A few years ago, I was scanning social media, and an article jumped out at me – something along the lines of “The Best Exercise Choices for People Over 40” or something like that. Being in my mid-40s myself and still working in the health and fitness industry as a trainer and coach, I clicked on the link to have a read and see if it could spark some unique or novel elements I could put into practice. Unfortunately, what I read was a list of activities that seemed more like a guidebook for getting started in fitness in your 70s. It recommended walking, Tai Chi, and even gardening as “training” methods, as apparently the author felt that once you entered your fifth decade, you had to slow your roll – lest you fall and break something, allowing the grim reaper to catch up prematurely.
I was appalled, to put it mildly.
It wasn’t that any of the exercise methods were bad, mind you. Cycling is a great, low-impact form of cardiovascular training, Tai Chi is a wonderful way to find balance between mind and body, and gardening is a fantastic way to drive up your daily metabolic expenditure without “training.” But the entire tone of the article seemed to suggest that when you hit the big 4-0, it was time to dial things down considerably out of respect for Time’s slow but steady breakdown of your rapidly aging body.
Now, with that being said, there are some realities that we face as we get older – and if we want to continue taking part in the more robust and demanding activities that we grew up loving, then there are definitely some adaptations and inclusions we should be looking at incorporating into our fitness plans.
Maintain Your Movement
One of the most noticeable elements of the aging process is a feeling of stiffness or tightness – particularly after a period of inactivity (i.e., sleeping, sitting on the couch, watching television, etc.). Where we used to be able to get up, stretch our arms to the ceiling, reach for our toes and throw a couple of trunk twists in for good measure, it can seem like the moment you hit 40, it all changes. The first skyward stretch can end with a crick in your neck; your toes are a mile away from your fingertips, and a couple of trunk twists right off the couch can turn into a back spasm that drops you to your knees. Well, that’s not your imagination. Starting around your late 30s, changes begin to occur in the connective tissues (tightening of cross-links, reduction in elastin and synovial fluid, for example), and by the age of 70, there can be a 25-30% reduction in your available range of motion.  The good news is that, while you might not be able to halt this process completely, you can slow its progress significantly with a consistent mobility program. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start yoga, but be sure that at least four times per week, you go through a series of gentle but dynamic (rather than static) stretches to help you stay limber. And always make sure you do some sort of 5-10min progressive warm-up before starting any strenuous activity.
When people think of “power training,” the image of Olympic Weightlifters and 72” box jumps on YouTube inevitably comes to mind. But power (the ability of a muscular unit, or combination of units, to apply maximum force in minimum time) is also the ability to pop the front tire over a large root while you’re mountain biking, explode past the defender on the pitch, and absorb that borderline bodycheck on the ice in the non-contact league. Not to mention jumping out of the way when your daughter almost mows you down on her bike or bracing suddenly when your leashed dog decides to launch into a full sprint. With the gradual loss of elasticity, bone density, and muscle, a decrease in power starts at around age 40 and progresses faster than the loss of muscle mass and strength. That’s why it is so important to incorporate some sort of power training into your fitness program – not necessarily the box jumps or learning to do a barbell snatch, but simple low-level plyometrics like skipping or throwing a medball at the wall can go a long way towards helping us to maintain an ability to not only generate power but to absorb it as well. 
Keep Doing Those Squats
Around the same time that your flexibility and power start to decline, so too does your muscle mass – and the timing of this isn’t coincidental. Known as “age-based sarcopenia,” this loss of muscle mass, strength, and stamina can decline in an inactive individual at a rate of 3% to 5% per decade after the age of 30. But again, just like your mobility and power, you can significantly reduce this through a regular intervention – most commonly known by the term “getting to the gym.” In fact, a 1990 study took ten elderly nursing home residents between the ages of 86-96 and put them through an eight-week program of progressive resistance training. On top of the increases in strength, the average participant saw an increase of approximately 10% in lean muscle mass, demonstrating that not only can strength training slow the rate at which this muscle is being lost, but it can also actually reverse it, and furthermore, that it’s never too late to start.
One other thing to keep in mind: as we get older, it can take a little longer to recover – not just from injury, but even between training sessions. So, if you’re really active or are planning to continue competing at a relatively high level, then planning and structuring the program becomes a little more important to ensure your body has adequate time to rest and rebuild and that you’re not trying to perform in a deficit. There isn’t a specific calculation that can be applied to this, but you will need to pay more attention to your body and lose the ego. If you need that extra day off after a hard session – take it.
Ask the Experts
If this all seems like a lot of information to synthesize and apply, that’s because it is. The good news is that a well-designed training program actually addresses all of it – but the key phrase is “well-designed”. Unless you have the education and experience needed to write and construct training plans, don’t try to do it on your own through Google searches, YouTube videos, and Instagram posts. Speak to a professional (your doctor, physical therapist, or qualified trainer) and make the investment in the long term – when you’re 80 and still hitting home runs or hiking to watch the sunrise on the local peak, you’ll be glad you did.
 Bataineh, Adam – https://www.span.health/blog/why-we-lose-flexibility-with-age-and-what-to-do-about-it
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