Is it possible to be fit after 55? People used to think that rapid deterioration of our body was an inevitable part of growing older, but these days it is not uncommon for over 55’s to run marathons or compete in long distance triathlons. So are these people genetic freaks, or is it possible for everyone to be fit after 55?
The research is quite clear – there is a growing body of scientific evidence that shows that exercise can not only slow down the symptoms of aging, but in fact reverse them – that’s right, you can be in better health in your 60’s than you were in your 40’s!
What the evidence shows is that many of the symptoms that we normally associate with normal aging are in fact the result of our modern, sedentary lifestyles.
There are four areas of major concern:
Muscle Mass isn’t about having big muscles, it is about mobility and independence, being able to easily do the things we used to take for granted.
Without exercise, muscle mass decreases rapidly as we age – once we pass 30 we start to lose around 3%-5% of muscle mass per decade, and after 50 it increases to 1%-2% per year!
Endurance also decreases as we age, and this decline shows a direct correlation to mortality rates. In a recent study researchers looked at the relationship between the speed at which 70-79 year olds walked a quarter of a mile, and their risk of premature mortality. What they found was that the slower people walked, the higher their mortality risk from illnesses such as cardiovascular disease.
As almost anyone over 55 knows, flexibility decreases rapidly with age. This makes simple tasks, such as cutting your toenails or reaching up to a high shelf, increasingly difficult.
Balance is often left out of fitness programs, but for those over 55 it is vital – poor balance is a major factor in the falls suffered by seniors. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among Americans over 65, falls account for 87% of all fractures and are the second leading cause of spinal cord and brain injury.
So what can be done? Is it too late to get back in shape? The good news is that it is never too late to get back in shape. Research at nursing homes has shown that patients as old as 98 can make dramatic improvements in their strength, endurance, flexibility and balance if they adopt a program of regular exercise.
How much exercise do you need?
The American College of Sports Medicine have recently published guidelines for physical activity for the over 55s. Their recommendations are:
This includes walking, running, swimming, dancing, biking, exercise classes, etc. The recommendation is that you should perform moderate-intensity aerobic exercise five days per week for at least 30 minutes. Alternatively, perform vigorous aerobic exercise for a minimum of 20 minutes three times per week.
They define moderate intensity as exercise that makes you feel “warm and slightly out of breath,” and vigorous exercise as that which makes you feel “out of breath and sweaty.”
These are exercises designed to strengthen muscles, and include weight training, resistance bands, etc. The recommendation is to perform resistance exercises twice per week, on non-consecutive days. You need to perform at least 8 – 10 exercises that work all the major muscle groups. If you are unsure how to do this, consult a trainer.
In order to maintain flexibility, you should perform activities that maintain or increase flexibility for at least ten minutes, twice per week. This can be a variety of stretches, or an activity like yoga.
Vital for reducing the risk of injury from falls, you should regularly perform exercises that maintain or improve balance. Again, yoga is an excellent choice, or alternatively consult a coach.
If you have not exercised for a long time, or are planning on increasing your exercise levels, you should check first with your doctor. However, most people 55+ will have no problem increasing their physical activity to a moderate level.
Regular exercise will stop or indeed reverse many of the symptoms of aging, helping you to look and feel years younger.