A question that people rarely ask themselves when they think about starting a fitness program is what type of exercise will produce the results they want.
Take an example of a 60 year old woman who gained 20 pounds. in the past 10 years. She asks her family doctor for advice and he suggests that she start a hiking program.
While this advice is valid, is it the best choice? To make the best choice, one needs to understand the body’s metabolism and response to different types of exercise with age.
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A 60-year-old incompetent woman needs to get her metabolism going, which has been going down for at least 20 years.
The basal metabolic rate (BMR) begins to decrease after age 30, and this decrease can be steep when the person is inactive.
The main reason for the decrease in BMR is muscle loss and a decrease in fitness activities. With weight gain comes the loss of bone density and the strain on the knee and hip joints from carrying the extra pounds.
A strenuous cardio program like walking or jogging is more effective in weight loss than swimming, but it can lead to foot, knee, hip, and back problems if the person does too much too soon and does not allow sufficient recovery time.
A few weeks of brisk walking of 20 minutes to 60 minutes of exercise can cause acute problems with a joint, muscle, tendon, etc., and potentially make the person inactive again.
What better way to face the challenge of getting the weight loss you want more effectively and safely?
A balanced training program includes taking into account the need for strength, endurance and suppleness.
Strength isn’t about having big muscles like a bodybuilder. It’s about being strong for everyday activities and conditioning your core muscles as they play a vital role in supporting your back and balance.
Perseverance helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Flexibility is important to reduce muscle and joint pain, improve functional movement, and help us recover from hard workouts.
The top choice for a 60 year old woman trying to take 20 pounds off. Staying out and away is strength training – building muscle to boost your metabolism and restore bone density, while at the same time adding stress to your joints by strengthening the muscles that protect your joints.
An age-modified strength training program is safe and has the advantage that the intensity can be gradually increased as the person becomes fitter without increasing the risk of injury, provided the exercises are done correctly.
The first choice for cardio would be a non-weight-bearing exercise bike for the first few weeks to adjust the body to the workout, followed by walking on the treadmill, and then, when some of the weight has lost, a running program that is interspersed with running on the treadmill – I usually start at 30 seconds of moderate pace, followed by 90 seconds of walking.
The first choice for suppleness exercise would be a specific routine of stretches performed at the end of a workout or when the person has the time to participate in a moderate yoga program.
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The good news is that you don’t have to exercise two hours a day or every day to see impressive improvements. A 30 minute program at the beginning and a very gradual increase over a period of months can produce rewarding results.
Older adults don’t need to train particularly hard or every day to reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, or injury from exercise or falls. If you increase your activity from 30 minutes a day to an hour, you are not doubling the benefits.
Excessive exercise can cause a wide variety of injuries. Moderation and engagement are the key factors when choosing a program that you can pursue well into your 90s to enjoy a healthy and active old age.
I trained a client who didn’t go to the gym until he was 86. He’s done a set 40-minute program and is still going strong at 92 – he doesn’t use a walker and lives independently.
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