Exercise for the Ages
Regular physical activity is a cornerstone of wellness at any age. However, exercise becomes especially important during your 30s, 40s, and 50s. These may be the busiest years of your life, and staying physically fit helps you keep up with all the demands. During these decades, you also set the stage for healthy aging. Staying physically active can lower your risk of developing many diseases associated with aging, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and colon cancer.
Whatever your age, a well-balanced exercise program should include aerobic activity, strength training, and stretching. You need all three types of exercise at all stages of life. But the right mix of activities and the best approach to doing them may change over the years. Here’s how to get the most health benefits from exercise and stay in tip-top shape throughout your 30s, 40s, and 50s.
In your 30s
This is the decade when you’ll probably notice the first subtle signs of aging. Maybe you’ve started putting on weight, or now crash on the couch every night after a long day. Even if you’re still active, you may notice that your body doesn’t bounce back quite as quickly as it once did. On a positive note, you probably have a more mature attitude toward health than you used to, and may have more money to spend on recreational activities.
This is the time to establish habits that will last you a lifetime. Aim for a balanced mix of aerobic, strength, and stretching exercises. Alternating different types of exercise will help you to use different muscle groups. This reduces the potential for unevenly developed muscles or excess wear and tear on one body part.
Active playground games, such as dodge ball and kickball are enjoying a resurgence among 30-somethings. If you love soccer or basketball, consider joining an adult league. Your muscles are capable of more explosive power and speed now than they will be later.
In your 40s
This is the decade when the long-term consequences of your earlier lifestyle choices begin to become more apparent. More often, you may see people your own age having heart attacks or getting sick with lifestyle-related illnesses, such as diabetes.
If you’ve been inactive in the past, now is the time to change your ways. On a positive note, you’ve reached an age when you’re able to appreciate planning for the future. It’s much like stashing away money for your retirement.
Strength training becomes especially important after age 40. It’s a classic “use it or lose it” scenario. Without adequate exercise, muscular performance tends to decline after age 40. This steady weakening can eventually affect your ability to do everyday activities, such as carrying a bag of groceries. Strength training is one key to avoiding frailty in old age.
Don't forget about flexibility. Regular stretching is more essential than ever. In addition to a few minutes of stretching at the end of every workout, you might want to consider taking a class in yoga, tai chi, or Pilates. Look for one that’s suited to your ability level, because some classes are more challenging than others.
In your 50s
This is the decade when you’re ready to enjoy the fruits of your past labors. You may be at the peak of your career or have grandchildren who are an important part of your life. Taking good care of your body is crucial for making the most of these years. For women, the onset of menopause may mean increased concerns about bone loss, heart disease, and weight gain. For men, the physical changes at midlife are more gradual, but they’re still there.
Bone mass peaks by age 30, leading to a slow loss of bone mass in both sexes. After menopause, however, the rate of loss accelerates in women. The result is an increased risk for osteoporosis, the disease in which bones become thin, fragile, and easily broken. Weight-bearing exercise is crucial for everyone’s bone health, and it may slow bone loss in middle-aged and older people. Examples of weight-bearing exercises include jogging, stair climbing, tennis, and walking. Lifting weights will also help keep your bones strong.
You may take for granted your ability to balance, yet, impaired balance is a major cause of falls as you age. To help prevent this, incorporate balance training into your daily activities now. For example, stand on one foot while doing the dishes or brushing your teeth. Try doing a set of balance exercises two to three times a week. Your health care provider or an exercise professional may be able to suggest specific exercises.
- Moloney Johns, Amanda, PA-C, MPAS, BBA
- Weisbart, Ed, MD