Remaining Athletic as We Age

Sometimes as our bodies age, it becomes necessary to change up our physical fitness routines and methodologies in order to continue our pursuits in physical fitness. And this is completely fine. I personally have switched up from dead lifting with a straight barbell to dead lifting with a hex bar as not only have I suffered a spinal injury in the past, my age can still play a role in my flexibility and mobility, the lack of which can prevent me from being able to place my body into the optimal position for pulling in excess of 300 pounds off the floor for multiple repetitions. The important message I want to convey is it is far better to modify your physical fitness routine rather than just quitting once it becomes difficult to accomplish. Do not quit because your ego is hurt solely because your form and abilities are no longer that of the twenty somethings you see in your gym. If you are over the age of 50, it is now even more imperative that you keep your body fit and strong. The alternative is to find yourself prematurely living in a nursing home because you might now lack the ability to get yourself on and off the toilet by yourself, or you might find yourself lacking in any of your other basic functions of life.

Cold, Hard Facts of Life as We Age

  • As we get older and grayer, it is a simple fact our body composition will begin to change due to an increase in fat and a decrease in lean muscle mass if you are not proactive in preventing this occurrence from happening in the first place. Beginning at the young age of 30, you can lose about a half a pound of your lean muscle tissue with each passing year. If you are a yo-yo dieter, this loss is going to be even higher. The amount of muscle you lose is going to be dependent on the quality of your nutrition, your level of fitness and activity, and to an extent, on your gender. Every year that you allow yourself to lose lean muscle mass, you are causing your metabolism to become slower and slower. I want to emphasize the words “you are causing” as the choice to eat right and exercise is entirely yours to make.
  • The less muscle you have, the weaker you can count on becoming. When you lose muscle, you are losing power and strength. This might not matter to you today, but imagine how it will feel when you need assistance with your daily functions of life. You have to take your health and fitness serious, and do so early on in life. Your skeletal muscle is going to produce less force, and the mechanical characteristics of your muscles are going to degrade. You will find that once you are over the age of 50, it can take longer for your muscles to respond than they did when you were just a youngster.
  • Your flexibility will become reduced as you age, and with that comes the risk of injuries as your tendons are not as elastic as they once were. Without this elasticity, your muscle tissues are less able to take being stressed.
  • Cardiac function becomes reduced as we age. Your heart can become less able to pump large quantities of blood throughout your body. This problem is compounded when you allow yourself to become over weight or obese. The higher blood pressure will reduce the amount of blood ejected with each heart beat. You may even see a decline in your heart rate due to changes in your electrical conduction system and to hormonal changes. Again, if you have allowed yourself to become over weight or obese, whether you want to admit it or not, you have made the poor life choices which has resulted into these health issues.
  • Your metabolism is going to decrease as you age. Metabolically, aerobic enzymes appear to decline, your aerobic capacity will be reduced about 10% per decade after the age of 25. That is, unless you are proactive in preventing these occurrences through proper nutrition and exercise.

You Can Remedy These Health Issues Yourself

You do not have to suffer the consequences of reduced muscle mass nor the subsequent loss of function if you make intelligent choices in regards to living your life. Many, if not most of the issues we face as we age in our musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems are a direct result of poor nutrition and laziness.

  • The loss of lean muscle mass can be minimized or prevented by cardiovascular and or strength training.
  • By  maintaining a regular exercise regimen while eating a wholesome and healthy diet, where you are controlling the intake of energy (calories) older athletes can maintain the same levels of body fat as they had when they were much younger. (I maintain at 9% body fat at 56 years old) Not only is regular exercise going to help in maintaining your lean muscle mass, it is going to help keep your body fat percentage down at healthy levels. By doing this you will mitigate the premature occurrence of age related ailments.
  • It is a myth that muscle mass and strength cannot be built on as we age. It is entirely possible to build strength and muscle over the age of 50, I’m still training with heavy weights at 56 years old, and still going strong. No matter your age, you will benefit by beginning a strength training program of some sort. It does not have to be heavy, nor does it require special equipment or expensive gym memberships. Nope, you can do all that you require to strengthen your body simply through a few body weight exercises, rather calisthenics.

The bottom line is to eat right and get your body moving at least 3 to 4 times per week with strength or cardiovascular exercise. Regular exercise has been proven to slow the hands of Father Time.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Brenda Sue says:

    Aging is inevitable. Poor health and loss of fitness and vigor is not. Like you said, it’s a choice…good work, David.

  2. Really important article – I teach exercise to seniors in a posture class. Did you know you can regain up to 20 years of lost strength in just 10 weeks of consistent exercise!

    1. David Yochim says:

      Hey Joseph, thanks for reading and commenting. It’s amazing how much strength that can be regained in a short period of consistent training. It’s a shame that people become sedentary and lose it in the first place. One of the strongest men I have ever known was a family member who still operated his farm well into his 80’s.

      1. That’s an amazing story, I have so much respect for the farming occupation – hard work doesn’t even cut it!

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