Workouts that Grow as You Age
Recently, I had a conversation with some friends who are aging. The
woman began by telling me she had never really gotten into the whole exercise
thing so it was probably too late to start now. Her husband countered, stating
he had worked out his entire life but could no longer continue at the rate he
was used to, so he would probably quit soon. Unfortunately, their opinions are not
uncommon. But, the reality is, that workouts, like so many other things in our
lives, are organic. They change with injuries, illnesses, and even aging. So,
what changes as we age? What areas will we need to pay attention to so we can adjust
An unfortunate effect of the aging process is the deterioration of our eyesight. Overtime, many of us may struggle with spatial misperceptions caused by glaucoma, cataracts, or general eyesight changes. Many may also face structural changes to our vestibular systems (the structure that relays the movement of our ear fluid) which can make us dizzy. These issues make it difficult to maintain consistent balance which, in turn, can make it difficult to work out as we always have. The best exercises to improve balance include:
- Heel raises
- Leg raises – side
- Leg raises – back
- Move from a sitting to standing position
- Standing with one foot slightly raised from the ground
- Walking slowly from heel to toe
Along with a decrease in balance, we may also struggle with a decrease in flexibility. As we age, the elasticity of our ligaments, tendons, and joints decrease. A basic ‘sit and reach’ test can show up to a 10 cm loss of flexibility as we get older. This can have a huge impact on the workouts we are used to completing, or can make it difficult if we have never exercised much in the first place. By focusing specifically on exercises designed to improve flexibility, we can prevent stiffness and cramps as well as improve our range of motion in muscle and joint movement. Slow stretches, yoga, and tai chi are all examples of excellent flexibility exercises.
An additional element that affects our work outs as we age is the quality of our muscle tone. Although we may still feel young at heart, our muscles do not. We reach the height of our strength at 25 years old, hold steady for several years, and begin declining around the age of 40. In addition to a loss of strength, we also see a decrease in muscle mass itself. This can make it difficult to try and continue heavy weight lifting and can even impact daily living. By increasing strength and resistance training, we can improve strength and muscle loss.
One of the most important things we have to remember is that as we age, we may become prone to more health conditions. Arthritis, heart disease, and even just general wear and tear on our bodies and organs are examples of this. When faced with these situations, we may be tempted to say it is too difficult to continue exercising. This belief could not be further from the truth because in many ways, it is more important than ever to continue working out. Our bodies will continue to receive healthy benefits from regular exercise; we may just have to modify the routine.
The reality of aging is that our bodies will adjust and we simply have to adjust our workouts to meet those changes. We cannot be afraid to slow things down, stretch a little more, or be creative in our routines. It is also imperative we remember it is never too late to begin a training program. We just have to take it slow, listen to our bodies, and make adjustments as necessary. As we find new ways to exercise, we have to take advantage of every opportunity, knowing we are creating a healthy future for ourselves.