Fitness is vital at any age. As we age, our bodies experience a number of physiological transformations that affect fitness including changes in organ systems, decreased energy, metabolism, and in most cases, a decrease in muscle mass. Some of these changes affect men and women differently, but taking the time to exercise and practice flexibility is crucial as we age to support (or get) a healthy body, vibrant mind and vivacious spirit.
3 Ways that Age can Affect Your Fitness
1. Effects of Aging on Organ Systems
The heart, lungs, and musculoskeletal systems are all affected by aging, which makes remaining fit more difficult. For instance, maximum heart rate and cardiac output are decreased so the target heart rate during exercise changes. While an average 20 year old should have a heart rate of 100-170 beats per minute while exercising, an average 60 year old should have a target of 80-136 beats per minute according to the American Heart Association. Decreased lung capacity and decreased muscle strength also makes fitness more challenging as one ages. Endurance training in particular becomes difficult because lungs tire more quickly and our body responds by becoming short of breath.
2. Changes in Energy & Metabolism
It is common knowledge that energy levels and metabolic function decline with age. This can lead to decreased motivation when it comes to fitness, but those who exercise regularly at any age tend to have higher energy levels than those who do not. Maintaining a high energy expenditure (through cardio such as aerobics, walking/jogging, or biking) is crucial because metabolically active organ tissue is lost with age and the basal metabolic rate decreases. A lower metabolism can also lead to a higher likelihood of developing heat stress so it is important to work out intelligently. Staying fit as one ages may become more challenging due to the aforementioned factors, but it also becomes more important.
3. Loss of Muscle Mass
Along with the natural decrease in metabolic function, losing muscle mass may also lower energy levels and cause weight gain because the body uses more energy to maintain muscle than fat. As one ages, their body fat may increase up to 30%, which makes exercise a vital way to stay fit. Losing lean muscle mass as well as muscle strength also affects one’s sense of balance. This is why as some people age, their fitness routines are required to change. For example, while it may have made sense to go for a run around the block 15 years ago, a brisk walk might be a more realistic option for staying healthy today. This is something that can change when muscle mass is maintained or rebuilt.
Aging & Fitness: Women and Men
As women age, there are very few significant differences to men except that women tend to have a more noticeable decline in energy and metabolism. This means that it is even more important for them to stay fit by increasing energy expenditure to avoid weight gain and further decreased energy levels. Any exercises that sustain a higher heart rate than resting are ideal for this goal. For instance, speed walking, aerobics classes, or exercise machines such as treadmills and elliptical apparatuses are great options. With that said, basic weight training and flexibility are vitally important for women as well.
While men should also take part in cardio activities, it tends to be slightly more important for them to work on maintaining muscle mass as they may lose more lean muscle than women. Using small dumbbells while completing calisthenics exercises is a great way for men to regain their muscle mass. Some examples are chair dips, chest presses, squats, and leg crunches. As men age it is important to support muscle mass to improve balance, increase metabolism, and avoid gaining weight. Again, these exercises are also important to women but tend to be more immediately beneficial for men.
Importance of Fitness for EVERYONE!
There are an infinite number of reasons for men and women alike to stay fit at any age. However, when it comes to regular exercise among mature adults, there are even more reasons to stay in shape. Not only does if increase range of motion and muscle tone, but it also helps improve bone bass, coördination, and sleep patterns. In addition, moods tend to improve and lower back pain is generally reduced. Finally, it is an important way to stay a healthy weight and boost one’s self-esteem as aging can be a tough process.
Benefits of Flexibility and Weight Training
Another important part of fitness is flexibility training, which is something that many people at any age dread. However, flexibility is one of the quickest things to decline with age and after even a short break of flexibility training (four weeks) all hard work can be lost. Continued flexibility training helps decrease aches and pains, reduces the risk of injury, and increases range of motion. Similarly, weight training helps to increase muscle mass and any improvements that have been made can be quickly lost if too much time passes between sessions.
While aging may have a number of physiological effects on fitness that makes exercise more difficult, it is vitally important to stay fit at every age. The benefits of cardiovascular exercise as well as flexibility and weight training far outweigh the potential factors holding someone back from fitness.
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Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who is trying to be healthier this year. She now writes for AEDs Today, a leading supplier of automatic external defibrillators.
- Hardvard University: Exercise & Aging – Can you walk away from father time?
- UNM.EDU – Age & Aging Changes Body Shape
- LiveStrong – How does Age affect Exercise