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Should You Be Training For Old Age?

If you’re a man or a woman over 40 you should be training for old age. That’s right, I said training for old age. When most of us think of someone “going into training” we envision a boxer like Rocky Balboa getting ready for a big fight, (who doesn’t remember the great scenes in the movie as he downs the raw egg and heads out for his run) or some other athlete getting ready to compete. But the concept behind training is simple. Training is preparing the body for an upcoming physically challenging event. But the reality of life is you may never experience anything more physically challenging than getting old.

Aging brings on very specific physical challenges as the body slowly begins to degenerate, and while training can’t stop the body from breaking down it can slow the process. Around age forty we begin to feel the onset of aging: our energy levels go down, physically demanding work seems to be more difficult than it used to be, and it takes longer to recover from injuries and illness. If you are inactive (you don’t engage in regular physical activity) this process will gradually speed up and many inactive people will begin to lose 3-5% of their muscle mass, aerobic capacity and flexibility each passing year. In layman’s terms this means you’re shriveling up, which is the precursor to kicking the bucket. If you want to be playing with your grandkids, (actually play with your grandkids- not watching them from the swing on the front porch) walking through hill towns in Italy, enjoying puttering around in the garden, or playing 18 holes with your buddies when you’re in your 70s, then now is the time to get your body prepared for the task.

What’s that you say? You don’t have time to choke down raw eggs and run the steps in Philly? No problem my friend: training for old age isn’t like training for a prize fight or a marathon. Training for old age is decidedly more low-key.

Here are the things you should be doing to train your body for old age.

Strength train: A condition known as sarcopenia or age related loss of muscle mass is the enemy of both men and woman as we age. After age 30 if we are inactive we can begin to lose our muscle mass which decreases strength and slows the metabolism which often leads to weight gain. The loss of muscle can also lead to weakening of the bones known as osteoporosis. After the age of 40 even if we’re active we slowly begin to lose some muscle. But doing just a little bit of strength training (just 2 or 3 days a week)can really slow that process down and make a big difference in how you look and more importantly how you feel. Now there’s no need to run out and get a fancy gym membership or a whole bunch of weight equipment, in fact for this kind of training the best thing you can do is use your own body weight. Exercises like push-ups, dips, pull-ups, sit-ups, lunges and squats mimic everyday life and are great for keeping your whole body strong. And since the aim isn’t to build big bulging muscles there is no need for multiple sets, just do pushups until you can’t do any more and move on to the next exercise. Your entire strength training workout shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.

Balance training: As we age not only do the big muscles of the hips and legs weaken but so do the little muscles that support the joints like the knees and ankles. On top of that we tend to spend more time sitting and less moving around and the signals back and forth from the brain to these parts of the body aren’t as well received causing balance issues. Balance as we get older becomes a really big deal, in fact 65% of all injuries among seniors are fall-related and complications from a fall are the number 1 cause of death among people 65 years old and older. But by practicing simple balance training on a daily basis you can lower your risk of falls later on in life. You can learn some very uncomplicated balance exercises from mind/body exercises like tai chi and yoga or you can get some inexpensive balance training tools like a Bosu ball or a balance board. Whatever road you take to improving your balance, it is a fact that doing 5-10 minutes of balance training a day can actually save your life down the line.

Aerobic training: We all know we need to train aerobically, getting the heart pumping and breathing hard is something most of us have been told to do for so long that it’s become the thing we think of when someone even says the word exercise. We all know that this kind of training can strengthen the heart and lungs, help us lose weight and boost energy levels. But did you know it can help you boost your brain power? Just like the rest of our body the brain can get a little flabby. Remembering where you left your keys, the name of that client’s wife or your password for Linkedin becomes more of a challenge than it was just a few years ago. But regular aerobic exercise actually works directly on brain tissue and strengthens the mind and drastically improves memory. It may even stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. I suggest a brisk 15-30 minute walk or jog 5 days a week.

Flexibility training: Over the course of many years we create certain patterns in our day to day movements. That is to say we walk and stand in the same way over and over again which can make some muscles tight and inflexible and weaken other muscles. By spending just 5 or 10 minutes a day you can undo some of the damage caused by habitual movement. You can also keep joints fluid and pain free as well as improve posture.  By doing a series of flexibility exercise that stretch all the major muscle groups you can help yourself be much happier and healthier in the years to come.

We’ve all seen the stooped old man or woman who is barely able to walk and has trouble just getting out of their seat. We don’t want to be those people when we get old, so now is the time to train for old age and have a more productive, joyful and  healthier future.