“Old”, “Senior”, “Active Adult” – it doesn’t matter what term you use, once you reach a certain stage in life, getting called old can be an insult. Now if you’re reading this post and you’re in your 20’s, research has shown that the exercise you perform now can have a positive effect 20 years down the track. And if you’re over 30, age-specific changes in your body are happening now so you definitely need to read on!
Personally, my definition of old throughout my life has always been approximately 5 – 10 years ahead of my current age. So when I was a kid, 21 was always an age that was “old”. Once I reached that milestone the age simply gets shifted every 10 years – 30 – 40 – 50!
Physiologically though, your body doesn’t give a stuff about what number you enter when you’re filling out forms that ask your age. From a research and clinical perspective, the evidence is overwhelming – age can be irrelevant – it is your activity and fitness level which is the most important determinant for not only your quantity but also your quality of life.
Quality of life is something that resonates strongly as I have been in the fortunate/unfortunate position of having to deal with clients of all ages in a variety of different settings. Schools, sporting clubs, outpatient physical therapy centers, fitness centers, hospitals and nursing homes.
Hospitals and nursing homes whilst they can be positive, can also be disturbingly depressing. If you have ever managed a client that is essentially bedridden, you’ll understand that biological age can sometimes be irrelevant. I have treated 90-year-olds that were in better shape than people decades younger.
Personally, the ability to perform and participate in activities that I love is one of the main drivers with regards to my health and fitness routine. Reality checks are still required of course – expecting to do certain activities and recover as fast as what I did when I was a teenager is ludicrous.
The definition of “too old” can be situation specific though. You only need to look at elite level sport “retirements” to realize that the definition of “too old” can often correlate to when you feel/felt in your prime. The main point I’m trying to make here is that everyone at some stage will be told that they’re too old for something and in some cases this is correct. However, it is also very important to analyze and ask yourself the question “Is it feasible to maintain/improve my current skill level/level of fitness” or have “I let myself get out of shape?”
Exercise – The Elixir Of Life
Research is indisputable regarding the health benefits of exercise in combating age-related risks of disease and disability. As with exercise though, the effect can be specific depending on the type of training employed such as cardio (running/swimming), mobility (Yoga/Pilates) and of course strength training.
Here are some of the known(and lesser known) benefits of exercise on the body:
Boost Your Immunity
Professor Janet Lord, Director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, advises that “the immune system declines by about 2-3% a year from our 20s, which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer.” New research conducted by Professor Lord, however, has recently identified that your immunity level can be dramatically improved and has shown that 80-year-olds can still have the immunity of a 20-year-old with a regular exercise routine.
Strength – Why It’s Downhill From 30
Muscle strength is vital for bone and joint health, balance and for allowing us to perform activities of daily living such as climbing stairs, carrying groceries and getting up from a low based chair. Strengthening your body can also help manage blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels, as well as prevent and control heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Each decade from the age of 30 we lose 3 – 5% of the muscle mass we naturally carry, which causes us to lose muscle function — a condition called sarcopenia. Professor Fiatarone Singh, a geriatrician at the University of Sydney recommends high-intensity resistance training as the best way to increase and maintain muscle function.
Research has shown that men in their 70s who’d been lifting weights for 15 to 20 years had muscles that looked identical to that of 20-year-old men in terms of size and strength.
Strength training has also been shown to be important in maintaining bone density and reducing the risk of fractures in later life. Research published in the European Journal of Endocrinology demonstrated how resistance training increased hip bone density in a group of elderly women. (Note: Over 90% of hip fractures occur after the age of 50 and decreased bone density is one of the main contributing factors).
Strength really matters when it comes to functioning well as we get older. So what’s the right kind of training? That depends on your fitness and health goals. High-intensity resistance training is the best way to increase and maintain muscle function. Sets, reps, intensity, and progression are also important which is why training with a certified Fitness Professional is strongly recommended, especially if you don’t have prior experience with strength training.
Interestingly, researchers in Canada have shown that regardless of age, exercise intensity only needs to be at least 60% 1RM (1 RM = 1 repetition maximum – the load you can perform once before fatigue) to elicit a significant increase in myofibrillar protein synthesis(muscle growth).
The great news is that it’s never too late to get started, even if you’ve never picked up a weight in your life. Even people over 100 years old have shown changes in their muscle cells – identified by muscle biopsies – so no more excuses to not lift some iron!
Balance – something we all take for granted until we lose it momentarily; sometimes resulting in embarrassment, sometimes even injury. The older you are, the more you appreciate what “good balance” represents. Importantly, older people who perform well in balance and mobility tests decrease the risk of falling by 50% compared to people with poor balance.
I have examined the importance of balance for every age in another post, but the key message is good balance = improved performance – for sport/recreation and the performance of activities of daily living.
Balance is dependent on a number of different factors including joint sense(vestibular), vision and strength. All of these factors can be improved with exercise.
The role of exercise in preventing eye disorders is a little-known fact within the general population. Research suggests that regular exercise protects against macular degeneration and cataracts, which are 2 of the main causes of vision loss in older clients.
Macular degeneration affects the retina – the section of the eye which provides a clear and sharp vision for reading and driving. Cataracts create a cloudiness of the lens and can lead to poor eyesight or blindness.
Exercise has been linked to protection against cataracts and age-related changes in the macula.
Mobility, which refers to an active range of motion of a joint is affected by a number of different factors, one of which is flexibility, a muscles ability to passively lengthen through a range of motion.
Mobility is something that some of us need to work on all of the time. As a broad generalization, women tend to be better at mobility based exercise routines such Pilates and Yoga. Often the main reason for this is that we usually gravitate towards activities that we do well, which is why men tend to hit the weights rather than a yoga mat. Ironically, it is often the opposite of what we need. i.e. Women need more strength training and Men need to incorporate more stretching based activity into their normal exercise routine.
Loss of mobility is often facilitated by modern living – for example, sitting is one of the main culprit contributing to tight hip flexors, hamstrings, thoracic spine.
Poor posture associated with the elderly didn’t just happen overnight – it was often years in the making. Prevention is not just better than the cure – it is the cure!
Cardio is any exercise that raises your heart rate and is also known by the general population as aerobic exercise. Cycling, swimming, jogging – all common and popular forms of exercise that are used to train aerobic or cardiovascular fitness. A strong cardiovascular system means more oxygen to the cells in your muscles and it can also assist in burning fat as a fuel source.
Aerobic exercise, however, can’t provide some of the benefits of strength work – you need to do both.
Moreover, incorporating both cardio and strength training in exercise programs for older adults may be more effective in optimizing aspects of functional fitness than programs that only involve one component. i.e only doing cardio or only doing strength.
Exercise Makes You Smarter
Countless studies have identified that older adults who participate in regular exercise perform better in memory tasks and have a lower risk of dementia. Neuroscientists have shown that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is released during exercise. BDNF are biomolecules that support the growth, survival, and differentiation of neurons. Scientists have also recently identified an “exercise hormone” called Irisin that is also linked to improved health and cognitive function.
One significant US study tracked 2,747 healthy people (average age of 25) performing a treadmill test two decades ago, and then again twenty years later. Cognitive tests were taken 25 years after the beginning of the study to measure verbal memory, psychomotor speed (the relationship between thinking skills and physical movement), and executive function. People who had better fitness at the start of the study (average age of 25 at the commencement of study) were more likely to perform better on the executive function test, had better verbal memory and faster psychomotor speeds at 43 to 55 years of age.
This information clearly shows the importance of regular exercise through all phases of life.
Getting Started Again
If you know you need to start exercising again or need to add some new training methods to your normal routine, depending on your age, a review with your Doctor is often the first step. They can advise on any precautions or contraindications that you may have to specific types of exercise. Ask for a referral letter that you can provide to your Fitness Professional.
Once that is taken care of, your Fitness Professional will then arrange for an assessment to assist with the implementation of an exercise program specific to you & your goals.
Over 50% of people who begin an exercise program drop out after 6 months and from experience I have found that one of the main reasons for the high dropout rate associated with fitness and weight loss programs is due to poor planning and assessment.
Motivation is high at commencement, but if you get sore, have underlying injuries that flare up or you don’t get the results you thought you would, sometimes this facilitates a “this is not worth the effort “response.
This is why it is so important that you consult Fitness Professionals who perform a thorough and extensive assessment to assist with a program that is specific to you and your personal goals.
One Percent Change – The Superior Fitness Assessment
Performing a quality fitness assessment will allow for better awareness and understanding of your body and eliminate the guesswork so your Fitness Professional can design you a better program. This will allow you to push hard when appropriate, and ease off if there are underlying areas of your body with issues.
One Percent Change, a world-leading body assessment system uses specific testing to identify key areas of the body that are often flared up when you exercise. The system will identify any underlying injuries and then you alert to this. So you & your Fitness Professional will now know to be careful with certain exercises.
For example, if the One Percent Change assessment reveals that you have underlying issues in your hips you (& your Fitness Professional) now have specific knowledge to create/alter your program to ensure you don’t get injured or create unnecessary pain and discomfort.
One Percent Change uses advanced technology in the form of a hand-held dynamometer/Inclinometer to accurately assess individual muscle and joint tightness, weakness, and imbalances.
Measurement of Hip Internal Rotation Strength
By using the One Percent Change Assessment, you eliminate the guesswork. “Yes, you do have some underlying issues but if it does get sore we can monitor or if necessary we can refer you on to a Health Professional for further investigation.”. Fitness Professionals using the One Percent Change Assessment system with their clients undergo additional training and have advanced knowledge which facilitates great client outcomes with their fitness programs.
One Percent Change Professional Report highlights areas of concern to create a better fitness program
Why is this important to YOU?
Remember, the most important thing is to keep exercising – keep up the routine. If you get injured you may lose the ability to work out.
By identifying a potential injury early, you can keep training rather than stopping or easing off your training intensity due to discomfort or pain.
This then means that you achieve your goals quicker.
Which means that you feel “good” sooner.
Better Assessment = Better Results
So regardless of whether you want to lose weight, tie your shoelaces with no issues or stop “getting old fast”, the importance of a good body assessment shouldn’t be underestimated.
Special Bonus, click here to Download your Free “Anti-Ageing Program”
Note: As discussed above, getting a specific assessment is the quickest way to get the best results for your body. This exercise program is a general program based on the most common problems experienced due to the aging process in most individuals.
Fiatarone, Maria A. MD; Elizabeth C. Marks, MS; Nancy D. Ryan, DT; et al (1990). High-Intensity Strength Training in Nonagenarians: Effects on Skeletal Muscle. JAMA; 263(22):3029-3034.
Helena Horder, PhD, Lena Johansson, PhD, XinXin Guo, MD, PhD, Gunnar Grimby, MD, Silke Kern, MD, PhD, Svante Ostling, MD, and Ingmar Skoog, MD. (2018). Midlife cardiovascular fitness and dementia: A 44-year longitudinal population study in women. Neurology; 90:1-8.
Huovinen V, Ivaskaa KK et al (2016). Bone mineral density is increased after a 16-week resistance training intervention in elderly women with decreased muscle strength. European Journal of Endocrinology 175(6):571-582
Miriam E. Nelson, PhD; Maria A. Fiatarone, MD; Christina M. Morganti, MD; Isaiah Trice, PhD; Robert A. Greenberg; William J. Evans, PhD (1994) Effects of High-Intensity Strength Training on Multiple Risk Factors for Osteoporotic Fractures – A Randomized Controlled Trial. JAMA. 272(24):1909-1914.
Niharika Arora Duggal, Ross D. Pollock, Norman R. Lazarus, Stephen Harridge & Janet M. Lord. (2018). Major features of immunesenescence, including reduced thymic output, are ameliorated by high levels of physical activity in adulthood. Aging Cell, Volume 17, Issue 2.
Robinson, Matthew M. et al. (2017). Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans. Cell Metabolism , Volume 25 , Issue 3 , 581 – 592.
Scott M. Hayes, Jasmeet P. Hayes, Victoria J. Williams, Huiting Liu, Mieke Verfaellie. (2017). FMRI activity during associative encoding is correlated with cardiorespiratory fitness and source memory performance in older adults. Cortex
Zhu N, Jacobs DR Jr, Schreiner PJ, Yaffe K, Bryan N, Launer LJ, Whitmer RA, Sidney S, Demerath E, Thomas W, Bouchard C, He K, Reis J, Sternfeld B. (2014). Cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive function in middle age: the CARDIA study. Neurology. 2014 Apr 15;82(15):1339-46.