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5 Truths About Exercise as We Age

Go hard or go home. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. You’ve surely heard the nuggets of “fitspiration” urging you to push harder, be better, and go faster. But we’ve noticed something: As our bodies age, those bits of popular advice don’t hold.

We may want — or moreover, need — to exercise differently in our 40s, 50s, and 60s than we did in our 20s and 30s. Here are five truths to remember when it comes to exercise as we age.

Truth No. 1

Just because you didn’t start early doesn’t mean you can’t start now.

It’s a myth that after a certain age it’s too late to begin exercising. Despite all the fitness marketing with young, nimble women at the forefront, it’s never too late to get fit. In fact, beginning an exercise program later in life gives you the mental and emotional advantage of addressing exactly where you are right now, instead of trying to break a pattern of what might have served you in decades past but can be damaging to an older body.

Truth No. 2

For older women, exercising is about way more than looking strong or staying svelte.

According to NHS Choices, the UK’s largest health website, there’s strong evidence that people who are active in middle age have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression, and dementia. Sure, there are aesthetic benefits as well, but staying fit after 45 is about thriving in mind, body, and soul.

Truth No. 3

Listening to your body is more important than ever.

As time goes by, our bodies naturally experience wear and tear. Pamela Peeke, professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told U.S. News + World Report that “No matter how active you’ve been, aches and pains will start to crop up now, and you’ll have to adapt your exercise regimen around them.” Joint disease, old injuries, and simple overuse require you to adapt. Give yourself options: Swap track laps for pool laps or take dance or indoor cycling classes, where the impact isn’t doing more harm than good.

An older body also needs more time to recover from a vigorous workout, so you might need to either scale down the intensity of your workouts — or if that sounds crazy to you, schedule in more rest days than you once did. Remember: Recovery is part of a fitness protocol. That’s how all the good work you did can actually pay off.

Truth No. 4

Pumping iron isn’t just about pumping up.

Gone are the days of mindless reps. As we grow older, resistance training becomes more about the meaning behind the muscle. University of New Mexico’s Len Kravitz stresses that resistance training can actually reverse the aging process at the genetic level by rolling back the age genes’ full expression, as well as by improving muscle longevity. Stronger muscles and more lubricated joints mean more stability and less likelihood of a fracture — or worse — as bones become more fragile.

Truth No. 5

A trainer can be your best friend.

Even if you’re used to working out solo, a trainer can be your biggest asset as you age. Certified fitness professionals are educated to be able to work with clients of all ages, body types, and fitness backgrounds. Not only can a trainer introduce you to new workouts to serve you best at your stage of life, he or she can also teach you how to modify what you’ve always loved so that it can carry you for years to come.

Want to tone and tighten your arms and more? Download the best exercises for women over 50.

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