Staying fit through the ages

 A study published in the March edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that women need 60 minutes of moderate exercise every day just to prevent weight gain as they age if they consume a normal diet.

That is a lot more exercise than previously thought, advise is usually a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity,five days a week.

The intensity at which you workout can be described as strenuous, moderate or mild. What constitutes a strenuous, moderate or mild exercise workload for you will depend on your current fitness. As a rule of thumb, exercise of moderate intensity will make you a little warm or sweaty, and slightly out of breath, but no more than that.

The study conducted over 13 years with around 32,000 women with an average age of  54, only studied effects of exercise on weight gain not aspects such as flexibility, muscle mass and bone density that also decrease with age. So when you are considering an exercise regime should your age be of  primary importance  or is it down to the individual and the particular goals they have? Tim Robbins is a personal trainer and he takes into account various factors when designing a fitness programme for clients.

“Before preparing a programme for ladies (and all clients) there are a lot of factors taken into account, age is just one of them.” Robbins goes on, “However, physical exercise history, injuries (current and past), weight, current health, time allotted for training along with training goals will then determine the training programme that will be set out for them.”

But if we lose muscle capacity and bone density as we age, then surely age should be taken into account and exercise be age-appropriate.

Robbins says that it depends.

“This can depend somewhat on if the women have been or are already taking part in physical activity, if you have not been doing any exercise and are just starting out at a more mature age.”

Flexibility is definitely something which should maintained and also very important if you are beginning to work out again after a long period and if you are older.

Robbins says when you are older, “Start with low impact workouts without too much resistance combined with a good stretching programme, choose exercises that can be performed either sitting or standing to start with, until your body has gotten used to being conditioned and has the strength and flexibility to perform more dynamic exercises.”

He says the same advise holds for younger women starting out on an exercise regime but the difference between the older and younger women is this says Robbins “ there is often the ability to quickly progress to a more physically active and dynamic programme.”

Meaning that when you are younger you show results quicker and also have quicker recovery time.

Robbins advises listening  to your body you are the best judge of what is happening to you and what you can handle. “At any age don’t over exert yourself but there is certainly no  need to shut shop on exercise as you age.”

As with all exercise, if you are not sure, talk to your doctor before starting any type of exercise programme. This advice is primarily important if you have not been doing much exercise for some time, have any health problems, pregnant, recently pregnant, are elderly or carry excess weight regardless of age.

Robbins advice is, “Make sure you don’t rush in a hundred miles an hour, start slowly. Begin with some light exercise, a nice 15 minutes walk every day and then increase as you progress with your fitness levels. If you are unsure or have a specific fitness or health goal you should seek advice from a fitness professional to help you get on the right track safely”.

What exercise can do
Exercise is essential to retain muscle strength and endurance. Muscle mass declines with age. For each decade after the age of 25, 3-5 percent of muscle mass is lost  due to changes in lifestyle and decreased use of the neuromuscular system.  However, the good news is that studies have shown significant strength gains in previously sedentary adults if they follow a programme of regular exercise that includes strength resistance training.

Exercise is also a way of preventing osteoporosis and this is something that you can “store in the bank” as an insurance against old age.

From ages 18-35
The goal is to achieve the highest peak bone mass. Exercise should maximise the load to the bones with a progressive programme of:

High impact exercise, defined as activities in which both feet are off the ground at the same time, as in running, jumping rope, and high-impact aerobic dance; also sports like basketball, volleyball and gymnastics.

Weight lifting.  It is best to consult a sports professional for best form, number of sets and repetitions.

From ages 35-50
The goal is to maintain bone mass, offset or reduce bone loss, and improve your coordination and balance.

Weight lifting. You need to be more careful about protecting your joints from injury in  high-impact exercise and weight training. Listen to your body.

From 50-plus
The goal is to conserve bone and reduce the risk of falls and fractures.

Continue with strength training, balance and stability exercises.

If you are doing a walking programme, be sure to vary your route to include hills and steps, adding intervals of increased speed or jogging, if appropriate.

Focus on stretching exercises to maintain your height and spinal alignment. Yoga and Pilates are both excellent for this.