Declines in Strength and Endurance Are Preventable As We Age

May 11 2019 by StrongPath

A Workout for Every Age to Prevent Declines in Strength

Are you 50 or over? Then it’s time to reassess your fitness routine. As Cedric Bryant, president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, recently told the Wall Street Journal, “It isn’t until we hit our fifth decade that we start to appreciate that we need more balance, muscular fitness and flexibility in our exercise routines. They are so important to allowing us to maintain our functional capabilities and independence.”

StrongPath’s Fred Bartlit concurs. “It is beginning to dawn on medical science that the so-called ‘age related’ declines in strength and endurance are not the result of natural, inevitable processes,” said Bartlett. “These declines are preventable and reversible disabilities brought on by our behavior.”

The Journal suggested specific exercises targeted to folks in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond. They arrived at the routines via top sports doctors, exercise physiologists and physical therapists. A few standby moves—think squats, planks and lunges—make the cut, with slight modifications, in every decade. One bonus idea lets you tack on some fun to the routine to “boost cognitive as well as physical fitness.”

Bartlit said the Journal’s piece “makes the point that declines are preventable and gives us starting points for the cure. But, of course, if relatively small amounts of exercise can keep us from the declines of age, think what results can be achieved by ramping up intensity by an order of magnitude.”

To pull off these moves—all calculated to engage several muscle groups at once, and to build better balance—you won’t need any special equipment. And when you do them in tandem with some form of aerobic activity, they’ll pretty much comprise a full fitness program.

If you’re unclear about your ability level, begin with the suggested routine for “80s and beyond” decade, then work your way down in age group. “The mistake people make is to ramp up too quickly,” said Jordan Metzl, a sports-medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

Ideally, you’ll do a session two or three times a week, said the Journal, with a day off for rest between sessions. The article cautions that “if you lead a sedentary life or have chronic health conditions, consult your health-care provider before starting a new exercise program.”

For Those in Their 50s

You may not be achieving the speeds you used to when you run or swim, and you may require a longer recovery after a tough workout. That’s okay. “The goal of exercise often shifts from setting performance records to feeling good and maintaining health and physical function,” said Summer Cook, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of New Hampshire.

So shift from a focus on speed to a focus on muscle power and bone strength. The best way is exercise that calls on short spurts of intense energy, which, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, is an excellent approach to treating conditions including type-2 diabetes, depression and the muscle loss that accompanies getting older. “Do not be afraid of intensity,” added Dr. Metzl, who recommends some form of high-intensity exercise at least two days a week.

  1. Jump squats

These are excellent for the muscles of the thighs, hips, core, and buttocks. Starting in a stance with feet shoulder-width apart, place your hands on the back of your head or hold arms straight out in front. Sit down into a squat; at maximum extension, thighs should be parallel to the floor, chest upright, knees directly above feet. Pause for moment here, then jump.

Start with: 3 sets of 5

Work up to: 3 sets of 15

  1. Single leg and side planks

These are fantastic for core strength and better balance. From a push-up position with arms extended fully, hold your body in a straight line all the way from feet to head. To increase difficulty, lift one leg 8 to 10 inches from the floor and hold. Switch legs and hold again.

For a side plank, “assume a plank position on your left side, propped on your left hand or forearm, then raise your hips and keep your body in a straight line from feet to head,” said the Journal. Switch to left side and hold again.

Start with: Holding for 15–30 seconds

Work up to: 1 minute

  1. Jumping lunges

The focus here is on the legs, core and back, plus they’re excellent for balance. Start with feet hip-width apart. Starting with your right leg, lunge forward, keeping right knee bent at a 90-degree angle. (Your right foot should be directly beneath the right knee.) Bend left elbow and tap it to right knee. Behind you, your left leg should be bent and hovering above the floor. Now jump and switch legs midair so that you land in a lunge position with your left leg in front this time. Repeat.

Start with: 3 sets of 3

Work up to: 3 sets of 10

  1. Burpees with push-ups

These are excellent for overall strength as well as cardiopulmonary fitness. Start with a shoulder-width stance, arms at your sides. Squat and bend down to place hands on the floor. Hop both feet behind you to land in a push-up position. Complete one push-up, then return feet back into a squat stance and stand back up. Repeat.

Start with: 3 sets of 5.

Work up to: 3 sets of 10.

  1. Overhead push presses with squats

This exercise hits multiple muscle groups, including arms, upper body, thighs, hips, and buttocks. Begin with feet shoulder-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand. Extend arms out in front of you, palms facing each other. “Squat and touch the weights to the floor in front of you, keeping your back straight,” advises the Journal. “As you rise from the squat to a standing position, raise your arms with the weights over your head. Bring the weights back to the floor and squat.”

Start with 3 sets of 5

Work up to: 3 sets of 10

 

For extra fun: Add Pilates for your core. Michelle Segar, director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center, told the Journal that core exercises like Pilates and yoga can help you boost your balance to help ward off falls later in life.

For Those in Their 60s

As we get older, variety becomes crucial, said Professor Cook. Strength and resistance training are proven to increase muscle mass and stimulate bone growth. And the addition of aerobic fitness lowers the chance of cardiovascular diseases.

  1. Squats

This is the go-to if you want stronger muscles in your thighs, hips, core, and buttocks. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands on the back of your head or held out in front of you. Sit your butt into a squat; a fully executed squat means your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your chest should stay upright (i.e. do not bend your torso forward at the waist) and keep knees directly above feet. Pause here, then stand back up.

Start with: 3 sets of 5

Work up to: 3 sets of 15

  1. Planks

Ah, the old standby for core strength and improved balance. From a push-up position (on either hands or forearms), hold your body in a straight line from feet to head. Do three reps.

Start with: Holding for 15–30 seconds on each plank

Work up to: 1 minute

  1. Lunges

This is the way to bump up leg, core, and back strength, with the added bonus of enhanced balance. Start with feet hip-width apart. “Step your right leg forward in a lunge position with your right knee bent in a 90-degree angle, your right foot directly beneath the knee, and your left knee close to the floor,” said the Journal. Hold for several seconds, then return to starting position. Now do the other leg.

Start with: 3 sets of 3

Work up to: 3 sets of 10

  1. Burpees

These are an excellent exercise for overall strength and cardiopulmonary fitness. The starting position is feet shoulder-width apart, arms at sides. Squat, then, placing hands on the floor in front of you, hop feet back to land in a push-up position. Jump your feet back into a squat and return to standing.

Start with: 3 sets of 5

Work up to: 3 sets of 10

  1. Dumbbell curl and press

Hello, arms and upper body! This one begins in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart, dumbbells in hands, arms by your sides with palms facing each other. Curl the weights to shoulders, then lift them overhead. Do the sequence in reverse to lower.

Start with: 3 sets of 5

Work up to: 3 sets of 10

For extra fun: The Journal recommends putting a spotlight on balance with yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi.

For Those in Their 70s

Dr. Metzl told the Journal the standard thinking that for each subsequent decade a person should decrease activity “is false.” If anything, he added, “the opposite is true.” Movement and balance only become more vital as we age. We have to keep challenging our bodies and brains. In our 70s, “new skills such as a new dance step, Pilates, or golf [are] good for cognitive as well as physical health,” said Dr. Bryant. They lead to development of “new neural pathways and can ultimately help reduce one’s risk of developing age-related dementia.”

  1. Wall squats

Target the muscles of the thighs, hips, core, and buttocks with this one. Lean against a wall with feet shoulder-width apart and hands on the back of your head. Gradually lower into a squat, with the end goal being thighs parallel to the floor. Keep your back pressed to the wall and knees directly above feet. Pause here, then return to standing.

Start with: 3 sets of 5

Work up to: 3 sets of 15

  1. Modified planks

Now is a great time to build core strength and safely challenge your balance. Keeping knees on the floor, rise to a push-up position, with weight on either your hands or your forearms. Hold your body in a straight line from head to knees. Repeat twice more.

Start with: Holding for 15–30 seconds on each plank

Work up to: 1 minute

  1. Split squats

This is a very useful exercise to build strength in the legs, core, and back, all the while enhancing balance and flexibility in the hips and ankles. Start in a kneel, then place right leg in front of you with right knee at a 90-degree angle above right foot. “Tuck the toes of your left foot under and rise to a standing position,” advises the Journal. “Your legs will be staggered. Drop down partway, ideally until your left knee almost touches the floor, and repeat for the allotted number of repetitions.” Alternate sides for each rep.

Start with: 3 sets of 3

Work up to: 3 sets of 10

  1. Kettlebell swings

This one hits the hips, thighs, core, shoulders, and more. Begin with a light kettlebell or a dumbbell in both hands, arms hanging in front of you. Stand with feet hip-width apart and back straight. Bend your knees into a slight squatting position and simultaneously swing the kettlebell/dumbbell backward between your legs. Next, swing the weight up to shoulder height, with your arms straight the whole time. Let the weight descend back between legs, carefully keeping control of the weight during the whole movement.

Start with: 3 sets of 3

Work up to: 3 sets of 10

  1. Overhead reaches

This is a great stretch for the side body. It also increases core flexibility and improves posture. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. “Start with a small weight in your right hand at shoulder height,” said the Journal. “Bend your body to the left, as you raise the weight straight up toward the ceiling.” Return to the position in which you started. Now repeat, this time with the left side. Do 5 repetitions on each side.

For extra fun: This would be a great time to start golfing, if you aren’t already a lover of the links. Of maybe dance is up your alley? If so, try a ballroom class or Zumba Gold, a version of the popular movement-based exercise specifically geared toward older adults.

For Those in Their 80s and Beyond

Ideally, Dr. Bryant said, adults in this age bracket should engage at least once a week in activity that feels like play and sparks a sense of “joy in moving.” Don’t have the stamina you had in your 70s? That’s okay, just do what you can. “Everything counts, even one to two minutes,” emphasized Dr. Segar.

  1. Chair squats

These are terrific for the muscles of the thighs, hips, core, and buttocks. Start by sitting in a chair, then rise to a standing position. Next, lower down to sit again. Want to increase the difficulty? Perform the movement with arms crossed over your chest, or try using a chair that has a seat at a lower height.

Start with: 3 sets of 5

Work up to: 3 sets of 15

  1. Wall planks

The target here is more core strength and improved balance. Face the wall, standing about two feet away. Put hands on wall in a vertical push-up position, weight on your forearms, body straight from feet to head. (Think of forming a triangle, with your legs farther away from the wall and your forearms resting against it.) Repeat three reps total.

Start with: Holding for 15–30 seconds on each plank

Work up to: 1 minute

*For extra challenge, hold for 30 to 60 seconds, “then rotate your right arm away from the wall, slowly twisting your torso and head to the right and balancing your weight on your left arm,” said the Journal. Land back in the plank position, and perform the movement again, this time with left arm. Rotate it away from the wall and twist slowly to the left.

  1. Modified lunges

This is an excellent workout for the legs, core, and back. It will also increase balance without stressing the knees. Begin with feet hip-width apart. Step right leg forward and lower body a quarter of the way down; left knee should bend a bit but should not touch the floor. (If you feel too challenged, start with a shorter stride and build up to a wider distance between feet.) After pausing, return to starting position and alternate legs.

Start with: 3 sets of 3

Work up to: 3 sets of 10

  1. Side-lying windmills

This exercise is an excellent way to bump up flexibility in the sides, shoulders, and back. You’ll need two pillows. Start by lying on your left side. Place one pillow under your head. With left leg straight, bend the right one 90-degrees and place the other pillow under the right knee. Extend both arms out in front of you. “Reach the arm on top forward and then sweep it in an arc over your head, keeping your hand a few inches from the floor until you are reaching behind you,” advises the Journal. “Follow your hand with your eyes and twist so your right shoulder blade touches the floor.” Then return to starting position. Do this 10 times on each side.

  1. Overhead reaches

This is a wonderful stretch for your sides, and also targets core flexibility and posture. Start with feet hip-width apart. Lift your right hand, elbow bent, until it’s just beside right shoulder. Lean your body to the left, as you press your hand straight up toward the ceiling. Lower your arm and return to starting position. Repeat on the left side, with left arm. Add a light weight in the hand you’re pressing to increase the challenge. Do 5 reps on each side.

For more fun: Limber up with water aerobics or a stretching class.

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