The coming of age

25: Get training

Your exercise aims: Stop the loss of your cardiovascular fitness. Women in their childbearing years specifically need stronger postural and core abdominal stabilisation and pelvic-floor exercises. Aim for a variety of aerobic exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes of varying intensity (minimum intensity brisk walking) five times a week. You should also do some abdominal and back exercises.

Why? Studies have shown that from the age of 25 our aerobic capacity decreases by 1-2% each year. This means your heart and lungs have to work harder to complete everyday tasks, though you may not feel it until you overexert yourself running for a bus, or dashing up several flights of stairs. After the age of 30 the body secretes less growth hormone, stimulating the loss of lean body tissue and encouraging greater storage of fat. Cardiovascular exercise boosts your energy expenditure (important for weight management), maintains the stamina of your heart and lungs, and improves your blood lipid profile (important in protecting against heart disease). Weight-bearing cardio exercise such as brisk walking and jogging enhance bone density.

A good age to start … training for an event – whether it’s walking five miles or the Great North Run, the training programme required will improve your aerobic fitness.

A good age to stop … thinking, “I’m young, I don’t need to bother.” Artherosclerosis, the furring of your arteries, starts as early as your late teens, and osteoporosis is termed “the young persons’ disease with an old face”.

35: Stay strong

Your exercise aims: Commit to getting physically active on a daily basis.Women specifically need to kick-start resistance training to gain strength and endurance and keep metabolism revved up.

Why? In their 30s, women lose 140-170g of muscle mass a year and can gain as much if not more fat mass. If you are not doing any weightbearing activity by the age of 39, you could potentially have lost 1.8kg (4lbs) of muscle mass and replaced it with body fat, slowing your metabolism down further and putting you on the road to further weight gain.

A good age to start … an activity audit. It is a great way of establishing exactly how physically active you are. To give you a realistic perspective, invest in a pedometer, and aim to build up to 10,000 steps each day. If you don’t achieve 10,000, don’t panic – aim to consistently add an extra 5-10% of steps each day. Start some upper-body toning exercises to enhance bone density.

A good age to stop … beating yourself up for not being able to find 60 minutes all in one go. Instead, adopt a workout wedge approach to your exercise, “wedging” it in convenient blocks of time. Studies show benefits are still achieved even in bouts of 10 minutes.

45: Stop the spread

Your exercise aim: To stop middle-age spread and get good exercise habits now. Schedule in some sort of exercise or physical activity to do most days before noon. Studies have shown that individuals who take some form of physical exercise in the morning are 75% more likely to still be exercising after 12 months, compared to individuals who plan to take their physical exercise in the evening.

Why? In your 40s your body is exposed to a clustering of health concerns, which will be exacerbated with weight gain. Metabolic Syndrome is the term for a cluster of disorders that place you at increased risk of chronic disease. These disorders include excess levels of blood fats called triglycerides, decreased values of high-density lipoproteins (these are the good ones), high blood pressure, a high fasting blood glucose value and increased insulin resistance. Your waist measurement is one of the strongest indicators of this risk. For men the risk increases when their waist measurement is greater than 100cm (38in) and for women the warning risk threshold is 80cm (32in). Women may also start to experience perimenopause, defined as the time leading up to menopause and marked by an erratic fluctuation of hormones. For men testosterone, which helps the use of protein to build muscle, decreases, with 20% of men over the age of 50 experiencing abnormally low levels.

A good age to start … incorporating some sort of stress-reducing activity to your routine (such as yoga or Pilates), with weight-bearing benefits. Learn good abdominal exercise technique, so you can gain flat abdominal muscles and good postural support from just single sets of 12-16 reps.

A good age to stop … swimming. While an excellent cardio form of exercise it does little to enhance bone density, an important factor at this age. So save time and swap your swim for brisk walking or 20 minutes in the gym twice aweek performing 8-12 reps of resistance exercise targeting the large muscle groups of the body such as thighs, chest, back and arms.

55: Build those bones

Your exercise aims: Combat bone mass reduction or full blown osteoporosis. Commit to daily physical activity with weight-bearing exercise.

Why? For women their biggest physical changes evolve around menopause. After menopause (the average age is 52) women lose about 66% of oestrogen and 50-60% of testosterone, contributing to as much as 2% decrease in bone mass per year. The oestrogen tends to decline at a faster rate than the testosterone, which in most cases encourages body fat to be redistributed from the hips to the midsection, encouraging blood pressure and cholesterol levels to rise. These changes can put post-menopausal women at a higher risk of cardiovascular problems. Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disease that is characterised by low bone mass, affecting both men and women. In people with osteoporosis the bones become brittle and more prone to fracture, especially at the wrist and hip. One in two women who are 50 or older will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture in her lifetime, but men are affected too; 15% to 20% of hip fracture patients 50 and over die in the year following their fractures. Exercise, specifically weight-bearing, can play a vital role in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.

A good age to start … adding impact to your exercise, try 40 skips or little jumps a day to boost bone density, walking faster or light jogging will also provide better bone building stimulus. Include upper body resistance exercises to improve the bone density of wrists and lower body exercises such as squats, lunges to load the femur (thigh) bone. Perform 8-10 exercises of 8-12 reps per set a minimum twice a week. Research has shown that actual force on the bone is more important than frequency in improving bone density so aim to gradually build up your intensity until you are working at 75% of your maximum effort.

A good age to stop … doing traditional sit-ups (lying on back, hands behind head and curling up). Boost abdominal strength and tone with stability work instead. If you are already doing Pilates or yoga seek out speciality versions of yoga and pilates that can offer abdominal toning exercises that provide stability.

65: And beyond …

Your exercise aims: Focus on flexibility, mobility and balance work to maintain your posture, stability and safeguard against falls.

Why? There is a growing body of evidence that physical activity can play an important part in the prevention of strokes, osteoporosis and arthritis. Decline in levels of physical activity with age is not inevitable; in many south-east Asian countries daily group routines such as Tai Chi, that focus on principles fostering natural postural alignments and reinforce proper body mechanics, are the cultural norm. If Tai Chi is not for you, a simple selection of balance exercises with emphasis on standing on one leg at a time for 10, 15 and 30 seconds can be very beneficial. Focusing on flexibility and exercises that “open” the chest by retracting the shoulders and also stretch the hip flexors (the muscle at the front of the thigh) will be especially beneficial.

A good age to start … using momentum to get up and out of low chairs and sofas. Get into the habit of always using your leg muscles, so you maintain their strength. If you suffer from arthritis, rest during severe flares, but avoid prolonged inactivity as this leads to weak muscles, stiff joints, reduced range of motion and decreased energy and vitality.

A good age to stop … exercising inwater that is too warm – the heat can aggravate some forms of arthritis and muscle inflammation. If possible seek out cooler swimming pools. Don’t think it’s all over – physical activity can help improve your emotional and mental well being, as well as being effective in treating depression and enhancing mood. It really is never too late to start exercising.

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