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Exercise Recommendations for Healthy Aging

There are some things in life you have no control over, like getting older. However, you do have control over changes related to aging. As you get older, your body undergo several changes including decreased muscle mass, decreased muscular strength, increased body fat, and decreased aerobic (lung) capacity. After age 30, you can lose as much as 3 to 5 percent of muscle mass per decade. After age 50, the decline increases to 1 to 2 percent per year. A recent study concluded that on average, people lose about 30 percent of their strength between ages 50 and 70, and another 30 percent of what’s left per decade after that. In addition to general muscle loss, the following changes occur as you age: Muscles take longer to respond to brain signals the older you get. The water content of tendons and ligaments decreases as you age. This change makes the tissues stiffer and less able to tolerate stress. Your heart muscle becomes less able to propel large quantities of blood quickly through your body. As a result, you tire more quickly and take longer to recover.

The greatest intervention you have available to combat these changes and slow down your biological clock does not come in a pill. It is proper exercise, which can help you preserve muscle mass, strength, and lung capacity. Regular exercise is also effective in preventing age-related health issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and pulmonary disease.

Basic Recommendations:

  • It is important to build a fitness program that focuses on the four different categories of exercise, which include endurance exercises, strength training, balance exercises, and flexibility/stretching exercises.
  • Strength and resistance training have been shown to be the most effective in preventing and treating muscle loss.
  • Perform exercises that give you the best “bang for your buck.” Exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges, rows, and push-ups recruit more muscles than exercises like bicep curls and leg extensions which isolate specific muscle groups.
  • Your exercise program should progress to using heavier weights and increasing resistance. Mix up the routines by changing up the sets and repetitions, and adding a variety of movement exercises.
  • Set goals and design a program that address those goals. You should change your exercise program every 2 to 3 months, rather than doing the same thing month after month. It can be as simple as keeping rest periods short or increasing repetitions to build muscular endurance. If the goal is to increase muscle mass, use heavier weights, which will require longer rest periods.
  • The recommendation for older adults is 150 minutes of exercise per week, which can be broken down into 20 minutes per day, seven days per week; 30 minutes per day for five days per week; or 50 minutes per day for three days per week.
  • The hardest part is getting started. If it feels overwhelming, work with an experienced trainer to help you design an exercise program and set goals.