According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the benefits of regular physical activity for older adults may include a lowered risk of bone fractures; a reduced risk of dying from heart disease and developing high blood pressure, colon cancer and diabetes; reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression; relief of arthritis symptoms and more.
So, what does it take to be a fitness lifer? Jeff Bercovici discovered some clues in researching his recently published book Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age.
He shared a few tips during a recent conversation with Get Old:
To avoid injury, or re-injury, focus not just on fitness but on “freshness.” Injury is the number-one element that shortens the careers of athletes. It’s also what sidelines the rest of us from our regular workouts, especially as we get older and recovery takes longer. Sports coaches are recognizing that the likelihood of injury increases with fatigue leading to a new concept in athletic training called “freshness.” This means making sure you’re adequately rested and recovered before each workout. “There’s no such thing as fitness without freshness,” Bercovici says.
Restructure your workouts. This is especially important in order to balance the intensity and duration of your exercise. If you’re working at a harder pace for 45 minutes, you’re likely to be so exhausted when you’re finished, you’ll spend the rest of your day inactive. Instead, Bercovici says, try to “polarize” your workouts. This means spending 20 percent of a session working at high intensity, and the reminder of the time at a lower level. In essence, you’re building recovery into each workout session.
Readjust your goals. “Setting realistic goals as you get older is important to creating rewards and maintaining motivation,” Bercovici says. If at 65, you’re still trying to run or swim at the same pace you did at 30 or 40, you’re likely to get discouraged and, possibly, injured. Make sure you’re choosing the right level of activity for your changing agility.
Work harder, not heavier. Adding weights or increasing the pace of your workout isn’t the only way to maintain or improve fitness. “One of the things I learned in my research is that smart coaches are much less likely to talk about quantity than quality,” Bercovici says. “They’re less focused on numbers and more focused on your body having stability and mobility.” You can implement this concept without fancy equipment. For example, Bercovici suggests adding a balance element to pushups by doing them with your hands on a medicine ball. Or you might try doing squats — and these don’t have to be deep squats—with a resistance band around your knees.
Change it up. “Challenging your body in the same way day after day for decades is an efficient way to chew it up,” Bercovici says. “Challenging it in different ways puts you on the right path for a long, healthy and active life.” When Bercovici had to give up soccer after a back injury, he found a new passion in cycling. You might find in your fifties or sixties that full-court basketball is too grueling or a boot camp class too hard on your joints. Embrace this as an opportunity to try something new, whether that’s pickleball, tai chi or a local walking club.