Did you know an active older adult will have an increased longevity and quality of life? In fact, being active is one of the most effective means of promoting higher quality of life in older age.
However, as you age, your fitness routine may begin to feel a little different, because you will experience many biological changes, and that’s normal! However, take heart, while you may experience change, it is safe, and healthy for older adults to participate in physical activity, and even recommended!
Today I want to go over the biological changes that may affect your fitness routine as you age, so you can know what to expect, and what to do about them.
Now if you’re one of those young folk….don’t tune me out yet. You’re not getting any younger, we’re all aging, and if you’re not actively working to be healthy, you may already be on the decline! So just keep reading, you might learn something you can do to improve your health for the long haul.
Alright, let’s get to it!!
#1) Loss of Muscle Mass.
After the age of 30, inactive adults can lose as much as 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade. This phenomenon is called sarcopenia- the loss of muscle mass, strength and content.
Yikes. That can add up quick! Luckily, all adults are capable of building and maintaining muscle mass with participation in a regular resistance training program!
While older adults may lose muscle quicker than their younger counterparts, it doesn’t mean that with regular resistance training they aren’t capable of building and maintaining strength!
#2) Less Oxygen Capacity.
How? It’s not that human lungs shrink in size as we age, it’s that the chest wall has less elastic capacity and cannot stretch as far on each breath, which in turn means less overall oxygen exchanged with each breath.
This will result in a decrease in performance. You may notice it’s difficult or you are unable to go as fast/long/hard as you used to. And that’s okay!
#3) Decrease in Cardiovascular Function.
As we increase in age, our max heart rate decreases by approximately 1 beat/minute each year. Interested in what your max heart rate is? Use this equation to approximate:
(208-(.7xage))= Maximum Heart Rate
What does this mean? The heart of an older adult will not be able to pump as much blood as fast as a younger heart does, which will decrease performance into older age. However, despite this, older adults can still improve cardiovascular function with regular aerobic activity, and should participate in regular cardiovascular activity to maintain a healthy heart.
#4)Burn Less Calories.
Sorry about this one, but it is a fact that your metabolism will slow down if you have less muscle mass (because muscle requires more calories at rest than fat). On top of that, calorie burn is directly related to how much oxygen you are consuming, so if you’re using less oxygen throughout the day you won’t be burning as many calories as you used to.
Hey it’s a bummer, but it’s what we’re working with. Luckily, if you are interested in burning more calories there are some things you can do. For example, workout for longer, or perhaps add in some resistance training to your routine, which will keep you burning calories even after you’ve left the gym. Working out those big muscle groups like your legs, and glutes, will burn more calories too.
Another note that goes along with this: Because older adults begin to have slower metabolisms, they often naturally begin to notice a decrease in appetite. So, if this is you, and you are consuming less calories than usual, please note, the less calories you consume the less opportunity to get those good nutrients in that you need to thrive. I’m not telling you you need to eat more, but rather emphasize the importance of making healthy choices. While consuming less calories, it’s easier to be lacking in many essential nutrients we need to thrive.
#5) Decrease in Bone Density.
With aging, bones tend to shrink and decrease in density (also known as Osteopenia)- this is a precursor to Osteoporosis, and makes bones more susceptible to fractures, as well as increases the fear of falling in many adults. This may cause you to fear exercising, but on the contrary makes an exercise program all the more important.
Participating in weight bearing activities like walking, jogging, climbing stairs, and resistance training are great ways to strengthen your bones! Also, adding in balance training to your fitness training is a great way to reduce the fear of falling and is an excellent addition to a fitness plan for older adults!
This obviously is not an exhaustive list of the changes you may experience, but some important changes that may occur in your fitness, and I hope these little nuggets of info will influence some of the healthy decisions you make going forward.
One of my favorite quotes I’ll leave you with is by Dr. Kenneth Cooper from the Cooper Institute: “We do not stop exercising because we grow old – we grow old because we stop exercising.” So exercise, get your needed nutrients, and be healthy!!