One day it’s going to happen to you, and you won’t see it coming. The change is sudden, almost instantaneous. It doesn’t happen when you turn 30, or when you turn 40. In fact, it’ll probably happen while you’re sitting in your car, commuting to work, or while you’re talking to a neighbor about your vacation plans.
Suddenly, you’re going to feel old. I don’t mean that you’ll feel senile, or that you should retire to a community. I mean that, when you least expect it, the thought is going to pop into your head that your body is just different than it used to be.
Staying fit over 40 is the topic of many articles you’ll find online, and there’s something to be said for wanting to work out in a way that’s helpful instead of harmful. But “fit over 40” doesn’t mean you’re too old to participate in the same workout routine you had when you were 20. You’re just going to have to do things a little differently. Here’s what you really need to know about staying fit after 40.
Your body fat is distributed differently
In an earlier post, I talked about body mass index and how every adult should be in a healthy range. However, as you get older, that’s not necessarily entirely accurate. Adults over 65 have been shown to hold their body weight and their body fat differently, so a higher BMI may be healthier to them.
So what does that mean for you? As you get older, it’s time to begin to pay less attention to the scale. Instead, talk to your doctor about your body composition, including your muscle mass, respiratory health and circulatory systems.
Get your blood panels done, at least annually. Of course, if you’re overweight this isn’t healthy. But part of staying fit over 40 is knowing that the numbers, like your weight, just won’t be the same as you were when you were younger.
Your coordination changes as you get older
As you age (and I’m not saying that 40 is aged) you begin to lose neuromuscular coordination. What that means, quite simply, is that your coordination, balance and flexibility will decrease. There’s little you can do about it – it’s just biology.
However, there are two things to keep in mind about this phenomenon. First, you can improve your flexibility and coordination through training. The best way to ensure you remain fit and healthy is to keep an eye on your flexibility. Foam rolling, for example, is a good way to keep limber. Yoga is another.
When you’re over 40, it’s not necessary to quit exercising to prevent injury. It’s also not necessary to bump up your activity level. All you really have to do is exercise smarter.
You might need more recovery time
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of 60 year old men who are still out there, every morning, training for their next marathon. There are even plenty of 60 year old men who began that training in their 50s.
That said, if you haven’t exercised in a while and are just beginning to work out again, understand that you’re going to need more recovery time than you did when you worked out in your teens.
Give your body what it needs. Take precautions, like a good pair of compression socks and a pair of shoes that fit perfectly. Warm up before you work out, and cool down afterwards. Always stretch.
And take it easy! Start slowly, and gradually build your workout up to what you want it to be. Remember R.I.C.E. – rest, ice, compression and elevation. If you wake up sore from yesterday’s workout, carefully evaluate whether it’s smart to hit the gym again today.
You become more susceptible to injury
Exercise, no matter your age, can be risky. There are plenty of young people who are injured during workouts, who get tennis elbow or runner’s knee. But as you grow older, those injuries are more likely to become irreversible.
After the age of 30, your muscles begin to lose mass and are replaced with fat (hence the change in body mass index). Your bones begin to lose calcium and become brittle and more prone to breakage. And your circulatory system changes, which can lead to a number of concerns from varicose veins to heart trouble.
Talk to your doctor about whether exercise is healthy for you. There’s a good chance she’ll say yes! However, she may have recommendations for low impact or other exercises you may not have tried before. Keep an open mind – you may love them!
Your workout doesn’t have to change that much
If you’re over 40 and you haven’t exercised since you were 20, it’s going to take a period of adjustment. With that said, though, your workout as an older adult doesn’t have to be too much different from the workouts the young folk do. Despite the “fit over 40” myths you may have heard, here are a few facts:
- High intensity interval training is perfectly fine for adults over 40, provided you have no health conditions.
- There’s no need to stick to low impact activity. Don’t let anyone tell you that the pool is the only place you belong.
- You don’t necessarily have to clear exercise with your doctor. If your heart and body are healthy, just go ahead – but exercise smart.
- Your shoes are going to become super important. Because you’re now prone to joint and other injuries, you’ll need a good pair of insoles to keep your feet and joints healthy.
- A heart attack during proper exercise is less likely than a heart attack as a couch potato.
- Exercise won’t hurt your joints, if you prepare right. In fact, it may actually help your joint health.
Has it happened to you? Have you been suddenly struck with the realization that you’re no longer a 20 year old? Did you begin to doubt yourself and feel as if exercise was no longer a viable, healthy option for you?
Put that thought away. Older adults do need to take precautions and exercise smart, but on the whole, being fit over 40 isn’t too much different from begin fit under 30.
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