Staying healthy and fit can sometimes seem like a voyage into the mysterious. It involves a combination of exercises that work for you and a diet that nourishes and once you have hit the right balance, it involves further tweaking and changes to avoid stagnation.
Just when you think you have got it and have understood your body, your body behaves differently; and you have to start all over again. Fitness programmes need to be reassessed on a regular basis especially as we move from one decade to the next.
One of the most important changes we need to bring to our fitness programme as we age is to change our mind-set. First, we need to examine our goals and secondly we need to replace the riskier or tougher fitness elements with more stable elements that guarantee results.
The stable set includes regular cardio in the form of a jog, cycling or walking and exercises like squats, push-ups, bicep curls and abdominal crunches. With age, you may need to alter your reps and even the intensity of your exercises, but doing the stable set of exercises on a regular basis will provide you with the key to living long in good health.
Talking about age and exercise raises a couple of questions: One, what is the ideal age to start exercising? And two, is there a point when one is too old to start exercising?
To answer the first question, one should start off on a healthy lifestyle as young as possible. As for the second question, ideally, one should start young, but if not, then start at whatever age you are at right now. However, please consult your doctor before you do the same in order to better understand your strengths and limitations.
Start with a simple fitness plan that you can stick to consistently, and which emphasises stretching, correct form and strengthening the core muscles. The benefits of exercising regularly and from as early as possible are multi-fold – they can slow the aging process, fight off diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.
Often, I have found that people give up on regular exercising as they age under the mistaken belief that their current fitness routine is not appropriate for them anymore and for fear of risking injuries.
Instead of adapting their exercises and diet to suit their new physiology, lower metabolism and needs, they give up on the one lifestyle habit that is key to their good health. I have also come across people who are disheartened when they are no longer able to sustain their old pace and quit exercising instead of adapting.
It is important for one to come to terms with the fact that as we age, we are not going to be able to run as fast or jump as high or hit as hard as our 20- or 30-year-old self. At 40, 50 and above, our body is changing and we need to come to terms with that and move from high-impact exercises to low-impact ones. In an average person, the body begins to lose muscle mass in their 20s (after age 50, the muscle loss is at the rate of 15 per cent per decade) and around the same time the maximal amount of oxygen your body can use (VO2 max) decreases by a per cent a year in healthy men and women.
Even bone mineral density decreases with age; in women, the rate at which the bone turns porous increases after menopause. Of course, shifting to low-impact exercises doesn’t mean that you get a free pass to sleep walk through your workout. You still need to give your 100 per cent.
In my line of work, I have often met people who believe that getting fatter as you age is inevitable.
However, I have to emphasis here that one gets fatter not due to increasing age but due to reduced physical activity and lower metabolic rate due to loss of lean body mass. Beginning in our 20s and 30s, the percentage of body fat gradually increases and since fat cells burn less calories than muscle cells, we need to ingest less calories. This means that if we don’t eat less, we’ll gain weight over the years.
This is why you will find experts advising you to focus on strength training so that you can reduce the loss of muscle mass. In fact, research has shown that even two months of strength training can help a woman recover a decade’s worth of muscle loss and a man can recover two decades worth of loss.