As much as we may fight or dread it, there is no stopping Father Time. However, there are steps you can take to make sure your workouts are more effective for preventing health issues as you age.
Here are five reasons to change your workout routine as you approach middle age:
Keep injuries and joint pain away
“As we age, we tend to get tighter in our tendons and muscles, which increases our risk for injury,” says Dr. Harun Durudogan, an orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.
Exercise can help strengthen the muscles around the joints and lower the chance of injuries. It also helps to lessen joint pain, which Dr. Durudogan says is a common reason people stop exercising as they age.
Dr. Durudogan advises that people warm up their muscles for at least five minutes before jumping into a workout. He also says it’s important not to skip your post-workout stretch. “You could probably skip warm ups and cool downs in your 20s and be ok, but they are both crucial in preventing injury and joint pain once you hit 40.”
He also recommends mixing up your workouts to keep achy joints and arthritis at bay. “When muscles are weak from overuse, your joints are forced to take on more impact.”
“If you are a runner, add more gentle workouts like swimming, biking or yoga two-three times a week in place of running,” he says. This gives your overworked muscles a break and ultimately makes them stronger.
Keep bones healthy
As people age, they are more susceptible to bone loss, or osteoporosis. To preserve bone density, it’s crucial to do weight-bearing and resistance exercises.
“I recommend that all of my patients add resistance training to their workouts, regardless of age,” says Dr. Durudogan.
While traditional weight training incorporates weight machines, Dr. Durudogan recommends more full-body functional weight bearing exercises – using free weights or resistance bands. Squats, lunges, shoulder presses and bicep curls are a few examples. These mimic the moves you do in real life, such as lifting boxes or walking up stairs.
Prevent muscle loss
Besides preventing bone loss, resistance exercises help prevent muscle loss as we age. According to Dr. Durudogan, you lose one percent of muscle every year after age 45 if you don’t exercise. By the time you are 85 you could lose 40 percent of your muscle.
The muscle mass doesn’t just evaporate, Durudogan explains, it’s replaced by fat, which takes up more space than muscle, and accounts for the middle-aged spread.
As we age, our balance declines and we become more at risk for falls. “During the aging process, neuromuscular connections that help us remain upright slowly weaken,” states Durudogan. “The first sign many people have that their balance is going is when they fall the first time.”
However, you can get your balance connections back by spending time each day on exercises that improve your stability, he says. These include tai chi, Pilates and yoga. Specific moves, such as toe and calf raises, lunges and other one-legged moves, and core exercises to strengthen your midsection all help to maintain balance as you age.
Cardio is still important for cardiovascular health, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol and even brain health and memory, says Dr. Durudogan. However, he says it can’t replace strength training.
“If you exercise efficiently, you can incorporate both cardio exercise and strength training together,” he says. There are many DVD workouts on the market that combine strength training and cardio in workouts that are 30 minutes or less.
Cardio recommendations vary according to orthopedic considerations, says Dr. Durudogan, but some good exercises include low-impact exercises like biking, swimming or elliptical trainer work for heart health or walking and jogging for impact exercises that benefit bone density.
“If you are a fan of more rigorous cardio workouts, such as boot camp classes, don’t stop just because you hit forty,” says Dr. Durudogan. But, as with all workouts, he recommends doing modification moves if something becomes too painful.