Fitness After Age 40: Reaching your goals at any age
There isn’t a better way to kick-off our huge line-up of featured experts than with Michael Spitzer! He is the author the of book Fitness At 40, 50, 60 and Beyond and he has also been an expert on the site several times before and each time he brings so much expertise and knowledge that it’s always a privilege! Well here he is again with some great tips for fitness after age 40 [or really at any point in life] – enjoy!
Fitness After Age 40
There was a time not too long ago when the accepted mindset was that once we reached 40 years of age, we were “over the hill”. The best one could expect was to try and accept an inevitable decline down a sharp slope into the frailties of old age.
Looking back, it may at first seem this mindset was indeed accurate. After all, old photographs of family members often show a person who appears older than we know them to be by today’s standards.
To be sure, in today’s youth oriented culture, some of the change we see in people’s appearances as compared to yesteryear can be attributed to hair coloring, plastic surgery, Botox injections or other techniques.
But there is more to it than that.
In the past, it seems many people lived their lives according to a self fulfilling prophecy.
Since the prevailing thought process was that it is “all downhill” after age 40, most people subconsciously adapted their lifestyles to match this mentality.
Gaining weight was simply accepted as an unavoidable change of life. Loss of muscle tone, aches, and pains, and cutting back on once loved activities was considered part of the normal aging process.
Here is the harsh truth. The average person was short changing themselves. They were resigning themselves to a reduced level of energy and fitness too early in life.
Are you ready for another harsh truth?
Many people today are still living their lives according to this inaccurate and outdated mindset.
It need not be that way. Modern research has revealed many interesting facts regarding aging and dispelled a series of long held beliefs, for example…
- Even individuals who have been exercising regularly for years can still add new muscle size and strength into their 60s.
- Time and time again, it has been shown that people who remain active and have a lifestyle which combines reasonable eating with some form of cardiovascular and weight resistance exercise are more mobile and perform better into their 70s than do sedentary individuals in their 30s.
- Toning and strengthening of existing muscle fibers can be attained at any age, even well into your 80s.
- Once they begin a structured program, persons who have not been physically active on a regular basis still show increases in muscle strength, size, and flexibility even into their 90s.
Film action hero Sylvester Stallone is an excellent well known example of a man who at age 68 is more active and better physically fit than most Americans in their 30s.
So how do we maximize our potential after age 40? Let’s look at a couple of facts…
Why Weight Resistance Training?
Weight training may be the closest thing we have to an anti-aging miracle. This may sound like a grand statement, but I am not alone in this belief.
Do a simple search on the Internet and you will find thousands of hits for “weight training”, “anti-aging”, and “strength training” in various combinations.
The human body reaches a peak of muscle conditioning around the age of 30. Assuming no significant changes to daily activity levels, we lose 0.5-1.0% of muscle tissue each year after that. This means the average 50 year old having made no adjustments to their lifestyle during this time may see as much as 10-20% less muscle size and strength.
Skeletal muscle is not just important for defining the shape of our bodies and how we fill out our clothing, it is also directly tied to the way our body uses calories.
Your body has something called the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Essentially BMR is the amount of energy or calories your body needs when at rest to perform vital survival functions such as digesting food, inflating lungs, beating the heart, allowing your brain to function, etc…
This BMR can be thought of as the number of calories your body requires to function when it is sitting at idle. Your BMR is closely tied to the amount of lean muscle mass your body possesses.
The reason for this correlation is due to the fact that your skeletal muscles are essentially your body’s engine in a manner of speaking. Just as with an automobile, the larger the “engine” the more fuel it will consume when sitting at idle as compared to a smaller “engine”.
If for example, between the ages of 30 and 50 a sedentary person experiences an average 20% of muscle loss, yet fails to either increase their activity levels –OR- reduce calorie consumption, they will gain weight. It is simple mathematics.
To compound this problem, since most people continue to eat the same way at 50 as they may have eaten at age 20, they are prone to gain extra fat more quickly as they lose muscle mass. A vicious cycle is created.
- The loss of skeletal muscle mass causes the BMR rate to lower.
- This lowered Basal Metabolic Rate combines with the natural slowing of the metabolism to decrease the body’s daily calorie requirements.
- The individual continues to eat the same amount and types of food as they did 30 years earlier when they had both a faster natural metabolism and more muscle mass.
- The result is excess weight gain.
- Carrying extra weight, the person feels more tired and sluggish and finds it harder to get involved in any form of physical activity.
- As the amount of physical activity declines yet again, there is a further decrease in stimulation to grow or maintain skeletal muscle and the metabolic rate drops even further.
- This cycle continues again and again with an ever increasing amount of excess fat and body weight being accumulated.
So how do we overcome this problem?
Without question, studies too numerous to count have shown regular weight resistance training to be the solution to greatly reducing the typical rate of muscle loss seen by the average sedentary citizen.
When we talk about weight resistance training, we are not referring to the image that may first pop into the reader’s mind – that of an Olympic power lifter trying to hoist 400 pounds over their head in a massive gut busting effort.
Weight resistance training as defined here is a program of exercises designed to work all the major muscle groups of the body with enough effort so as to stimulate the continued regeneration and growth of muscle fibers.
This type of program requires the individual to exert enough effort such that they are pushing the muscles to work right up to the point of failure. This “failure” is the point where the muscle has fatigued and can no longer continue that movement against the current resistance without a rest.
Since the body is highly adaptive to external stimulus, a regular routine that forces the muscle to confront a workload that is slightly beyond its current abilities triggers the regeneration and growth we need to prevent the fading away of our natural lean muscle mass.
In a study headed by Wayne L. Westcott, PhD working with nursing home patients in Massachusetts, the benefits of weight resistance training were clearly demonstrated. The results of this study conformed with and supported similar studies performed in recent years:
- The patients averaged 88.5 years of age.
- They underwent a 14 week strength training program.
- At the end of this study, the patients experienced an overall weight gain of 1.0 pound, with a body fat composition decrease of 2.0%.
- This increase in weight with simultaneous body fat reduction shows an impressive increase in muscle tissue.
Perhaps even more important than the measured changes in muscle/fat ratio was the improvement in functional strength. On the basic leg press and triceps press used to evaluate leg and arm strength, the patients experienced a 47 pound increase in the amount of weight they could lift with their legs, and a 15 pound increase in the amount of weight they could press with their arms.
Compared to their abilities at the start of the study, this equates to an 81% and 39% improvement in the amount of weight that could be lifted using the legs and arms respectively.
Keep in mind, these were individuals living in a nursing home, averaging almost 89 years of age, and were subjected to only 14 weeks of the type of weight resistance training. So just think what YOU can accomplish.
Weight resistance training will help maintain your skeletal muscle tissue which in turn will keep you stronger, more mobile, and assist in preventing excess weight gain.
Why Cardiovascular Exercise Alone is Not Enough
Cardiovascular exercise in the form of brisk walking, running, elliptical machine, treadmill, biking, or other form of exercise is extremely beneficial.
But cardiovascular exercise alone in the form of jogging for example is not the optimum method for overall conditioning or even weight loss.
Some people rely solely on running as a means to control weight and stay in good shape. Running certainly benefits the lungs, heart, and circulatory system. Runners usually have strong legs also.
But running does very little to strengthen the upper half of the body. Additionally in the absence of any muscle tissue building exercise to increase muscle mass and subsequently boost the metabolism, runners often find themselves needing to increase the distances or speeds they run to continue weight control.
For some people that rely only on running for exercise, they acquire a drawn look with narrow shoulders, thin arms, and an almost unhealthy appearance.
This look is usually only seen in those relying exclusively on diet and running for exercise, but it does serve to demonstrate that cardio alone is not the answer for overall fitness goals.
Why Diet Alone is Not Enough
Some people rely solely on diet as a means to control body weight. Once again we must stress that when a person severely cuts calories to lose weight in the absence of any kind of muscle toning exercise, they face a potential problem with muscle atrophy and a slowing metabolism.
This slowing metabolism causes the individual to further cut calories if they desire to keep their weight low.
Another problem with dieting as the solitary means of controlling weight is a phenomenon often referred to as becoming a “skinny fat person”. What is a “skinny fat person?” The best answer to this question is a simple example.
Have you ever seen a paparazzi photograph of a famous celebrity who you thought was lean, fit, and trim when you saw them in clothing, but in candid beach photos they appear saggy and baggy despite being thin?
This is commonly seen in fashion models and aging celebrities (male and female) who are desperate to remain slim, but do so only thru strict dieting while apparently eschewing any form of serious resistance exercise.
Visibly what results is loose sagging skin hanging over a skeletal frame with virtually no muscular shape but just a layer of cellulite or fat under the skin.
Men may exhibit belly fat and “man boobs” while women will possess fat on the back of the legs and a saggy look around the knees and triceps area of the arms.
A body composition test would reveal these people to have a higher percentage of body fat than muscle despite being “slim” or “skinny”.
If you think of some famous movie starlets or aging male singers that are often captured in the pages of notable tabloid magazines, you probably know exactly what “skinny fat” is.
Needless to say, this is not the type of fitness and conditioning we are looking to achieve…
Check out The Key To Fitness After Age 40: Part II as we break down why fat loss starts in the kitchen, not in the gym and the 3 part weight control process! Fitness after age 40 is possible!