As we get older, our bodies change and the things that worked for us in terms of exercise and diet in the past may not have the same effects as they once did.
When we’re young we may not think as much about what we’re eating, and skipping a workout may not seem like such a big deal.
The older we get, the more we notice the impacts of that extra slice of pizza or how we feel when we stay home and binge watch the latest season of “Stranger Things” on Netflix instead of hitting the gym.
Today we’re going to look at the ways our fitness changes as we age, and how we might change our routines in response.
How Our Bodies Change As We Age
There are a number of areas where we’ll notice changes as we get older.
Our aerobic capacity declines.
After age thirty, our maximum heart rate is reduced by approximately one beat per minute per year, and our capacity to pump blood is reduced by five to ten percent per decade.
Another heart-related issue an aging individual may experience is high blood pressure.
All of this means we’ll start to feel tired more quickly when working out, which makes taking time for our workouts even more important than ever.
We also start to lose muscle mass and bone density.
It’s not uncommon for people to gain weight as we age, up to three to four pounds per year, but if this is accompanied by the loss of muscle mass, it means the excess weight is being put on in fat.
This can put us at higher risk for not only conditions related to excess body fat such as diabetes and sleep apnea, but also bone disease and osteoporosis.
Changes to the nervous system can lead to slow reflexes, poor coordination, and ultimately cognitive decline.
Luckily, there are steps we can take to mitigate the effects of these changes on our bodies.
Today we’re going to look at the impact exercise and diet can have on these factors.
Stay Active: The Benefits of Exercise
One of the best things you can do for your body as you get older is to keep your activity levels up and maintain an exercise program.
Older adults from age 65 on should aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity, such as a brisk walk, or 75 minutes of high intensity activity such as running or hiking.
Additionally, if you’re over 65 it’s recommended to do strength exercises at least twice per week, plus activities to train your balance three times per week.
It may be frustrating at first, especially if you were much more active in your younger years and can’t perform to the level you were once accustomed too, however, it’s possible to see great improvements and gain a sense of accomplishment from exercise at any age.
There are many other benefits of maintaining an exercise program, which include:
- Losing weight or maintaining your weight (depending on your goals)
- Lower risk of many conditions, including heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes
- Improve your balance
- Increased brain function
- Better mood
- Strengthen bones and muscles
- Improved sleep quality
- More self confidence
What You Eat Still Counts
You may have heard the expression “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet”.
This means you could be the most active person imaginable, but if your diet is not healthy, then you still won’t be healthy.
This isn’t meant to make you feel guilty about indulging in your favourite treats every so often, but it does mean that what you eat matters.
In particular, getting enough protein becomes very important as this affects bone and muscle health.
One study found individuals who got less protein were more likely to have a fall or have trouble with physical activity than those who ate more.
As you get older, the amount of protein you need goes up and it’s best to spread it between meals for maximum benefit.
Using protein boosters such as shakes, powders, or Greek yogurt can help add protein to each meal and increase your intake.
Let The Sun Shine In
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, plays an important role in helping the body absorb calcium and phosphorus.
Because of this, it’s important for helping prevent bone-related disease such as osteoporosis and sarcopenia, which causes muscle loss.
The body can synthesize vitamin D through exposure to sunshine or can get it through diet and supplementation.
So, What Next?
Most people can easily understand the benefits of a healthy diet, and getting enough nutrients such as protein, calcium, and vitamin D.
And it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t enjoy fresh air and sunshine (or at least understand the importance of getting all of their vitamins, and taking a vitamin D supplement in the winter when the sunshine is sparse).
But for many, the question of exercise is where they start to have trouble.
Some people dread working out – these feelings often go back to always feeling awkward during gym class as a kid, or a general feeling of “I’m just not good at it”.
The truth is, there is some form of activity which almost everyone will enjoy.
Exercise doesn’t have to mean getting up at 6am every morning and running 10 kilometers, or putting in strenuous weight lifting sessions at the gym.
It could mean:
- Catching up on your favourite podcast or audiobook while you go for a walk around the block
- Meeting new people at a yoga class
- Walking in place while watching your favourite TV show
- Searching the database on a platform such as FitIn for something that looks fun to you
- Meeting up with some friends for a hike in nature, and capturing photos along the way
- Playing with a pet, or your grandchildren
So whatever you choose, find an activity you will enjoy, and get moving.
Your body will thank you for it.