Why Itâs Never Too Late for 40-Somethings to Get Fit
Research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in March 2009 concludes that men from the age of 50 who participate in high levels of physical activity will live for 2.3 years longer than those who lead a sedentary lifestyle, and 1.1 years longer than those who participate in moderate exercise.
The study also found that exercising at a high level for 10 years between the ages of 50 and 60 could increase the life expectancy of formerly sedentary individuals to that that of men who have constantly participated in high levels of physical activity. So even if you’ve never exercised before there’s still time to add years to your life. The increase in life span associated with starting to exercise is comparable with that linked to quitting smoking.
How Does Exercise Increase Life Expectancy?
We all know that regular exercise is good for us, but do you know how good? The following are just some of the reasons to start exercising today for a happier, healthier and longer life:
Reduced Risk of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
The American Heart Association (AHA) released a statement in 2003 identifying the relationship between increased activity levels and a reduction in the risk of CAD and a reduction in the symptoms of those who already have heart disease. It indicates that regular physical exercise has beneficial effects on blood pressure, insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, obesity and cholesterol levels which are all risk factors for Atherosclerosis, the primary cause of CAD. To achieve these benefits the statement recommends 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most if not all days of the week.
Assists in Reducing Body Fat Percentage, Reducing the Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
Research published on the NHS National Library for Health in July 2006 indicates that exercise improves blood sugar control and reduces body fat percentage in subjects with Type 2 Diabetes. The American Diabetes Association released a statement in 2006 outlining studies that show that 150 minutes of exercise per week can reduce the risk of impaired glucose intolerance developing into Type 2 Diabetes by 58%.
Increased Bone Density and Reduced Risk of Osteoporosis
Weight bearing exercise such as running and walking and resistance exercises with weights all help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The increased demands of these types of exercise increase bone density, strengthening tendons, ligaments and joints.
Maximal Oxygen Consumption, or VO2 max, is a well recognised method of assessing the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use per minute of work; it indicates heart function and capacity. As we age, the volume of blood pumped by the heart reduces and our bodies become less efficient at using the oxygenated blood that is being pumped around it. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), these two factors lead to a 5 – 15 % reduction in VO2 max every 10 years from the age of 25/30. However, the ACSM also state that regular cardiovascular exercise enables older individuals to achieve the same 10 to 30 % increase in VO2 max as their younger counterparts. Irrespective of your age, regular cardiovascular exercise, can improve your heart and lung function. Although the best results can be achieved by exercising at higher intensities, VO2 max is also increased by regular lower or moderate intensity workouts.
Strength and Power
Exercise can delay the effects of age related strength and power loss. The best way to think of it is ‘use it or lose it’. Your body is a clever and efficient machine; it will adapt to overcome the challenges that you set for it by exercising. If you don’t use your muscles regularly your body will assume that they are not required and your muscles will waste away with your youth. So to stay strong you need to work your body regularly.
Maximum peak bone mass occurs in our 30s and begins to decline at about 35 – 40 years of age. Alongside diet and hormonal changes, exercise can help to reduce bone loss. Women are particularly susceptible to a greater rate of bone loss following the menopause; when the cessation of oestrogen production reduces the absorption of calcium. One of the results of a weakened bone structure is a hunched posture or rounded shoulders and forward head position; this is known as kyphosis. Kyphosis restricts an individual’s depth of breath and overall range of movement. Exercising your core and back muscles will help to strengthen your posture and keep you standing tall.
Exercise gets us using our joints and muscles through their full range of movement. If you stop using this range you will lose it and become stiff. Yoga and Pilates are ideal forms of training for maintaining or increasing your flexibility.
Reduced Risk of Falling
Exercise can reduce the risk of falling by improving postural control, increasing leg, back and core muscles, enhancing balance and improving overall core stability. Regular workouts will help to maintain the agility and strength that could help us to avoid potential hazards.
Manage Your Arthritis
According to Arthritis Care, a registered arthritis charity, exercise can help to limit pain, maintain mobility, boost energy and keep joints strong. Arthritis Care has an online ‘Exercise and Arthritis booklet’ to ensure that you are exercising in a way that will relieve your condition and not cause further discomfort.
Guidelines for Safe Exercise in Middle Age
If you are new to exercise or you have any health concerns you should book an appointment with your GP for an MOT to ensure that you are fit to exercise.
Calculating Your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
Your MHR is a guideline figure that represents the safe upper heart rate limit in relation to age. As we get older, our MHR decreases by approximately 1 beat per year from an initial 220 beats per minute. To calculate your MHR, subtract your age from 220. If you are 40 years old your MHR is 180. Remember this is just a guideline upper limit and not your target heart rate. You should exercise at an intensity that challenges you but that you feel you can sustain for the duration of your workout.
Warming Up and Cooling Down
As we get older it takes more time for our bodies to warm up in preparation for exercise and joints need a little longer to become lubricated. Your warm up should last for approximately 5 – 10 minutes and involve the muscles that you are going to be exercising. Depending on your level of fitness, a brisk walk or a gentle jog will raise your heart rate and warm up your muscles. Stretch you muscles for 10 – 15 seconds each; gradually easing into each stretch. To cool down, gradually slow your activity down over a period of 5-10 minutes and gently stretch off the muscles that you have used. This will help to reduce muscle soreness after exercising.
Maintain a regular breathing pattern when you are exercising to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your heart. Try not to hold your breath and strain when you exert yourself.
Don’t try to increase your activity levels from low to high intensity overnight. Assess your current level of fitness by looking at the level of activity that you do now; then increase the intensity, frequency and length of your workouts gradually over time. Only change one variable at a time. For example, if you have been exercising for 30 minutes, twice a week at a moderate level, you could add in a third session during the week and maintain the same duration and intensity of your workouts. Then once you feel your body has adapted to this additional workload you could either increase the intensity or the duration of your routine.
Exercise Plan to Get you Started
The following workout comprises of cardiovascular and core exercises. It is designed to safely get you increasing your aerobic fitness, core stability and strengthening your posture.
The NHS recommends building up to 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times per week. The types of activities they promote are walking and gardening and swimming. All of these are great ways to begin to increase your activity levels and improving your heart and lung function. However the key to continual health improvements is to gradually increase the intensities of these work outs so that you feel challenged i.e. walk faster and swim harder. As your confidence builds its time to check out your local leisure centre for available clubs and teams that you can join.
Exercises for the Core and to Strengthen Posture
This exercise works the muscles in your Legs, bum and core.
Stand with your feet hip distance apart, your hands on your hips and your shoulders back.
Lean forwards at the hips, stick your bum right out and keeping your back straight. Then sit back as if you are lowering your self down onto a chair. Ensure that your knees stay behind your toes. Your feet should stay flat on the floor and your body weight should be distributed evenly through them. At the lowest point of the squat position your hips should be just higher than your knees. Return to start position and complete 1 - 2 x 15 repetitions.
Use your tummy muscles to maintain your posture throughout the movement.
This exercise works your upper back and your core muscles and requires some tubing or a bungee.
Wrap the tubing around an immovable object. Grip one end of the tubing in each hand and stand in a split stance (one foot in front of the other) facing the origin of the tubing. Hold your arms out in front of you at shoulder level and move back until the band is taught.
Pull the tubing by drawing your elbows back until they are horizontally and vertically level with your shoulders. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and then return to the start position. Complete 1-2 sets of 15 repetitions.
Notes: Use your tummy muscles to maintain your posture throughout the movement.
This exercise works your core muscles.
Start on your hands and knees with your hands below your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Keep your back straight and use your tummy muscles to maintain your position.
Lift your right knee and left hand approximately 1cm off the floor. Pause before slowly stretching out your right leg and left arm so that they are inline with your torso. Return to start position and repeat with the left leg and right arm. Repeat 1-2 sets of x 15 repetitions.
This exercise works your core and your bum.
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor positioned hip distance apart. Relax your hands by your sides. Draw in your tummy muscles.
Keeping you back straight raise it off the floor until you have a straight line through your shoulders, hips and knees. Clench your bum at the top of the exercise then release it as you lower your body back down to the floor. Touch the floor but try not to put your weight down. Repeat 1 – 2 sets slowly for 15 repetitions.
Use your tummy and bum muscles to ensure that your back stays straight. You should feel this one in your tummy and your bum and not in your lower back.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
The pelvic floor muscles support the uterus, bladder, bowels and other pelvic organs.
They are the muscles that you use to stop the flow or urine when you are weeing and you use them to control your bladder. As we get older our pelvic floor muscles get weaker; this is especially true of women who have had babies.
Lay down on your back, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
Draw up your pelvic floor muscles and then relax them. Repeat 10 times. Make sure that you continue to breathe and ensure that your buttocks, abdominals and thighs stay relaxed. Rest for 30 seconds before completing another 5 more sets of 15 repetitions. Practice this exercise 6 times a day for maximum effect.
As you gain more control over your pelvic floor muscles try to hold each contraction for slightly longer. It is important to practice both slow and sustained contractions and short fast ones.
Maximise Your Life Expectancy
The BMJ study found that the mortality rate was halved in men who increased their activities to a ‘high level’ from a medium or even a low level. However to achieve these results the test subjects had to maintain this level of exercise for 10 years. The ‘high level’ of physical activity required of the subjects were defined as either:
- 3 hours a week of active recreational sports or heavy gardening
- Regularly engaging in hard physical training or competitive sport.
Although the interpretation of these guidelines were left to those participating in the study, it is worth noting that a moderate level of physical activity was defined as often going walking or cycling for pleasure. Therefore, if you want to increase your life expectancy you have to get sweaty for 3 hours a week. This could be split into 30 minutes of sporting activities on 6 days of the week. Participating in a sport, as opposed to just being active, is important because sport is usually competitive in nature, driving you to do better and to achieve more. This type of motivation is often lacking when we participate in physical activity as a social pastime or as an individual.
If you are fit and healthy and ready to find your competitive streak here are some ideas of sporting teams and clubs for all ages:
- Martial arts
If you find the thought of joining a local team daunting don’t be put off, you could choose a sport like tennis that only requires two people and encourage friends and family to come and play with you. As your confidence builds you may become more open to the idea of joining a club. Or maybe there is a squash ladder at work that you could join. Becoming a member of a club or team will help to motivate you to exercise regularly at a high intensity.
Although not specifically regarded as a sport, high intensity exercise classes have a similar motivational impact. Attending a class has the effect of ensuring that you exercise regularly. Also working out in a group environment drives you to keep up with everyone else if not do better.
There’s No Time like the Present
So for a healthier and longer life get exercising today. Just because you have hit middle age doesn’t mean you’ve missed the boat. Start gently and gradually increase your activity levels over time; the health benefits are huge. Eternal youth could be yours… ok, well there’s a couple of extra years up for grabs anyway, and your next 50 will be much more fulfilling if you choose to exercise your way through them.
Log your exercise with WLR’s Exercise Diary and use the Exercise Database to get fitter over 40. Try the Exercise Diary and Database free for 24 hours.