View All Articles

Working Out as You Get Older

Think of your body as a car. When it’s new, it runs smoothly with little attention. But over time, it transforms into a classic and, eventually, an antique. If you want to keep it on the road, you need to learn how to maintain it.

There’s no question that aging takes its toll on the body. You must work harder to build, or even maintain, muscle mass. Old sports injuries can haunt you. And your heart gradually loses strength.

But with good nutrition, rest and proper attention to your body, there’s nothing to stop you from enjoying the gym or your favorite sport well into your 60s, 70s and even 80s. You just have to be smarter about your workouts.

What you must account for, more than anything, is your heart rate. Over time, the bar for what we consider “high intensity” moves lower. So you can’t match the intensity of your workouts from a decade earlier.

Avoiding the Danger Zone

The key to cardio intensity is determining your maximum heart rate. For that, we have this basic formula:

Maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age.

So, for a 50-year-old, the maximum heart rate would be 220 - 50 = 170.

The key to workout intensity is figuring out your target range, based on what you are trying to accomplish. If your heart rate is too fast, you’re pushing too hard. Likewise, if your heart is beating too slow, you need to speed things up to get the most out of your workout.

Consider these general guidelines on workout ranges:

  • High intensity: 90 percent or higher. You should avoid this range without professional guidance.
  • Vigorous: 75 percent to 90 percent. This is an ideal range, particularly for weight loss.
  • Moderate: 65 percent to75 percent.
  • Beginners: 50 percent. The American Heart Association recommends this as a good target for people just getting started.

The easiest way to watch your heart rate is through a wearable monitor. Without one, you can take your pulse, using the tips of your first two fingers pressed against the artery on the inside of your wrist. Count it for 30 seconds and multiply by 2.

Workout Strategies

  • Warm-up/cooldown: The time you invest in stretching will pay significant dividends (in terms of fewer injuries) as you age. These sessions – both before and after exercise --should increase as you get older.
  • Stay balanced: Include balance exercises in your routine to help insulate you from injuries, particularly from falls.
  • Cutting back: As you age, it’s natural that your fitness level will decline. At some point, you won’t be able to exercise as long (or as intensely) as you once did. In sports, consider shifting to a position that requires less running.
  • Know your competition: It’s easy to get caught up in peer pressure and the need to be competitive. But know when you can, or can’t, realistically keep pace with others around you. Whether it’s lifting weights or playing flag football, you may not be able to hang with someone in a younger age group.
  • Recovery: It’s going to take longer for your body to recover from your exertions. Typically, it’s recommended to take a day of rest following a day of exercise, particularly in strength training. As you get older, you’re more likely to feel tired longer. But there are variables we can control to decrease the impact. Get a good night’s sleep, stay hydrated and fuel your body with a good diet.
  • Alternatives: Consider changing your routine to include lower impact activities, such as yoga, Pilates and tai chi.

Listen to Your Body

One of the most important things you can do is simply paying attention to what your body is telling you. If you start to feel pain or discomfort, that’s a sign to slow down or back off the intensity.

This is particularly important if you’ve picked up a few serious injuries over the years. If you’ve had knee or hip injuries, for example, you might want find activities that don’t put too much pressure on those body parts. Avoid doing things that risk further damage. If you are unsure, consult your doctor or a physical therapist, who can help devise an exercise regimen suitable for your age.

Related Articles