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Training for Old Age – Slow Down or Suffer

Training for Old Age – Slow Down or Suffer
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By Nina Malkin

You see it all the time: People reach a certain age and then let themselves go, gaining weight, losing muscle tone and basically slouching toward geezer-hood. But not you—no way! You still work out with gusto; in fact, you rarely miss a day. And that’s just your fitness routine; chances are you play sports as well and would gladly go up against your juniors on the tennis, squash or basketball court. Yay, you! Right? Well, yes and no.

It’s great that you can still zip those skinny jeans from decades past, but going for it physically the way you did back then puts you at risk. “After age 50, there are changes to the musculoskeletal system: decreased joint flexibility, less pliable connective tissues and decreased muscle mass, strength and ability to provide support to joints,” says Mark Richards, MS, PT, vice president of program development for Welcyon, Fitness After 50 (, a boomers-and-beyond fitness club with locations in Minnesota, Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota and Nevada. “Problems such as tendonitis, bursitis, joint sprains, muscle strains and degenerative joint disease are prevalent in aging adults.”

So if you intend to be active for the rest of your life, the time to rethink a hardcore approach to exercise is now. Otherwise you might soon find yourself on the bench—and in pain.

Slack Off? Sacrilege!

The very thought of slowing down may make you want to run, and you no doubt have your reasons. “Traditionally, the years over 50 have been seen as a time of inevitable physical decline, but boomers do not accept that,” points out Welcyon co-founder and CEO Suzy Boerboom. “They’re not willing to sit at home and wither in front of the TV. They want to stay strong, active and healthy.”

In addition to our generation’s gung-ho attitude, we’ve all heard the unhappy news that metabolism slows with age, so we may figure we’ve got to work out with equal (if not greater) intensity to stay in shape. We may even live in fear of decline and disease, and seek to stave it off at the gym. What’s more, someone with an addictive nature could actually get hooked on fitness.

Wiser Workouts Required

No one is asking you to turn into a slug—just a smarter fitness enthusiast. “Physical activity is very powerful, and those who exercise on a near daily basis are generally much healthier than those who do not,” Richards says. “The key is to perform the right exercises, at the right volume, at the right intensities. If one or more of these basic rules are violated, the risk of injury increases greatly.”

Fortunately, with a person turning 50 every seven seconds, the exercise industry is catching on. Fitness programs for older adults were identified among the top ten in the American College of Sports Medicine’s 2015 survey of fitness trends. Pros in the field are making it their business to devise new workouts just for us.

So to paraphrase Funkadelic: Free your mind, and your body will follow. “Accept the evidence-based research that repeatedly and consistently shows that to maximize health, reasonable exercise training generates effective and safe outcomes,” Richards says. Start thinking about training principally to improve your overall health—not be thin, have great guns or beat the pants off your nephew in a game of one-on-one.

While your ideal fitness routine should still balance aerobics, strength and flexibility, the moves you make and the equipment you use may need to change. That means avoiding workouts and activities that overly stress your joints and/or involve too many degrees of freedom of motion. Find ways to elevate your heart rate without high impact (swimming or using an elliptical machine as opposed to plyometrics or running). For strength, rather than dumbbells or kettle bells, work out on machines, where the weight, controlled by guide rods, is on a fixed plane of motion. Even yoga—touted for relaxation and flexibility—can lead to injury if don’t do the poses correctly. So swap that fast-paced vinyasa or power class for a more moderate practice, such as hatha yoga.

If you’re accustomed to exercising on your own and aren’t sure what changes to make, get some guidance from a qualified personal trainer. Be selective: Make sure your trainer understands your particular challenges and can tailor a routine to your needs and goals.


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An all-around wordsmith, Nina Malkin is a journalist, novelist, copywriter and memoirist. She’s also an avid collector of lovely things from eras past—read her musings at