getting back into the team sports you enjoyed in the past is another great way to add more activity. Join an adult league that meets once or twice a week. Or commit to a class like boxing on the weekend, when you have more time and a break from the demands of the work week.
Strength: As your hormones and muscle mass continue to naturally decline, weight training becomes even more essential to slow muscle and bone loss. Your tendons and joints, however, aren’t as sturdy as they used to be, so you may want to incorporate some bodyweight moves into your regimen if traditional weight lifting becomes too difficult. Try exercises like push-ups, side planks, lunges, squats, pull-ups and sit-ups. Continue aiming for eight to 10 strength moves on two non-consecutive days a week.
Flexibility: Though you may have incorporated some techniques to maintain your flexibility in your thirties, what you’re doing may not be enough to keep your muscles as pliable as you’d like today. Get yourself a foam roller for your fortieth birthday. This inexpensive prop alleviates knots that block circulation and keep your muscles from loosening up. Before every workout, roll taut muscles—your back, neck, calves—back and forth on the foam, spending 10 to 15 seconds on each area. Practices like stretching become even more important and should be done several times a week.
Cardio: Even though you’re not a kid anymore, you should still aim to do workouts that challenge you and have you breathing hard, especially since risk factors associated with heart disease—like hypertension or high cholesterol—often surface during this decade. Aerobic exercise can help address those factors, strengthen your heart muscle and keep your waistline from expanding. Plus, 30 minutes of aerobic activity can improve sexual stamina—something to remember if you’re experiencing low libido. If high-impact workouts such as running, jumping rope or certain cardio classes put too much stress on your joints and tendons, try lower-impact workouts like walking, cycling, lap swimming, or training on an elliptical or rowing machine.
Strength: Continued resistance training keeps muscles strong and able to perform everyday tasks. Multi-joint moves, like the shoulder press or leg press, are ideal as they utilize more areas of your body. If you’re concerned about stability, consider starting with weight machines until you gain a better sense of control and then progress to more dynamic exercises (using free weights, for example), which aid in improving your bone density—key in preventing osteoporosis.
Flexibility: Stretching should be part of every day. From traditional movements, like a neck stretch or hip stretch, to practices like tai ch’i, encouraging your muscles to remain limber and relaxed helps you move and bend more easily, which is especially helpful if you suffer from arthritis. At this stage in your life, aim for flexibility training that lasts at least 10 minutes, two days a week.
Your 60s and Beyond
Cardio: A variety of cardio activity (walking, swimming, dancing) is ideal to help you remain balanced and steady on your feet. Additionally, maintaining your aerobic fitness contributes to healthy brain function and can help slow down the onset of neurological disease: research has shown that aerobic activity—specifically shorter sessions—improves memory function and helps your brain process information.
Strength: To continue being able to perform daily actions with ease, consider other aspects of strength training that help your muscles remain strong and reliable. Agility and static balance exercises improve your stability when your body changes direction or has to adjust quickly (like when you slip). Strengthening your muscles in these ways helps you stay mobile in a safe way. Try:
- Tandem Stance Balance: Stand with one foot in front of the other, heel to toe, arms either raised out to each side or down by your sides. Remain still for 30 to 60 seconds. Then try it again with your eyes closed.
- Diagonal Walk: Start standing with your feet together. Then step diagonally to your right and bring your feet together. Repeat. Next, step diagonally to your left, bringing your feet together. Repeat. Alternate this pattern several more times. To increase the challenge, try clapping your hands every other time you take a step.
Flexibility: As you get older, you may want to consider other stretching methods that offer a wider range of motion you don’t typically get with other activities. Gyrokinesis® is a gentle practice that stimulates your nervous system and promotes flexibility through flowing, rhythmic movements. Classes are offered at many fitness studios.