October 24, 2011

Hitting The Gym After 40, Redefining The Aging Process

You are over 40 and heading off to the gym in an attempt to redefine the aging process…now what?

The key to a successful fitness regime after the age of forty is simple. You must accept that your body is changing. Many are frightened by the notion of change, especially in terms of aging physiques. Images of sagging skin, excess bodyfat, gray hair and little energy are negatively associated with the senior population. But is it necessary to retain the stereotypical image of old age or is it possible for a group to revolutionize the notion of aging?

Physiological changes have occurred in the babyboomers during the decades following Woodstock. And many of these changes are showing up in the doctor’s office in the form of sports-related injuries. As a result, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine coined the term, “Boomeritis,” an ailment caused partly by years of athletic wear and tear and partly for age-related changes that cause tissue to become more susceptible to injury.”

By acknowledging the physical changes associated with aging, it is possible to redirect focus to areas that will allow maximum gains. For example, rather than go for those ego boosting lifts commonly associated with youth, focus your attention on form, muscle contraction and getting the most out of each rep, providing efficient, effective, and intense workouts.

Physiological changes after 40

  • Longer recovery times are required. A five or six day workout routine that worked for years is no longer effective because the body needs more rest between workouts.
  • Loss of muscle mass. Beginning in the mid-forties, there can be analarming drop in the percentage of muscle mass. Just how much muscle mass can be lost? Up to 30% in the next two decades. And even “healthy seniors” can lose up to 50% of the muscle mass of their youth.Loss of bone density. Osteoporosis currently affects over 10 million Americans, with many more becoming victims in the near future. Many believe bone density loss begins in the senior years, but in truth, the loss begins as early as thirty-five. While commonly referred to as a women’s disorder, by the age of 65, men fall victim to osteoporosis at the same rate as women.
  • Metabolic rate decreases. Fewer calories are needed to support the same level of activity.
  • Endurance decreases. A slowdown of the physiological processes of the body takes place with age. After the age of 50 there is a slight decrease in the number of fast motor units. But is the decrease in endurance levels due to age or a de-conditioned state? Both!
  • Range of motion diminishes. With age, joints stiffen and elasticity is lost in tendons and ligaments, resulting in a less flexible body.
  • Hormonal fluctuations. Women in their 40s and 50s are hit with a double whammy. Not only are they faced with the same age related issues as men, but hormonal fluctuations in the peri-menopausal and menopausal years become added variables in the age equation.
  • Injuries will happen. Remember Eric Heiden, the legendary speed-skater that won five gold medals at the 1980 Olympics held in Lake Placid? Now known as Dr. Eric Heiden, professor of orthopedics at the University of California at Davis Medical Center, he not only treats Boomeritis, but also “occasionally pays the same price for overexertion and cumulative wear and tear on his own muscles and joints.” Weekend warriors are notorious for producing Boomeritis related injuries. Sprains, strains and tears will occur in de-conditioned people that are forced to engage in the same level of activity on the weekends that follow a completely sedentary week.

Eric Heiden provides an example of someone living a healthy and fit lifestyle in spite of the inability to partake in the activity that made him an elite athlete. Rather than throw in the towel and live a sedentary life, Heiden’s exercise modifications still allow for a fit physique. Most babyboomers will only have to make slight modifications to their fitness plans as they age. By adding variety to cardiovascular exercise and periodization training concepts to resistance training, babyboomers that maintain a sound nutrition plan are capable of redefining the aging process.

Credit to Diane Fields, www.legendaryfitness.com

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