Exercise is for everyone--truly. Exercise doesn't discriminate based on age, sex, background, health history, or personal style.
Exercise loves you and wants to be your BFF.
And why would you turn such a friendship down? Staying physically active is one of the best ways to hedge your bet against disease, illness, injury, and weight gain--all of which we are more prone to dealing with as we grow older.
But do different age groups have different needs when it comes to exercise? Are there things you should be doing at age 40 that maybe you did a little differently at age 20?
Yes...and no. As most things in life, changing the way you workout based on how old you are is not black and white. But while there are definitely some basic truths that hold true in any decade, there are certain age-related factors to consider when it comes to managing your ideal weight.
Fitness by the Decade: Similarities & Differences in Your 20's, 30's & 40's
In Your 20's
- More than any other decade, the 20's give you quite a bit of time on your side. Take advantage of your relative youth and your ability to recover more quickly from workouts by experimenting a lot and finding the specific routines and activities you like the best.
- Workout as often and as hard as you want (safely, that is), ideally at least 3-5 days per week.
- As a 20-something, you're at a great age to participate in high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This type of exercise is ideal for promoting fat loss, so things like spinning, sprint workouts, and even heavy strength training are your perfect gym go-to's. Be sure to add in some lower-intensity activities like yoga, swimming, and hiking to build your cardiovascular engine and establish healthy habits (along with proper nutrition and sleep).
- Strength training is a trend you'll see pop up in every decade of your life. In your 20's, building your lean body mass literally helps you build a strong base that will support your overall wellness in the coming years. Having stronger muscles also help you burn more calories, so activities like weightlifting and powerlifting are essential to maintaining an ideal body weight.
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In Your 30's
- By this decade, hormonal changes are already beginning to make our bodies more prone to store fat. This means strength training is more important than ever--arguably even more important than cardio. Lifting weights helps regulate your body weight by optimizing hormone levels that promote fat mobilization (vs. fat storage), along with maintaining your metabolism and lean body mass.
- HIIT workouts are still probably okay for you, although you may need a longer recovery period between workouts. It's important to get your heart rate up and get sweaty often, so even 15-20 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity cardio a few times a week is key.
- Injury prevention is crucial to avoid chronic and nagging problems that follow us into our 40s. Plus, a sidelining injury may make it harder for you to lose body fat. Since connective tissue, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments, may not be quite as pliable and elastic as they were in our 20's, a proper warm-up is key. Therefore, if you aren't already in the habit of performing a good warm-up before every workout, then start one.
In Your 40's & Up
- Our risk for cardiovascular problems, including heart disease and stroke, start to rise exponentially as we enter our 4th, 5th, and 6th decades. To combat this, you should be performing at least some sort of cardiovascular exercise daily, even if it's as simple as a 20-minute brisk walk. 1 or 2 HIIT workouts may be appropriate, but this really depends on your experience and fitness level. Chat with a doctor or trainer if you're not sure.
- At this age and older (especially for seniors in their 60s, 70s, and 80s+), age-appropriate strength training is critical for maintaining bone density, which tends to decrease with age. Building strong muscles also keeps you more stable and can improve your balance, which helps you avoid the potentially serious complications associated with falls in your later years (which is a serious health problem affecting older Americans and costs the US healthcare system billions of dollars a year). Aim to participate in resistance training at least 2 times per week. Depending on your comfort in the gym and your overall health status, you may want to hire a personal trainer to ensure you stay safe during your workouts.
- Since a loss of muscle mass and an increase in body fat is more likely to happen in your 40s and up, it's important to maintain a regular exercise routine as well as dialing down healthy eating habits.
Weight loss and health optimization is possible for anyone at any age. Understand the unique challenges you may be facing, and then work out anyway. You'll have your energy, health, quality of life, and longevity to show for it.