Decade by decade. How to keep your body strong and agile

Diane in kayak
I try to be active, but I’ve noticed lately that I’m not as quick or as flexible as I used to be. Balance can also be an issue. Sometimes, it’s downright scary. Like when I dashed across the street the other day and thought for a second I was going to pitch forward onto the pavement. Then there’s getting out of the car. It used to take one fluid movement. Now, it probably looks as if a robot is emerging.

Just because we reach “a certain age,” and maybe lack a bit of our old agility, it doesn’t mean we have to stop being active. Quite the opposite. But what we choose to do becomes more important with each decade. We want to remain active and we want to remain safe.

I asked an expert — Mike Moras, a physical therapist at Back in Motion Physical Therapy, for some advice. Here are his suggestions for how we can be physically active throughout our lives — whether we are 20 or 50 or 80+.

Twenties

When you’re in your 20s, you generally have lots of options, including high impact activities that can be a little bit harder on your body, says Mike. “You’re going to be able to pick from things like running, jumping, tennis, biking, cardio boot camp, and spin classes.”

Mike’s recommendations

  • Choose something you enjoy doing.
  • It’s important to get a cardio workout — one that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat.
  • You also need to do some sort of weight training. It will keep your bones, joints and muscles healthy and may help prevent issues (like osteoporosis) down the road.

Thirties

It’s possible that you’ll have to slow down a bit because, by your 30s, you may have had a few sprains, strains or even a back injury. Generally, though, you still have many of the same options you had in your 20s.

Mike’s recommendations

  • Choose something you enjoy, but make it a safe choice.
  • Cross train. Run. Do weights. Take a spin class once a week. Mix it up.
  • Don’t do the same routine every day. If you work out five days a week, don’t do the same muscle groups each day or don’t use the same machine. Maybe do legs one day, upper body the next. Core body strength one day, the elliptical the next. Treadmill one day, stair stepper the next. It will help prevent overuse injuries.

Forties

“When  you get into your 40s,” says Mike, “you’re more likely dealing with a weekend warrior. You’ve got folks like me, who work and have kids. You can’t fit in exercise during the week, so you squeeze it in on Saturday and Sunday. You may also be starting to have some arthritic changes and can’t recover as quickly as you did in your 30s. That 5K you ran on Saturday is now taking more than 24 hours to recover from and you’re feeling it. Your legs are stiff and sore for a couple days.”

Mike’s recommendations

  • Get out and jog or go for a walk.
  • Do some kayaking or go for a weekend hike.
  • Look for physical activities you can do with your family.
  • Don’t try to break your personal record on your 5K or 10K or go for a 50-mile bike ride on the weekend. If you do, you might be reeling in pain the next few days.
  • Continue to include a cardio workout and some weight training.

Fifties

By the time you hit 50, Mike says you’re probably seeing a physical therapist, maybe a massage therapist once in a while, or an acupuncturist. “A lot of people in their 50s are starting to feel aches and pains and they don’t recover as quickly as they used to,” he says.” I see a lot of people that age with chronic neck and back pain.”

Mike’s recommendations

  • Continue to get your heart rate up. It’s important throughout all the decades.
  • Swimming gets your heart rate up but is gentle on joints and bone.
  • Still work those muscles and joints, but chose a lower impact activity. Try an aerobics class, for instance.
  • Walk 45 to 60 minutes every day if you can squeeze it in. (Walking the dog counts.)

Sixties

If you’ve been active all your life, you’ll be better off than if you suddenly start moving at age 60. But have no fear, it’s never too late! “It can be discouraging to start exercising later in life,” Mike says, “but there are so many options these days that you might have to give a couple things a try before you find that thing that you really love to do.”

Mike’s recommendations

  • Look for non-impact ways to increase your heart rate.
  • A pool is a great place to exercise.
  • Walk, walk, walk. Explore local walking trails.
  • Ride a bike — stationary or pedal.
  • Consult with a physical therapist or personal trainer for some professional advice. He/she can look at your past medical history and your current situation and help you come up with an individualized plan.

70, 80, 90+

At these ages, your exercise routine should be designed to help you function better — so you’ll have less trouble getting in and out of bed or the car or off the couch. It can also help you maintain your balance and keep you flexible. “As you get older,” says Mike, “it’s still important to exercise, but it becomes more targeted. You need to stretch and maybe do some core as well as general strengthening exercises.”

Mike’s recommendations

  • Ride a stationary or recumbent bike.
  • Do pool aerobics.
  • Find an exercise class geared to older people.
  • Try tai chi (great for balance.)
  • Keep your big muscles — glutes (butt) and quads (thighs) — strong.
  • Continue walking.

Good advice at any age

Some of Mike’s advice applies to all of us, no matter how young or old we are.

  • Always listen to your body. If an exercise hurts so much that it makes you not want to do it anymore, find something else.
  • If you’re achy and sore for a few days, that’s normal.
  • Intolerable pain that lasts is not normal. Don’t try to push through it. Forget the mantra “no pain, no gain.”
  • If you’re doing an activity and it starts to hurt, stop and stretch, take a break.
  • Don’t stop an activity cold turkey. For instance, when you’re done on the elliptical machine, cool down. Walk around a little.

“Above all, avoid doing nothing,” says Mike. “There’s something out there for everybody.”

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll share some activities that people well into their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s are doing. Tap dancing, ballroom dancing, and swing dancing, for instance. An exercise class that includes three men in their 90s. One of the men still does bike tours around the country. How’s that for inspiration?

As you can see from the picture, I like to kayak. What’s your favorite way to be active?

 

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.