Workout Wisdom for Those Over 40


by Katherine Hobson

 

Whether you're planning to bike cross-country after you retire or you haven't put on sneakers since you were 6, there are things you need to know about exercising.

Here are tips for both newbies and veterans:

Get comfortable

Yes, in your own shoes, but also in the setting where you work out. If you're new to exercise, that may mean joining a low-key gym like Curves or a walking group rather than a gym full of 100-pound dumbbells. Conversely, if you are used to intense exercise, you're going to get bored at the community pool's "aqua-cise" class. Seek out like-minded athletes of all ages.

Find activities that are right for you

"Do what you like to do. Do what you can--whatever fits into your schedule," says Gene Schafer, an athletic trainer and owner of ARC Athletics in New York. If you think back wistfully on your Little League days, join an adult baseball league. If you always wished you could tap dance, take a class. "Many people find walking boring," says Jennifer Huberty, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha's School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. If you're one of them, do something else.

It's not all about aerobics

"There are so many changes that happen to our bodies when we age, and changes to our heart are only part of it," says Vonda Wright, director of the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "There's a shortening of muscles and tendons, weakening of our bones, and a decrease in pathways between the brain and muscles that can hurt our balance," she says. So get in your 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise on most days. But also get in your strength, flexibility, and balance training.

Start slowly, and embrace recovery

You're never too old to exercise. But if you're new to it or haven't done it in years, start with simple plans--like walking every day after dinner. Once that becomes a habit, build on it. Ease into individual workouts, too. No matter how experienced you are, a good warm-up becomes more essential as you age. And take time to recover; swimmer Dara Torres, who at the age of 41 won three silver medals at the Beijing Olympics, says she has cut her swimming workouts from nine per week to five as she's gotten older. She takes two days a week completely off. "You may feel like you have to do what a 20-year-old does, but you just can't," she says. (And she still beats most of them!)

Switch it up

You're vulnerable to injuries and boredom when you do the same thing every day. More than ever, cross-training is your friend. With strength-training, you're going to make progress only by increasing the amount of weight you lift; add and subtract exercises to increase variety.

Mind old injuries

"Work within the bounds of your health," advises Wright. Almost everyone, except the very ill and very frail, can exercise. But if you blew out both knees as a college linebacker, running is perhaps not your best exercise mainstay. Pick an activity that your body can tolerate, such as yoga. And if you're hellbent on re-creating your high school glory days, find a game with folks your own age, do it less often, and cross-train.

Don't underestimate yourself

If you're a newbie, don't think you can't make giant leaps in your fitness; plenty of age-group champions in running, for example, never laced up a pair of shoes until well after turning 40. And if you've been exercising for years, don't assume your performance is going to fall off a cliff. Torres says she's gratified by how many people told her she'd become their role model for going beyond their perceived limits. "Don't put age limits on your dreams," she says.

 

 

 

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