As I turned 40 this year I contemplated the effect getting older would have on me. Previously I’d completely ignored age and treated my body as if it was 30. Through either luck or good training or a bit of both I’ve managed to get to 40 in reasonable shape. Having turned 40 I begin to wonder if every new ache or injury I have is a sign of age. I question whether my 30 year old body would feel the same. A part of me refuses to use age as an excuse for anything but the more scientific part of me is coming to terms with the fact that there are facts about ageing that can’t be ignored. If I want to continue to life the full active and physical life that I currently live then I need to change the way I train to compensate for the inevitable changes that will occur I my body as I age.
Age has many affects on the body but the main ones I am concerned about are muscle mass, strength , endurance, aerobic capacity and flexibility.
I know I don’t look like Brad Pitt so a few wrinkles aren’t going to affect me and I have hardly a hair on my head so it doesn’t matter what colour it is or if any more falls out – although I did make one concession to age and shave of a goatee which was going grey, I might have turned 40 but there’s no need to advertise the fact! Anyway enough about me and back to getting old.
I’d like to give you a few tips on how to ensure the so called inevitable effects of ageing can be reduced.
For those of you who like your articles short and sweet here’s the article in a nutshell.
As we age, we lose strength, flexibility, muscle mass and aerobic capacity . The good news is that no matter what the age we can still improve on all of those. The other good news is that most of us are nowhere near our physical potential so there is a good chance you can be fitter, stronger and more flexible at 50 than you where at 25 . This will however require some hard work!
Ok those of you who prefer the longer edition read on.
Muscle Mass and Strength
As we age our muscle mass decreases by 0.5% per year. This is not set in stone. Muscle requires energy to keep alive so if it is not used the body breaks it down to reduce the body’s energy costs. The key to keeping your muscle mass is to keep using your muscles. Simple.
Resistance training becomes more important as we get older not less. You may think doing weights is for the 20-30 year olds and not for the 40+ but the opposite is true. Resistance training is more important the older we get. The good news is that even if you start resistance training in your 70’s you can still make large gains in strength. You might think that you are not interested in lifting heavy weights but resistance training doesn’t have to be about lifting heavy. Do you want to be able to get up out of your chair by yourself at the age of 80! Do you want to be able to lift up, hold and play with your grandchildren, spend time in the garden, go for long walks in the country side? Any of these tasks involve a certain strength that can be trained for in the gym.
As we age our muscles start to reduce their ability to stretch so our potential to stretch decreases. By potential I mean that the muscles will have less natural elastic properties but this does not necessarily mean we lose flexibility. Flexibility is a bit more complicated than thinking of your muscles like an elastic band that stretches. What we are really concerned with is the range of movement each of our joints have.
This is determined by a number of factors including the natural elastic properties of the muscle but also by the innervation of the muscles around the joint and the strength of the muscles to control the range of movement. We may not be able to control the loss of elasticity of our muscles but we can have a great affect on the other two variables.
So using age as an excuse for not being able to touch your toes or squat down is not valid at all.
If you have a good range of movement already then keeping it is the aim. All you have to do is continue to move the joints through their complete range of movement every day and you will be able to move through that range for the rest of your life. Have you ever wondered why older people in places like China and India can spend hours squatting on their heels with no problems at all? Their bodies are exactly the same as ours but because they squat down to their heels every day of their lives , several times a day their body’s are continually reminded of the need to preserve that range of movement.
If we dont use a particular range of movement very often we lose it!
A regular stretching program is essential if you want to move like a 40 year old when you are 60!. Whether it is doing yoga, stretching at home or performing exercises that stretch and strengthen the body at the same time, whatever you do do it regularly
The good news on endurance is that it takes a little longer to notice the effects of ageing. With regular aerobic training you can maintain high levels of endurance well into your 60’s. A race I did in France a few years back involving 100miles and 9000m of ascent descent with 2500 athletes which was won buy a 59 year old! In fact many endurance records are held by athletes well over 40.
The news is not so good here. Aerobic capacity or VO2 max as it is commonly referred to is the maximum amount of oxygen our bodies can process during exercise. This decreases with age for a number of reasons which get a bit technical so I wont bore you with them but the good news is that you can slow the decline by performing high intensity interval training.
Like everything else in the body if you dont use it you lose it. So if you dont use your maximal aerobic capacity you will lose it. Why does that matter you ask? Well think of a car that you can comfortably drive at 60mph that has a top speed of 100mph. What would happen if for some reason it’s top speed was reduced to 65mph? You can imagine that cruising at 60mph would put a lot more strain on the car.
Using running as another example , if your VO2max is say 10mph you might be able to run comfortably at 7mph for an hour. If your VO2max dropped to 7mph then your comfortable pace will drop to say 4 mph. This is now a fast walk not a run so you will no longer be able to run comfortably. Unfortunately your VO2max has a large genetic component to it but you want to at least maintain what you have for as long as possible.
I have seen people who reach their maximal aerobic capacity walking up a flight of stairs. You want to keep you maximal aerobic capacity well above the intensity of any exercise you usually perform.
So if you want to feel younger than you are make sure you add a couple of resistance training sessions a week, perform some high intensity intervals once a week and add a daily stretching routine to your schedule.