There are many significant benefits to exercise and getting and staying fit. Exercise reduces your risk of diabetes and heart disease, helps you get a better night’s sleep, fights fatty liver disease, helps you manage your weight, and helps you look and feel younger.
There are very few downsides to exercise. Your body was designed with joints for movement and your health improves when you move. Research has also demonstrated the overall effectiveness of using high-intensity interval training(HIIT) over the usual cardio exercises.
HIIT has the added benefit of increasing your human growth hormone (HGH), something “regular” cardio exercises do not do. The increased HGH levels help reduce insulin resistance and improve your ability to maintain a healthy weight.
HIIT also requires just minutes of your time and not the hours you may be used to laboring through when doing cardio.
What Happens After 40?
Over time you may have noticed changes to your body. Aging may follow a pattern, but with exercise and good nutrition you can enjoy the most from the years to come.1
From the time you are born until you reach age 30 your muscles continue to grow larger and stronger. But, starting around the age of 30, you begin to lose muscle mass, up to 3 to 5 percent each decade if you are not active. The medical term for this is sarcopenia with aging.2
Even if you are active, you continue to lose muscle mass, but at a much slower rate. The changes may be related to neurological fluctuations from your brain to your muscles that trigger movement, loss of nutrition, decrease in the ability to synthesize protein or in a decrease of HGH, testosterone, or insulin.
Reflexes and coordination can also suffer from the biological changes associated with aging.3 You may have noticed that your body doesn’t respond the way it used to.
It may be more difficult to get up from the couch, climb stairs with groceries, or go for a bike ride. With age your body can get stiffer and wobblier, and your muscles more lax.
This loss of muscle mass will also change the way your body looks and responds. The redistribution of muscle to fat may affect your balance. Less leg muscle and stiffer joints makes it more difficult to move around.
Changes in body weight and bone loss may also affect your height. People typically lose almost ½ inch in height every 10 years after age 40.4
Use It or Lose It
The old adage, “use it or lose it,” is true when it comes to your physical abilities. When you lose muscle, it’s typically replaced by fat. Although your weight may increase only slightly, your frame may appear much larger because fat takes up 18 percent more room on your body than muscle.5
Fortunately, it’s never too late to start exercising and taking care of your muscles. This was demonstrated by a unique study done at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.6
The study began in 1966 when researchers asked five healthy 20-year-old subjects to spend three weeks in bed. Researchers discovered devastating changes to their heart rates, muscle strength, blood pressure and heart capacity.
After a follow-up eight-week exercise course, all the participants regained their prior fitness levels and made some gains.
The results of this study prompted changes in medical practice, encouraging a return to physical activity following illness and surgery. Thirty years later, those same five men were asked to participate in another study.
Their baseline fitness and health measurements demonstrated an increase in weight of an average of 50 pounds, doubled the amount of body fat from 14 percent to 28 percent, and a reduction in cardiac function from the measurement made at the end of the study in 1966.
These men underwent a six-month regimen of walking, cycling and jogging that resulted in a modest 10 pound weight loss.
However, their resting heart rate, blood pressure and heart’s maximum pumping ability had returned to their baseline levels measured when the men participated in the first study at the age of 20. Amazingly, the exercise had reversed 30 years of age-related decline.
Start With Flexibility and Balance
In her book, “Fitness after 40,” orthopedic surgeon and mobility specialist, Dr. Vonda Wright, recommends that people over 40 shouldn’t exercise more, they should exercise smarter.7 The first smart move is to improve your flexibility and balance. Both of these physical factors suffer from muscle loss and joint stiffness as you age.
Quoted on CNN, Dr. David Geier, former director of Sports Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and spokesperson for the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine concurs, stating that: “Flexibility is the third pillar of fitness, next to cardiovascular conditioning and strength training.”8
Flexibility can help reduce injuries, improve your balance and help you reach your optimum level of fitness. Foam rolling, one of Dr. Wright’s favorite techniques, does double duty. Foam rolling not only helps improve your flexibility but also helps rid your muscle tissue and connective tissue of adhesions.9
Foam rollers are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased online or at your local department or sporting goods store. Dr. Wright recommends using the roller after a hot shower in the morning to help loosen and limber your muscles and joints for the rest of the day.
She and I also agree that dynamic stretching is a much safer method, and achieves better results than static stretching.10Static stretching can actually damage your muscles and tendons, which may be why studies show it worsens muscle performance, particularly when the stretch is held for 60 seconds or more.
Static stretching involves taking a muscle to full length and holding for 15 to 60 seconds, such as touching your toes, dynamic stretching involves movement — such as walking lunges, squats or arm circles — to accomplish flexibility of the muscle groups. The benefits of dynamic stretching include more power, less injury, better coordination and balance and efficient neuromuscular activation.11
This means that dynamic stretching will help address both your need for improved flexibility and balance. Part of the challenge is that the neuromuscular connections that help maintain balance begin to erode as you age. Try standing on one foot without holding on to anything. It’s a little more difficult than you may have imagined.
A simple daily routine would be to incorporate dynamic stretching with foam rolling, and practice standing on one foot and then the other, every other day. You should notice improvements in both your flexibility and balance over even a short amount of time.
Foam Roller Mistakes
Although simple to use, there are mistakes you can make with a foam roller that will hurt in the long run. Pay close attention to these five mistakes that may set you back instead of moving you forward.12
- Rolling Speed
It’s easy to go quickly through your routine, to get it over and done with. But, rolling slowly over the areas will help the muscles to relax through the compression and get rid of the adhesions causing you problems. Going quickly won’t get rid of the adhesions and may cause the muscle to tense, which is the converse of what you want to happen.
- Spending Too Much Time on the Knots
This is one instance where more is not better. If you place sustained pressure over an area already injured, you could cause muscle or nerve damage. Spend just 20 seconds on a tender area and then move on. Also, don’t use all of your body weight over the tender area.
- No Pain, No Gain Doesn’t Apply
Areas of pain and tenderness in your body may not respond well to foam rolling. Instead, it’s important to roll around the area to help break up the surrounding adhesions, loosen and relax your muscles, in an attempt to reduce the pain response. Then you can roll slowly over a tender area for 20 seconds, giving the muscles time to relax.
- Using Bad Posture
Posture isn’t just important when you’re standing or sitting. It is also important when you are foam rolling. If you don’t pay attention to your form during specific movements you may make pre-existing problems worse. Get some help from a personal trainer who can assist you in positioning your body correctly as you roll away tension and muscle soreness.
- Steer Clear of Your Lower Back
Whether you have pain in your lower back or not, this is an area of your body that is sensitive. If you use the roller on your lower back the muscles will stiffen to protect the spine. Instead, use the roller over your upper back, on your waist, or over your buttocks and thighs. Muscles in both of these areas support the lower spine and will benefit from the therapy.
Modify Your Strength Training
When you were younger you might have “hit the gym” to lift weights on a consistent basis. But, as you age, you need to build functional strength over strength in isolated muscle group. The idea behind building functional strength is to improve your abilities using groups of muscles you would normally use in everyday life.
In other words, the leg press machine may build impressive quadriceps muscles, but without improving the strength of the muscles that balance the quadriceps, such as the hamstrings, you may not improve your ability to climb stairs efficiently.
Functional strength training is training over a movement continuum. All of the activities you perform each day, such as walking, climbing stairs, getting up and down from chairs, lifting, pushing, bending, pulling, twisting and turning are done in three different planes.13
Movements cross the sagittal plane when you move across the midline of your body, right to left or left to right. Movement crosses the frontal plane when your body moves forward or backward and they cross the transverse plane when your body moves up and down across an imaginary line at your waist.
Functional strength training is a coordinated effort between multiple muscle groups imitating everyday activities and not training an isolated muscle group. You can accomplish these types of activities with free weights, medicine balls and kettle bells, all of which work your body through multiple planes using multiple groups of muscles.