Fit at 40, 50, 60 … and beyond

Two weeks ago, my mother phoned me. She asked, “Do you know that it’s your birthday in two weeks?” I said, “Yes, Mom, I know my birthday is coming up.” Then she added … “Do you know that you’re turning 50? … FIFTY … Wow!”

Part of my practice, since 1993, has been helping clients manage the effects of aging. People call me all the time when they reach a milestone “0” Birthday. It usually starts at 40, picks up momentum at 50, reaches a fever pitch at 60 and then settles into acceptance at 70 and beyond.

I’m not sure if reaching 50 is supposed to make me feel old or if it should make my mother feel old. It does, however, make me pause and think “Wow, I’m 50!” A small part of me feels like there must be some mistake while a much bigger part couldn’t care less. I hadn’t thought of it for a second until my Mom called. I guess that’s a good thing!

Last night at midnight, it happened. I officially left my 40s. This morning, the sun rose, the cat wanted food and I went off to work. Aside from the phone calls, Facebook greetings and birthday emails, today is just another day.

While a “zero” birthday might be a wake-up call that you are aging, it can also provide clarity and focus to help you thrive in the next decade. Too many people live in denial trying to do the things they did when they were younger and then getting depressed because “things aren’t like they used to be.” That’s life, change is inevitable. The sooner you get over it and accept your new reality, the sooner you’ll be loving life and looking forward to new challenges.

For the purpose of this article, I want to address three physical characteristics we need to monitor as we age; bone health, cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength. Ignore these three and mid-life might not be so kind to you. Maximize them and the sky’s the limit!

With age, bones tend to shrink in size and density. In some cases, this can lead to osteoporosis, making you more susceptible to fractures and less able to maintain an active life. While there is a strong genetic link to osteoporosis along with a relationship to hormonal changes and deficiencies in the diet, lifestyle can play a major role in offsetting bone loss.

In considering cardiovascular fitness, there is a good news/bad news scenario that comes with aging. The good news is that regular exercisers who challenge themselves are able to slow the inevitable decline of aerobic capacity. The bad news is that the decline is inevitable and starts around 45. When it comes to the health of your heart and lungs, the ball really is in your court.

Finally, unless we do something to offset the effects of getting older, our muscles will start to shrink and lose flexibility somewhere between 30 and 50 years of age. You’ll look less toned and your performance in everyday activities and in sporting pursuits will start to diminish. Luckily, there is evidence that working to build and keep the muscles you have can slow the process and keep you at peak fitness far into your senior years.

From my own experience and from observing many clients who are successfully navigating their “zero” birthdays, here are three keys that I’ve come up with to keep your bones, your heart and your muscles fit and strong.

1. Challenge your muscles and bones with resistance exercises such as weight lifting, body weight moves and functional movements that mimic your daily activities: lifting, carrying uneven loads or hitting a golf ball. The strength of your bones will especially benefit from exercises that require you to stand on your feet. Bearing weight on your feet requires your bones to work hard against gravity, making them stronger.

2. Do aerobic exercise sessions 3 to 5 times per week and base your intensity level on an honest assessment of how hard you are working. Let’s be real, you know when you are slacking and you know when you’re working too hard. When you are walking, cycling or doing other endurance activities, find a pace that you can maintain for up to 30 minutes that lands somewhere between “comfortable” and “challenging.”

3. Recognize that while you can still do lots of activity at your age, you probably can’t do the same things you did when you were 20, 30 or 40. If you can, it will at least take more out of you and require more recovery. As you get older, place as much importance on recovering between workouts as you do on pushing yourself when you exercise. This means taking full days off from activity and focusing on sound nutrition.

I am pleased to say that I am looking forward to the next 10 years of my life and the challenges that they bring. In the meantime, people have been telling me that I should do something special to mark the occasion of turning 50, so this past weekend, I completed a 50 km mountain bike ride to celebrate! I paced myself and took the next day off to recover.

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