A question seldom on people’s minds when thinking of starting a fitness program is what type of exercise will yield the desired results.
Let’s use an example of a 60-year-old woman who’s gained 20 lbs. over the last 10 years. She asks her family doctor for advice, and he suggests she start a walking program.
While this advice is valid is it the best choice? To arrive at the best choice requires an understanding of metabolism and the body’s response to different types of exercise with age.
A 60-year-old unfit woman needs to boost her metabolism, which has declined for at least 20 years.
Basal metabolic rate (BMR) starts to decline after age 30, and that decline can be precipitous if the person is inactive.
The primary contributor to declining BMR is muscle loss and a drop off in fitness activities. Along with the weight gain comes the loss of bone density and stress to knee and hip joints from carrying the extra pounds.
A weight-bearing cardio program such as walking or jogging causes weight loss more effectively than swimming but can lead to foot, knee, hip and low back issues if the person does too much, too soon, and fails to allow for adequate recovery time.
A few weeks of fast walking going from 20 minutes to 60-minute workouts can cause acute problems with a joint, muscle or tendon etc., possibly rendering the person inactive again.
Is there a better way to approach the challenge of producing the weight loss desired in a more effective and safe manner?
A balanced exercise program includes addressing the need for strength, stamina and suppleness.
Strength is not about having big muscles like a bodybuilder. It’s about being strong for day-to-day activities and conditioning for the core muscles because of their critical role in supporting the back and balance.
Stamina helps reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Suppleness is vital to reduce muscle and joint pain, improve functional movement, and help us recover from hard workouts.
The number 1 choice of exercise for a 60-year-old woman trying to take 20 lbs. off and keep it off is resistance training – building muscle to boost her metabolism and restore her bone density while increasing stress to joints by strengthening the muscles that protect the joints.
An age-modified strength training program is safe and has the advantage of being able to progressively increase intensity as the person gets fitter without increasing the risk of injury, providing exercises are being done correctly.
The number 1 choice for cardio would be a non-weight bearing exercise bike for the first few weeks to get the body adjusted to exercise, followed by treadmill walking and then when some of the weight has come off, a program of walking interspersed with intervals of running on the treadmill – I usually start with 30 seconds of moderate speed running followed by 90 seconds of walking.
The number 1 choice of suppleness exercises would be a specific routine of stretches done at the end of a workout or if the person has the time to attend a moderate yoga program.
The good news is that to make impressive improvements, you do not need to exercise two hours a day or every day. A 30-minute program to start, and very gradual increases over a period of months, can produce rewarding results.
Older adults do not need to train super hard or every day to get incredible reductions in their risk for heart disease, high blood pressure or risk of injury from exercise or falls. If you increase your activity from 30 minutes a day to one-hour, you do not double the benefit.
Excessive exercise can cause a wide variety of injuries. Moderation and dedication are the key factors in choosing a program that you can do into your 90s to enjoy a healthy and active old age.
I trained one client who did not go to a gym until he was 86. He followed a set 40-minute program and is still going strong at 92 – not using a walker and living independently.