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Working out for the over 40’s


Working out for the over 40's
I’m going to start off this article by saying that while I have called this article ‘working out for the over 40’s’, the whole idea of there being a cut off point in life where you start to decline in health and fitness is a moot point. The fact is that there are many people in their 50’s and even 60’s who are fitter and healthier than many that are 20-30 years younger than them.

With that out of the way, I am however going to have to be generalistic  here in order to write this article, so please bear that in mind.

So, is there a difference in the way you should train when you are over 40?

Given the above statement yes and no. Many people who have been fit and healthy all their lives can train much harder and with reduced chances of injury (providing they haven’t burnt themselves out). Those that are new to training or unfit in their later lives will need to follow a much more smarter approach. For the purpose of this website and article I’ll be mostly concentrating on the later.

The issues with getting older

It’s a sad fact that as you get older the chances and occurrence of cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, joint aches and pains and inflammation increase significantly. We also become more lethargic and put on weight much easier as our bodies metabolism slows down.

One of the main issues is that our hormones change as we get older, which causes muscle loss, a reduction in bone density and cardiovascular capacity, making us less healthy. Being inactive and not exercising speeds up this process even further.  It can be a case of use it or lose it.

Reasons to exercise when we get older

As well as helping with the issues mentioned above, there are so many health benefits that being more active can provide. Here are a few of them:

  • Help you get stronger
  • Get fitter
  • Retain or even build muscle
  • Prevent degenerative diseases
  • Prevent heart issues
  • Lose or prevent body fat
  • Restore balance and co-ordination, flexibility and reflexes
  • Sleep better
  • Increase testosterone and human growth hormone production
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fight dementia
  • Lower bad cholesterol
  • Stop diabetes
  • Reduce oxidative stress

Simply following a basic exercise routine, even just cycling, walking or jogging can actually help greatly with getting your heart health and your blood pressure back to acceptable levels, even if you are still carrying excess body weight brought on with age.

Lifting weights or doing HIIT can increase muscle mass, keep your bone density in check, help with fat loss and increase cardiovascular health.

Another thing, if you’re like me, I most certainly don’t feel mentally like I’m in my so called mature years. I still like many of the same things I did as a much younger man. Why should I start thinking any different just because of the number attached to my age?

Also surly everyone wants to enjoy their retirement and still be active enough to do things well into their retired mature lives.

Finally, if you are unhappy about the way you look in the mirror, do something about it, there is nothing wrong with being vain or wanting to just look good at any age.

Where to start?

That’s a good question, as it means you are preparing to do something to improve your health and take the steps necessary. Remember today is the day to start it, the saying ‘there’s always tomorrow’, will not fix it, as too many tomorrows adds up to weeks, then months, then years. Don’t leave it until a health issue happens. One caveat I will add here though, is make sure you are not suffering from any medical conditions and get checked out by your doctor first.

When you are older, you need to prepare and plan for a long term lifestyle change. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, but changes that you can make by being more careful with what you eat and time efficient with your life to fit in activities than can be beneficial to your health.

A simple place to start is to Stop eating sugary foods, stop feeling sorry for yourself, stop being lazy, get good quality sleep, set goals and start to be more active.

If you are struggling to make a start, try some short easy activities you can do anytime, such as go for a brisk walk or bike ride, besides you need to stay motivated, not be afraid to have a long hard slog in the gym or doing some kind of half marathon. Do this 2-4 days a per week. When you are ready, then you can add HIIT and weight training.

Ready to get going with some real work?

If you are up to the task and really want to get going with a lifestyle change then read on.

What type of training for over 40’s?

Let’s talk about the best type of routine for the older trainer. I’m going to ignore those with great genetics. I’d like to focus this bit on us average trainers. Those of us who need to train smart by allowing us to complete a workout that we can recover from and be safe doing.

The type of training you need to do will depends on your goals, some people just want to get fit, others to lose body fat, while some want that beach body, even at our age.

If you have specific requirements due to a health issue that you may have, you will be best seeking expert advice with someone who understands that issue. While I’m here I’d also like to suggest that you all get a medical check up first to see if you are OK to exert yourself and if there are any types of exercise you should not be doing.

I have covered much of the type of training you can do in my workout section and you will find some good advice there. However to summarise that section, if you are fit enough and don’t have any joint issues, then I’d suggest looking to doing HIIT and lifting weights, those who are not able to push that hard or have joint issues, do low impact steady state cardio until you are clear to increase your intensity and or lift weights.

People new to training should start slow, because you are prone to injury as your body isn’t used to training and generally have weaker ligaments, tendons, muscles, heart and lungs. Those that are new to working out will also feel much more sore after a workout than those who regularly workout, but as your body adapts to exercise this will gradually become less noticeable.

Set a goal, maybe challenge yourself to be ready for an event, maybe a half marathon. Only if you can though, don’t push too hard and give yourself plenty of time to be ready for it, but having a goal to aim for is a great idea for many to help keep going.

Weight training for the over 40’s

If you want to lift weights, use the big lifts for overall development, I would however err on the side of caution with the amount of weight used. More importantly, correct performance of the exercise is paramount. Ensure you warm-up and rotate between light days and heavier days and types of exercises you do. Do lots of isolation exercises on your lighter days to create a balance in strength and stability. Stability is much more important here to avoid injury, make sure you are working all muscle groups equally and/or give weak areas more emphasis. Workout with weights for less than 1 hr, preferably closer to 30-45 minutes.

Don’t be afraid to lift weights, you’re not going to suddenly pack on lots of muscle and become muscle bound. It can seriously help you lose body fat, as muscle burns more calories, you won’t bulk up, especially if you control your food intake.

If you decide to list weights please see the How to build muscle after 40 article and the Muscle development and strength gain section here.

Cardio/fitness for the over 40’s

As mentioned, I’d recommend steady state cardio for those who aren’t quite fit enough or physically able yet to do high intensity workouts. For those that can, do HIIT for between 10-20 minutes, 2-4 times a week. It will help get your metabolism up and burn body fat, improve your heart condition and lung capacity. If you also plan to lift weights, split the workouts between the two or even combine the two (see my combo training).

For more info on cardio and fitness see here.

Additional info:

Warm up and cool down

It’s very important to make sure you warm up before your workout. Especially if you are going to do anything with high intensity, lift weights or a high impact sport/activity.

I like dynamic stretches to warm up and improve flexibility. While I’m not a big fan of static stretching, as we get older our flexibility does start to deteriorate. With that in mind, if you are not engaged in heavy weight training, then gentle static stretching to restore lost mobility can still help. Be sure to not over stretch or hold the stretch for too long, your ligaments are there to keep you stable, not make you into a floppy rag doll. Also over stretching can actually cause you to strain and pull muscles easily. Use of a foam roller would be better.

Read my How to stretch, warm up and cool down article.

Recovery

As we get older our cells don’t regenerate as they use to when we were younger, therefore it stands to reason that recovery from a hard workout is going to take longer. Interestingly enough, recovery from light to moderate cardio or even light weight training isn’t significantly more difficult to recover from for the older person (all other things being equal, such as fitness level, diet etc). However recovery from higher intensity or heavier weight training can take longer as we age. Essentially the harder we push ourselves the harder and longer it will take to recover.

Also to note is that retaining or building muscle is much harder as you age due to lower muscle protein synthesis abilities. This is why post workout protein is very important for the older trainer.

Training less frequently to aid recovery can also help, such as an every other day routine or an upper/lower body routine, such as the ones I mention on this blog. Alternating between weights and cardio can often help with recovery. Working out less frequently doesn’t mean work a muscle just once a week though, it is much better to actually work a muscle 2-3 times per week and lower the intensity, weight and volumn down to appropriate levels, and spread the work throughout the week.

Final word on working out

Be realistic with your goals, staying injury free now is more important than ever, as your ability to recover from an injury can be a long and painful experience that will make life for you much harder further down the road.

Keep track of your progress and keep a journal.

Nutrition

I wanted to touch a little on this before finishing. Getting your nutrition in order is very important to us as we age. Our bodies tend to slow down and we put weight on a lot easier. Many will refer to this as middle age spread. Whatever you want to call it, you need to pay attention to what you eat.

When we age, our bodies also produce less growth hormone and decrease protein synthesis. Try to eat foods that help counter this (see my hormone and food guide.), also increase protein intake and I would also suggest eating food that can help reduce inflammation while you’re are at it. (see about nutrition here).

Finally

The bottom line is you can still get into great shape at 40, 50, 60, 70+. I am currently 49 years old as I write this. I can tell you I’m as fit as I was when I was in my early 30’s. I am certainly as strong if not stronger and am also carrying more muscle now than at any stage of my life. I re-started regular workouts just about 1 year ago, having spent many years of on/off training and dieting.

Only you and what you do now can hold you back.

Read my series of articles on this website/blog to get a more ideas of how to proceed with your nutrition and workouts.