How do our recovery needs change as we age?
While it would be nice to have the same energy and ability to bounce back in our 40s, 50s and beyond, as we did in our teens and 20s, it’s sadly just not the case.
As we get older our bodies don’t respond to our regular movement workouts in the same way. Tiredness, aches and the potential of increased injuries are all greater. This doesn’t mean we should stop exercising though! If anything, the health benefits of physical exercise are more important than ever to keep us in good shape during the mid-to-latter years of our lives.
So, what should we do? Well, much of the same really, but with a few adaptations to help prevent against injuries and to keep our bodies supple and able to move freely still.
The importance of stretching
Stretching is important at any age, but as we get older, we naturally become less flexible so it becomes even more important. Studies have shown that stretching can vastly improve natural gait and movement in the elderly.1 Whereas it might have been ok before to stretch a day or two each week, you should now be increasing the frequency of which you stretch. It doesn’t need to be onerous or time consuming though. Try getting in the habit of going through a short daily stretching routine as soon as you get out of bed in the morning and focus on moves that stretch your entire body.
Cool off cardio/ramp up resistance
Around the age of 50, muscle mass and bone density begin to drop so resistance training is crucial to keep them strong. Strength training helps offset the loss in muscle mass and strength typically associated with normal aging. Additional benefits from regular exercise have been proven in studies to include improved bone health and reduction in risk for osteoporosis; improved postural stability, reduced risk of falling and associated injuries and fractures; and increased flexibility and range of motion.2
The good news though, is that you don’t need to become a gym bunny. If the thought of going to a gym fills you with terror, don’t worry. While weights are certainly an option, there are plenty of bodyweight exercises you can do in your own home too, which require no equipment. Squats, lunges, planks and leg raises are all good options.
Cool off doesn’t mean stop
Cardio still plays an important role if you are going to fully experience the health benefits of physical exercise. Cardio has been shown in studies3 to help in the fight against heart disease, which becomes more of a concern after the age of 50. Cardio also helps to increase lean muscle mass and, as muscle burns more calories than fat, this will help prevent too much weight gain as your metabolism naturally begins to slow as you age. If time is lacking, give interval training a go. This form of movement workout alternates bursts of high intensity exercise with short recovery periods and helps you burn calories even after you have finished exercising – thanks to what is known as the EPOC effect (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). Take a day off in between workouts to give your muscles a proper chance to recover. If you’re still sore after this time, listen to your body and increase your rest and recovery time further. Niggling aches and pains are often an indication that an injury might be brewing, but simply resting is often enough to prevent it turning into anything serious.
Rest is as important as movement
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the more you exercise, the greater the benefits will be, but rest periods are just as important as active periods and should form part of any movement workout program. As you age, you might find you need more time to rest and recover than you did when you were younger.
To truly experience the health benefits of physical exercise it’s important to stay fit and active whatever your age. There’s no magic number when you will suddenly reach a certain birthday and be told movement is now bad for you, but there is a trend in that you may find it getting more challenging and feel it taking longer for you to recover with each year that passes. If in doubt, always listen to your body. If you are sore, it may be that you have done too much, too soon. If you are exhausted for days after exercising, it’s almost certain you need to slow down. Whatever age you are now though, the earlier you start exercising, the easier you are likely to find it as you age.
- https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/235863 [↩]
- https://experts.illinois.edu/en/publications/exercise-and-physical-activity-for-older-adults [↩]
- https://europepmc.org/article/med/7934752 [↩]