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September is “Healthy Aging Month,” and it comes at an appropriate time of the year because many of us are keen to step-up our health and fitness routines after an indulgent post-lockdown summer. That said, it is important to approach your newfound motivation for getting in shape with a knowledge of where your body is currently at, and how you can achieve gains through smart training and nutrition that works for you, at any age. Let’s face it, we will all get older. It’s a natural part of life, but research shows that regular exercise is great for many of the processes that keep us fit and strong. People who have exercised all their lives have more immunity, muscle mass, and healthier cholesterol levels than their non-exercising, younger, counterparts.
Vanessa Clermont, MS, RD, CN, a coach with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, selected some important healthy aging tips; broken down decade-by-decade for those that want to live long and strong.
As we move through our 30s, how we treated ourselves during our youth will start to make itself known. “If regular exercise is not part of a routine by the mid-30s, loss of muscles mass can occur, and men in their late 30s will begin to have lower testosterone levels,” says Clermont. “Strength training is an excellent addition in this timeframe because it helps to increase muscle mass. Exercise can also elevate human growth hormone levels, which allows us to grow muscle, metabolize fat, and keep our hearts healthy.
During our 30s, Clermont explains that out metabolism may begin to slow down, which is why it becomes important to pay attention to the foods you eat. “Quality over quantity is the way to go,” Clermont says. “Choosing nutrient-dense foods will keep the body strong and provide essential vitamins and minerals. Sleep starts to become more of a priority, and seven to nine hours is recommended. Our muscles are in repair mode when sleeping, and sleep deprivation can slow down productivity and work performance.”
Take-home tips: This is an important decade for setting the tone of how you would like to age. Focus on getting quality sleep and introduce strength training into your routine. Make sure to eat nutrient dense foods in order to consume important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A to support vision and the immune system, and B vitamins for energy.
The fast-paced nature of modern life means that many of us hurtle into our 40s with few lifestyle changes made compared with how we lived through our 30’s. Sure, we may have a few more gray hairs and the kids might need more pocket money, now that they are in their teens, but this is an essential decade to take stock of yourself, because significant changes are beginning to occur.
“The body may take longer to recover from workouts,” says Clermont. Management-level jobs may also lead to sleep deprivation, making for tougher mornings as we age, so finding time for rest and recover becomes more important in our 40s than it was just a few years prior.
A solid diet will continue to play an important factor too. Our metabolism slows further and we may not be able to get away with some of our previous junk food habits without seeing noticeable effects in the mirror. “The snapback from a few weeks of bad eating may not be as easy as it once was,” says Clermont. “If it’s challenging to find time to exercise regularly, simple activities such as biking, or climbing stairs (instead of taking the elevator) are all good options.” Changing the types of exercises performed can help add a new stimulus, causing the body to adapt to a new routine. This exercise shift can also help the body and mind to stay alert, which is great for both the gym and the office.
Take-home tips: The effects of unhealthy eating, coupled with sleep deprivation can become problematic as time goes on, so it is essential to set-up good eating and recovery habits. Be sure to include strength training in your routine in order to maximize testosterone levels.
“Regular exercise is non-negotiable for good health,” says Clermont. “Exercise not only keeps the body strong but also helps to keep the brain engaged as well. It is a good idea to include at least one high-intensity workout in the mix. Weight gain around the stomach becomes even more of an issue and may be more challenging to get rid of. Our 50s are also a time in which bouncing back immediately after injuries is even tougher than it was in our 40s.”
This is partly owed to the fact that as we travel through our 50s, big hormonal changes occur. Testosterone levels are on the decline, and this is also linked to risk factors in terms of heart health. While age alone is not thought to play a significant role in insulin sensitivity, the likelihood is that we may be carrying a few extra pounds at this time of life, and so this does contribute to likelihood of suffering with diabetes. The good news is that exercise is a great balancer of hormones at any age.
Additionally, as we move through our 50s, collagen levels are also on the decline so it is once again vital to keep-up with exercise in order to induce collagen production or consider taking it in supplement form. You should also add antioxidants such as vitamin A, C and E, and anti-inflammatory nutrients from Vitamin D to the diet in order to protect joints, skin, and bones.
Take-home tips: In addition to vitamin consumption, regular exercise is essential but work smart to avoid injuring your joints. Consider swapping out heavy weights for resistance bands if this is more comfortable, and engage in less-impactful activities such as swimming or brisk walks.
If there’s one thing that stays constant throughout the aging process, it is the importance of adequate rest for recovery: “The National Sleep Foundation recommends that people over the age of 65 get between seven and eight hours of sleep,” says Clermont. “So, in addition to keeping the bones healthy, sleep is such an important factor in aging gracefully.” Getting older doesn’t have to be an end-all-be-all. Paying attention to the foods you eat, the types of exercises you do, and how you treat yourself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually can all have profound effects on the aging process. That’s why starting to take care of the body from early on can help with healthy aging with each passing decade”.
Take-home tips: Be sure to consume adequate levels of calcium for healthy bones, and be sure to take your magnesium to support nerve and heart health. Make sure your gym sessions are functional and use your extra free time, post retirement, to build a love of form and technique. If gym sessions feel too much, make sure to find other ways to be active. A gentle stroll in the park is a great way to get out of the house and improve circulation. Breathe in the fresh air and be proud of yourself for the fitness foundations you began to lay for yourself in the decades gone by.
Old guys rule!