Approaching middle age comes with a host of physical and mental changes, and keeping active suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. Learn why exercise is so critical at this stage of the game.
Your brain feels foggy, a good night's sleep seems so elusive, your once toned arms feel a bit like jelly, and why is it so much harder to lose those extra pounds?
If you can relate to one or all of these telltale signs, you might be a member of the 40-something club.
To be sure, reaching middle age and beyond can bring about some pretty real changes to our body and brain.
The great news is that keeping fit as we head into our golden years can go a long way in slowing down the progression of these changes and help keep us young, strong, and feeling good.
How can exercise help our bodies as we age?
As we grow older, our muscles naturally shrink down. Weaker muscles cause us to feel frail and can keep us from moving around and living our lives in an independent way.
The strength of our muscles is so important that scientists even use it as an indicator of our overall health.
We can maintain strong muscles throughout our lifetime by exercising them on a regular basis. The best way to do this is to combine aerobic exercise with resistance training.
In fact, a study showed that working muscles at 75% intensity 3 times a week for only 6 weeks can boost their strength by more than 50%.
As we mature, our bone tissue changes too. Possibly the biggest concern when it comes to bone health later in life is osteoporosis, the most common bone disorder that is characterized by weakened bones and an elevated risk of fractures.
Weight-bearing and resistance training exercises help to prevent the death of bone cells and preserve bone strength and mass.
How does this happen? When we exercise, we increase our muscle mass which exposes our bones to different types of stresses and strains, a process called “mechanical loading.”
Research shows that our bone cells can actually detect when they are being stressed beyond their normal load, and in response, activate a chain of events that stimulates bone formation.
Many of us begin to experience slight changes in our cognitive abilities as early as our thirties. Researchers believe this happens because over time, blood flow to our hippocampus, the part of our brain largely responsible for our ability to remember and learn, decreases.
One effective way of boosting blood flow to the hippocampus is through exercise, and apparently, improvements after exercise can be seen pretty quickly.
A study found that 57 to 75-year-old, physically inactive men who exercised on both a treadmill and stationary bike 3 sessions per week for only 12 weeks saw both enhanced blood flow and immediate and delayed memory performance, suggesting that even short term exercise is enough to make a difference.
Exercising for maintaining good health
The CDC encourages physical activity throughout our lives, incorporating aerobic, resistance training, and balance improvement activities as we get older to prevent age-related health problems down the road.
Aerobic activities: get your heart pumping by aiming for 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic activities such as walking briskly (4 mph), mowing the lawn, or light cycling (10-12 mph), or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activities like hiking, jogging, or heavy cycling (14-16 mph).
Resistance training activities: Work out your muscles at least twice a week, making sure to target all major muscle groups including legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms. Do 8 to 12 reps per set for each muscle group, and increase the reps or the weight as the exercises become easier. Use hand-held weights, resistance bands, or weight machines for these exercises. Activities like gardening and yoga count as well.
Balance improvement activities: Our ability to balance in middle-age is critical for preventing a fall and fracture during our older years, and is a skill that we risk losing if we do not practice. When it comes to balance, the more you practice, the better you get. Work to improve your balance at least 3 days a week by walking backwards, walking sideways, heel and toe walking, and standing from a seated position without using help from your hands.