Health and fitness after fifty

Quality of Life! When we are young, we expect it, and most of the time, even take it for granted. Yet, as we age we find it elusive. This quality of life, as we age, is not given, but quite the contrary, it has to be earned! And, in my professional opinion, based on 37 years of clinical and empirical experience, the best way to assure quality in our second half century of life is to be fit enough to enjoy it! Though we may not be able to turn back the hands of time, we can certainly give it a good, hard but sensible, run for its money! And just what is this "secret," the formula for long years of fun filled activity, not merely reserved for the young, but also for the young at heart to be experienced far into the twilight years? The answer, more recognised now than ever before, is safe, structured exercise, performed for one reason only, and the most important one of all, which is to improve functional ability in all areas of daily life.

The aging process

Exercise, it seems, is on everyone's mind these days and with good reason. Consider what happens to strength and body composition with the ageing process. As sedentary individuals become older they will lose 10 to 12 percent of their muscle mass, 20 percent of their muscular strength, and 20 percent and 30 percent of their cortical bone thickness for males and females, respectively. The loss of muscle mass will account in part for a decline in the basal metabolic rate and all body fats will increase. The loss of muscle and increase of body fat can occur with no appreciable change in absolute body weight. The accumulation of body fat and the loss of muscle can be a pretty devious exchange process with the scale reflecting a number that can still make us feel comfortable but the truth is something very different.

Adding exercise into the mix

Exercising is still often "avoided like the plague" by far too many! To the 23 percent of the British population that exercises regularly, including young and old, exercise and the potential benefits it stimulates is becoming more and more something to be reckoned with, and to be taken very seriously! The search for our 'Holy Grail' may actually be attainable, but it will come only with effort and dedication. For when the truth is revealed, and we learn to differentiate exercise from recreation, we will only then recognise that it is "meaningful exercise" that stimulates results in functional ability, improved strength, flexibility, and cardio-respiratory conditioning. This commitment is necessary to take us to those quality later years in life, free of the aches, pains, stiffness, and lack of mobility much too often suffered unnecessarily. It's as simple as understanding the following absolute facts:

Building stronger muscles

Our muscles, feared by some and misunderstood by most of us, are not there merely to look at! Strong muscles move the body and support the skeleton. The stronger our muscles, the better and more efficiently we move. Sensible, expertly personalized exercise programs place a real emphasis on building strength. Building strength via a progressive weight training routine for example, can be of tremendous importance to anyone of any age. Too long neglected by the medical community in favour of purely aerobic exercise, extensive recent research completely validates the health benefits of strength training. Many of the strength training benefits are definitely not attainable through aerobic exercise alone, but what does this all mean to you?

Reducing the risk of osteoporosis

Basically, weight training can dramatically delay age related muscle loss, age related strength loss, prevent the yearly loss in metabolic rate, help to reduce body fat and improve or maintain bone density. In addition, it can reduce the risk of osteoporosis, reduce the risk of all causes of osteoporotic fracture, reduce risk of heart disease, reduce risk of back pain, reduce risk of diabetes, and help to diminish the pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. What is amazing, is that all of these benefits can be achieved in as little as one and a half-hours a week!


Enhanced flexibility will ensure greater range of movement in the post fifty year olds whose lifestyle includes reaching and bending, jumping and lifting, and actively pursuing life to its fullest. Conventional stretching exercises performed in control (not ballistic/ bouncing) will increase flexibility safely within an individual's potential (we are not all born equals as regards to physical function, so get your movement ranges and limitations tested by a professional)

Increased aerobic fitness

By now, we all know the word "aerobics". The intended benefits of aerobic exercise practiced on a 3 times per week basis is improved heart-lung efficiency, allowing one to perform endurance activities of daily living more easily and with much less fatigue. Also, regular aerobic exercise can reduce the impact of risk factors associated with coronary heart disease. Obviously, the potential benefits aerobic exercise presents are enormous. Though aerobic exercise does not guarantee us all increased life expectancy, the physiological benefits are real and the supportive data of a scientific nature is accepted. Still, aerobics, for all its benefits, has dramatic limitations!

Combining strength and aerobic exercise

Aerobics will not adequately strengthen the muscles around your joints, enhancing joint stabilization. Nor will aerobics substantially strengthen your body! This was never the intended function of aerobic exercise. Great increases in aerobic endurance via improved heart-lung efficiency, YES! A stronger body, NO!  The solution is quite obviously a combination of the two types of exercise- aerobic (heart-lung) and anaerobic (muscle and bone). And a combination of the two, practised sensibly, under well-qualified supervision, no more than three times per week, will yield an extra benefit, strengthening your muscles and producing a higher basal metabolism. As a result, you can actually burn more calories even when you are sitting still!

If you decide after reading this article, that perhaps a structured exercise program is for you, then you are taking an appropriate step in enriching your later years leading to a more productive, active lifestyle.

Make no mistake, what we are discussing is serious business, not "fun" fitness. If fun is what you are looking for, enjoying your favourite sport or activity long into your life, that is your reward and you will have earned it! However, it is your commitment to your workouts that gets you strong, and allows you to enjoy that life and those other favourite activities much more easily, and for a great many more years than would otherwise be possible.

Become involved in a constructive strength and conditioning program. Be sure to find a credibly qualified (Sports Science Degree minimum) and experienced (5-8 years postgraduate minimum) fitness professional to guide you.

It's important, as it is your future and quality of life that we are talking about!

This article is courtesy of Alan Gordon

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