Once you reach the age of 40, your muscle mass tends to decline by 8 percent with each passing decade. Once you reach 70, this decline becomes even faster.1 It is because of this lower muscle mass that people typically become weaker as they get older – but it isn’t a “given” that this has to happen.
If you’re 40 or older, the choices you make now can greatly improve not only your current health but also how well you age. And while exercise is important at all ages, it is perhaps even more important the older you get, as it can mean the difference between maintaining your vigor and independence, or losing these important factors in your quality of life.
In fact, regular exercise helps to preserve your lean muscle mass and strength, and this is true even among people aged 40 to 80-plus. As you might expect, this benefit also means regular exercisers have a decreased risk of the falls, functional decline and loss of independence that is often seen in aging adults.2
There are many myths floating around, however, which might be holding you back from reaching your ultimate fitness goals. Here we’ve debunked some of the most common so you can get the most of your workouts now and in the decades to come.
Myth #1: It’s Dangerous to Start Exercising in Middle Age or Beyond
This is not true! While everyone should start their exercise program at a level suitable for their fitness levels, age is not a limiting factor in your workouts. If anything, exercise becomes even more important the older you get, and it can offer benefits no matter how old you are. It is never too late to start.
For instance, people who increased their physical activity at the age of 50 were significantly less likely to die prematurely in the coming decades, similar to the benefit that would be achieved by quitting smoking!3
Myth #2: No Pain, No Gain
Your exercise routine should be challenging, but it shouldn’t be painful. Actual pain is something you should never experience when you exercise, and if you do it’s a sign that you need to stop and make adjustments. Discomfort, on the other hand, is a different story. A bit of discomfort or feeling you need to push yourself to keep going are perfectly acceptable … but if you cross that line into feeling pain, you’re only increasing your risk of injury – not getting increased results.
Myth #3: You Must Stretch Before Your Workout
Do you still do static stretches to help you “warm up” before your workout? It’s long been heralded as a way to help prevent injury, but research shows otherwise, particularly when referring to static stretches (stretching by holding your muscle in a fixed position, such as reaching down to touch your toes). Not only has static stretching been found to have no impact on injury prevention, but those done for longer than a minute may actually make your performance worse.4
The American College of Sports Medicine now advises against static stretching before exercise.
That said, dynamic stretching, which involves motions that often mimic the activity you’re about to perform (such as walking lunges or swinging your arms in a circle), helps to improve long-term performance and agility.5 So warming up with stretches is fine, but stick to dynamic stretches for the best results.
Myth #4: Cardio is All You Need
Many people focus their workouts around aerobic activities that offer a good cardio workout. While this is important, it’s not the only type of exercise you need. Your fitness program should also include muscle-strengthening activities, such as strength training, that work all of your major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms). If you miss out on this important component, you’ll be missing out on many of the muscle-building benefits exercise has to offer.
Myth #5: Long, Slow Cardio is Best
It has long been said that aerobics performed at low-intensity for longer periods of time help your body get into a “fat-burning zone” where it uses more fat for energy, helping you to lose body fat faster. Long periods of low-intensity exercise do burn calories and fat, however, recent research shows you can get the same, and sometimes better, results from exercising at a higher intensity for a shorter period of time.
For instance, among middle-aged obese women with metabolic syndrome, high-intensity exercise training was more effective for reducing total abdominal fat, subcutaneous abdominal fat, and abdominal visceral fat (a type of dangerous fat that forms around your organs) than low-intensity training.
Often, the high-intensity portions of the workout are alternated with low-intensity “recovery” periods, known as interval training. What’s best about high-intensity interval training is that you can get an excellent workout in a fraction of the time (about 20 minutes) compared to “traditional” hour-long (or more) workouts.
How to Get the Most From Your Workouts
The latest exercise guidelines state that adults aged 18 to 65 should get 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week, along with strength training on two days a week or more. If you’re 65 or older, the exercise advice is exactly the same.6
So how can you ensure you’re getting the most out of your fitness plan?
1. Vary Your Exercise Routine: Not only will this combat boredom, it will prevent overuse injuries as well as help you avoid reaching a plateau where it’s difficult to continue making fitness gains. Your body will adapt to your exercise routine in approximately six to eight weeks, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE),7 and if you don’t make changes your muscle growth and strength will tend to plateau.
Along with adding new activities to your routine, you can also try altering the intensity of your workouts or even doing exercises in a different order.
2. Warm Up First: This will help to bring blood flow and oxygen to your muscles, which is essential for energy production, as well as prepare your heart and muscles for the more strenuous activities to come. A five- to 10-minute warm-up, consisting of light aerobic activities, should start out every workout.
3. Support Your Fitness Goals With Proper Supplementation: A healthy diet, rich in whole foods, fruits and vegetables, is clearly important for getting the most out of your exercise routine. In addition, certain supplements may help support metabolism and muscle/weight management to take your fitness goals to the next level. Consider:
- Whey protein: Whey protein, which is a byproduct of the cheese manufacturing process, is a highly digestible form of high-quality, complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids required by your body. It is also considered the richest known source of naturally occurring branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine), which are important during periods of greater physical stresses on the body, such as lifting weights.
- Magnesium: Magnesium activates enzymes essential to many body functions, including maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, and supporting cardiovascular function. This important mineral is also essential for energy metabolism and protein synthesis.
- Green Tea: Known for its role in energy and metabolism support, antioxidants in green tea may also help protect your muscles from exercise-induced stress.
- L-Carnitine: L-carnitine is an amino acid derivative, found in almost all of the body’s cells. Normal function of skeletal muscles, the heart and other tissues depend on carnitine. It is known for supporting energy production, cardiovascular health and healthy fat metabolism.
4. Be Consistent: The benefits of exercise only get better in time, which means doing it regularly is important. A sporadic workout here and there will not lead to nearly the same results as a comprehensive program performed every week. This does not mean you have to exercise intensely every day – in fact, taking time to rest and recover is important too – but that you make exercise a regular part of your life each and every week.
5. Work Out to Music: Listening to upbeat music while you work out has been found to make you exercise harder, increasing power and distance covered per unit/time. 8 It’s also been found to reduce your perception of how hard you’re exercising, while also boosting cognitive performance, including significant improvements in verbal fluency.9
Plus, it simply makes exercising more enjoyable … so put together a few “exercise playlists” for your MP3 player so you’ll be set with music whenever the mood to exercise strikes.
1. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2003 Mar;51(3):323-30.
2. Phys Sportsmed. 2011 Sep;39(3):172-8.
3. BMJ. 2009 Mar 5;338:b688.
4. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Jan;44(1):154-64.
5. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: July 2008 – Volume 22 – Issue 4 – pp 1286-1297
6. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
7. American Council on Exercise, Benefits of varying your workout routine
8. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Aug;20(4):662-9.
9. Heart Lung. 2003 Nov-Dec;32(6):368-73.