Exercise for Every Age
People often think about exercising at certain stages in life: to lose baby weight, to fight middle-age weight gain, or to improve heart health.
Exercise, though, should be a lifelong endeavor to achieve your best health at every stage of life.
“Exercise benefits people in every decade of their lives,” says Martin Vatheuer, MD, a family physician with EvergreenHealth Primary Care in Canyon Park. “It helps moderate weight gain; prevent diseases like osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and cancer; and improve mood and energy levels.”
As a strong advocate of lifelong exercise, Dr. Vatheuer also advises that the goals and types of exercises may vary with age.
“It can be hard to get started exercising, but it’s important to just begin somewhere,” says Dr. Vatheuer. “For myself, I try to remember that it’s not about what I’m not doing, but about what I am doing. The point is that no matter where you are, the goal is to move forward.”
Dr. Vatheuer says diversity in the exercise routine is helpful, too.
He’s tried a number of activities to be physically active: downhill skiing, mountain biking, running with his dog, biking with his kids, playing tennis and soccer, and even participating in a weight loss competition with a friend.
“The great thing about many physical activities,” Dr. Vatheuer says, “is that they are an opportunity to be social, interact with others, and try new things—all added benefits beyond your physical health.”
20s: Laying a Foundation
Your 20s are the perfect time to build a foundation of fitness, says Dr. Vatheuer.
“Like anything, healthy habits are easier to maintain the earlier in life you start,” he says. “Another bonus is that, at this stage, you generally have a lot of energy — and time — to devote to exercising.”
For this age group — college students, young professionals, and those starting a family — Dr. Vatheuer recommends focusing primarily on aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities:
- Aerobic: walking, cycling, swimming, stair climbers, elliptical
- Strengthening: weight lifting, push-ups, planks, resistance band exercises.
Both offer many long-term benefits.
Regular aerobic exercise, for example, reduces your risk of coronary artery disease.
While heart issues aren’t even on the radar of most 20-somethings, the impact of aerobic exercise on blood pressure, blood lipid levels, and heart rate alone is an investment in your long-term health.
Strength training builds bone mass, improves balance, and helps control glucose — all critically important to build up early as these health issues often plague adults as they age.
30s: Building Endurance
Your body starts to undergo changes in your 30s — beginning with your metabolism.
“As we age, the metabolism process slows, making it easier to gain weight,” Dr. Vatheuer explains.
Therefore, Dr. Vatheuer says, those in their 30s are often focused on maintaining their health and physique.
Again, aerobic exercise is key, but it’s also important to build a higher endurance level because it takes longer or more vigorous activity to burn calories.
40s: Preserving Strength
“Everyone jokes about things going downhill in your 40s,” Dr. Vatheuer says. “While that’s not altogether true, people in their 40s do start to see changes in their body.”
Men sometimes experience drops in testosterone and muscle mass, and women may see some of the same in their estrogen levels and muscle strength.
As a group, Dr. Vatheuer says, people often gain weight in their 40s because life gets busier with work and family, and people often choose to invest less in exercise.
“Aerobic and strength training, as well as balance and flexibility exercises are really beneficial at this stage of life,” he explains. “Together, these types of exercises help preserve strength and range of motion, loosen muscles, and decrease risk of injury.”
Activities to consider:
- Push-ups, planks, and lunges
- Weight lifting
- Medicine ball exercises
50s and 60s: Focusing on Prevention
“These decades are all about prevention and screenings, particularly for cancers and heart disease,” says Dr. Vatheuer. “There’s a definite link between exercise and your risk for cancer or heart disease.”
Exercise, Dr. Vatheuer explains, reduces your risk because it affects the immune system, namely the white blood cells and antibodies that fight disease, bacteria, and viruses.
Additionally, persons in their 50s and 60s may struggle with exercise because of arthritic pain.
“Aches and pains are common at this stage—it’s often part of our body aging,” he says. “If a patient is really struggling, I try to suggest alternatives so they are still exercising and being physically active.”
For example, if walking or running hurts your knees too much, Dr. Vatheuer may suggest a water aerobics class or other water-based activity.
Chair exercises are another option for people who can’t stand for long periods of time.
70s+: Maintaining Strength and Flexibility
People live longer today so exercise should continue as long as an individual is able.
During this stage in life, Dr. Vatheuer says fitness goals should focus on preserving strength and flexibility.
“For as long as possible, I want my patients who are seniors to perform daily activities independently and safely,” he says. “Strength, flexibility, and balance are all key to achieving that level of mobility and function. Strong muscles and good balance can help you avoid falls and breaks.”
Activities may include:
- Chair aerobics
- Water-based activities.