As we age, several things happen. We begin to lose muscle mass and strength, our bones decrease in density, our cognitive functions (memory, judgment, learning ability…) and heart health can all begin to decline slowly beginning in our 30s and that can continue to decline into our 40s, 50s and beyond.
The best way to counteract the aging process is through exercise. Studies have shown that adults who exercise regularly, even though who started later in life, can slow down the aging process and lower risks of many chronic health problems like cardiovascular disease. Exercise helps retain and build muscle which your bones also need to stay healthy. It can also help prevent bone loss and diseases like osteoporosis. Exercise may also improve your cognitive health and help you live longer.
Let’s discuss exercise options that specifically benefit women in their 40s, 50s, and beyond.
Here are the Best Types of Exercise for Women in their 40’s 50’s and Beyond to Maximize Health Benefits and Reduce Risk of Injury:
Cardio – Cardiovascular exercise is the best way to improve and maintain heart health. You need to get your heart rate up in order to strengthen your heart and blood vessels. However, heavy sessions of constant cardio like spinning or running for over 60 minutes every day can actually speed up the aging process. Instead, keep your cardio to 30 to 60 minutes and change up the intensity by using intervals, increasing speed for a period of time and then slowing it down.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a kind of interval training that combines short bursts of high intensity cardio with periods of rest. Your bursts or sprinting should last 20 to 90 seconds with 1-2 minutes of slower cardio or rest. Make sure you’re getting your heart rate up for the bursts and then slow it down. You’ll burn more calories and fat from this type of workout and hours later compared to regular cardio like running or aerobics.
This rest helps your body burn fat long after the workout. Most HIIT workouts are between 10 and 30 minutes. Interval training like HIIT is the best way to perform cardio as you get older.
Strength or resistance training is great for retaining and building muscle strength and strong bones. It can also help prevent and reduce arthritis and joint pain.
There are several ways to perform strength and resistance training:
- Body weight exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, pushups, pullups and rows – any type of exercise that uses only your body weight
- Lifting weights, using either dumbbells or free weights
- Weight Machines
- Resistance Bands
- Medicine Balls
Weight-bearing exercising like dancing, running, jogging, or playing tennis are great for building bone density, opposed to swimming and biking, both which are still great for retaining and gaining muscle. However, water aerobics is a great way to get weight-bearing exercise without the high impact like jumping or running.
You should do strength or resistance training 2-3 days per week, but make sure you rest at least a day in between each session.
Yoga combines flexibility and balance with breathing and relaxation techniques, making it an essential part of any weekly exercise regime. Yoga poses lengthen your muscles to keep them flexible and may also help relieve joint tension. It’s also a weight-bearing exercise (either body weight or in combination with light hand weights) so it’s good for your bones.
Benefits of Yoga:
- Reduces stress
- Strengthens your core and back
- Helps build and retain bone density
- Tones and strengthens muscles
- Reduces joint pain and arthritis
- Improves circulation
- Good for heart health and may lower blood pressure
- May help with anxiety and depression
Pilates and Tai Chi are great for maintaining and regaining balance. Like Yoga, both Pilates and Tai Chi embrace the body and mind.
Pilates is a type of strength training that emphasizes relaxing muscles instead of tensing them. It can improve flexibility and balance, and also strengthen your core and improve stability.
Tai Chi is a form of martial arts which incorporates low impact, balancing movements meant to center your energy. It can help with muscle strength, balance, and flexibility, which can help reduce the risk of falling in older women.
Both of these types of exercises are low impact and beneficial to reduce the effects of aging.
Functional Exercises mimic common movements necessary to get through your day like sitting down, reaching, and lifting by using those same muscle groups to train your body.
Range of motion can lessen with age and doing functional exercises can ensure we’ll be able to do simple tasks as we get older like lifting groceries, mowing the lawn, or picking up a grandchild.
Functional exercises generally involve muscle groups in both your upper and lower body and encourage core stability. You’ll increase mobility and improve balance and coordination, as well as strengthen muscles.
Some functional exercises include squats, kettle bell deadlifts, multidirectional lunges, shoulder presses, and planks.
Functional exercises train your muscles to work together rather than isolating muscle groups and may help reduce injury.
Important Notes to Remember:
- Always warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before starting any workout with light cardio or stretching to warm up your muscles and prepare them for exercise.
- Finish your workout with stretching, every time.
As we age, we lose elasticity and flexibility from our tendons which connect muscle to bone. Stretching while your muscles are still warm, just after a workout, will increase flexibility. And, help prevent injury.
- You’ll need more rest in between workouts, especially if you’re working the same muscle group. If you’re lifting weights, take 1-2 days off in between. You can do cardio like swimming or walking on your days off.
- Listen to Your Body – Don’t overdo it. If you feel overly sore after working out, take an extra day to rest. Depending on when you started working out, you’ll need to slowly build up your strength and endurance so you can work out longer.
- Start with an easier workout like water aerobics. It’ll still get your blood pumping without the high impact.
- Drinking water after a workout rehydrates your muscles and helps your metabolism.
It’s never too late to begin an exercise regime, and it’s never been more important to start than right now. Exercise will help you maintain muscle mass and bone density, improve cognitive function, and slow down the aging process.
No matter what type of exercise you choose, make sure you are getting some cardio and strength training in your routine.
Start slow if you’ve never exercised before and always remember to consult with your physician before starting any new type of exercise.
Stay safe and get moving! And most importantly, have fun. You got this.