Now that the New Year is here, you may be ready to make some changes to become more fit and healthy. It’s easy to get so excited about new fitness goals that you try to resume your best workout routine from 10 or 20 years ago. That’s not always a good idea, though.
Even if you’re in good shape, your body isn’t the same as the one you had in your thirties or forties. For one thing, you probably have less muscle mass. Your metabolism, the process of converting food and drink into energy, may be slower, too. As you age, you need to tailor your workout routine around specific fitness goals, considering any physical limitations that could cause injury when you exercise.
The good news is that, with regular exercise, you can:
- Build muscle mass
- Maintain or lose weight
- Find relief from chronic pain
You’ll also feel better mentally and emotionally since exercise floods your brain with feel-good endorphins. Working out regularly also helps you feel productive and focused on fitness and health.
Not sure where to begin? Here are five tips for choosing the best workout for your body and why no one exercise regimen works for everyone.
Know the Results You Want
Is your fitness goal to lose weight? Maybe you’re looking to increase muscle mass, which decreases about three to eight percent every decade after the age of 30. Or perhaps you want to gain better balance to prevent falls as you age. Your individual fitness goals are the key to choosing the right workout.
For example, the workout routine for someone looking to lose weight is very different than for someone trying to build muscle, says doctor of physical therapy Sara Mikulsky, who is also a certified personal trainer and owner of Sara Mikulsky Wellness Physical Therapy in New York.
“When you’re just getting back to working out or have never worked out, people think cardio is the way to go, but strength and resistance training are just as important,” says Mikulsky. “Strength training increases muscle mass, which requires more oxygenation. As the muscles get large, they require more blood and oxygen to move. So, if you couple strength training with cardio, your cardio will actually be more effective and you will burn more calories.”
Consider Working With a Personal Trainer
Even if you’re not ready to work with a personal trainer regularly, you can benefit from at least some professional guidance to help achieve results. “If someone is new to exercise, I recommend speaking to a physical therapist or personal trainer for help at least once,” says Mikulsky.
Working with a personal trainer can incorporate exercises that help your heart and muscles work together for optimal results. That way, you can achieve results faster and avoid injury from exercises that could aggravate a lower back, hip, knee or other problem area.
“Learning to exercise and move correctly can reduce pain in a part of the body,” says Mikulsky. “When you teach someone how to do this, they have control over their pain. This can help treat the pain both physically and mentally, breaking the cycle of chronic pain and the fear and depression associated with it.”
Choose Exercise You Enjoy
Swimming is a fantastic workout, since the activity increases your heart rate and builds stamina while toning and strengthening muscles during low-impact exercise. If you love to swim, swimming could be a good basis for your workout routine. However, if you don’t enjoy swimming, you could set yourself up to fail by forcing yourself to do an exercise you dread.
Choosing exercise you enjoy makes you more likely to stick with your workout routine, says Mikulsky. “If you like to walk, make it about walking. Don’t try to do things you don’t like because chances are you will fall off and not do the exercise,” she says.
Explore Group Classes
Group classes can help you ease back into working out or expand your current workout routine. You’ll also stay socially engaged, which is crucial to mental health and aging well.
Many gyms offer group exercise classes such as yoga, strength training, water aerobics and Zumba, which blends exercise and dance for a fun cardio workout. There are also classes specifically for older adults, like Silver Sneakers, a health and fitness class for people 65 and older.
By trying different classes, you’ll learn how different types of exercise affect your body and mood. If you have pain, weakness or physical issues such as lower back problems or hip or knee problems, make sure you ask the instructor before class about ways you can modify certain positions or exercises to avoid injury.
If you’re not ready to go into the gym yet, don’t worry. You’ll still have other options for classes.
Stream Virtual Workouts
If you want to work out at home, you’ll find both free and fee-based virtual workout apps, classes and instructional videos online. Some apps even come with a certified personal trainer for customized sessions. You can also access online Silver Sneakers classes from home. Many yoga classes are available virtually, and the same goes for cardio, Pilates, Zumba and strength training sessions.
How to Choose the Best Workout for Your Body
Now that you have a few things to think about when choosing exercises, start out with at least one or two, based on your fitness goals and guidance from a personal trainer or physical therapist. Here are some popular types of exercise and their benefits.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week. You can achieve that level of intensity by walking briskly, such as covering a mile in about 15 minutes. In addition to helping you manage weight, walking regularly lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
By walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week, you’ll get 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week. If you’re not used to walking, start out slow with ten-minute walks and work up to longer walks as your endurance increases.
For strength training, you can work out with dumbbells or heavier weights, resistance bands or on the exercise circuit machines at the gym. You can even use your own bodyweight as resistance to build strength, especially at the core, which is the group of muscles that stabilize and control the pelvis and spine.
“Core strengthening is great for all ages and can always be modified to age, injury and fitness level,” says Mikulsky. “Building muscle strength, core stability and maintaining flexibility can prevent injuries, fend off medical diagnoses and help prevent falls later in life.”
Good core exercises for someone 50+ might include planks or modified planks. You can also do bridges. To start, lie on your back with knees bent and tighten your abdominal muscles. Next, raise your hips until they’re aligned with your knees and shoulders.
Yoga can improve general wellness, flexibility, mental health and balance. If you haven’t done yoga before, you may want to start with a gentle style of yoga such as hatha yoga or chair yoga. Let the instructor know of any injuries or physical limitations before class. That way, the instructor can help you modify certain poses to avoid injury.
Swimming is a low-impact exercise that uses water as resistance while providing a great cardio workout. The benefits of swimming are many, including helping people lose weight or reducing chronic joint pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.
Even swimming laps at a slow pace burns calories, strengthens muscles and provides cardiovascular benefits. Not a swimmer? You can still benefit from water exercise by participating in a water aerobics class that incorporates resistance and stretching.
Get Started on Better Health
Now that you know how exercise can benefit your physical and mental health, start exploring the best exercises and workout routines for your body. Before you begin a new workout routine, make sure you get cleared by your doctor first. Ask about areas of your body that could be easily injured and types of exercise that may help certain health conditions.
Maybe you could begin with a daily morning walk or a cardio, strength training or yoga class. Your gym membership might even include a personal training session, or you may want to hire a personal trainer to help achieve your fitness goals.
Do you have a favorite exercise or workout routine that you want other readers to know about? Share your exercise experience and recommendations in the comments.