I am 60 and when I go to circuit classes I seem to be as fit as lots of 20 year olds. The exercise makes me feel good, but am I in reality doing too much? If I was 73 what would your advice be?
If you are a regular life-long exerciser, you probably ARE fitter than a lot of 20 year olds! Disturbingly the latest government figures tell us that nearly half of young men aged 16 to 24 fall short of minimum levels of activity for health (that’s 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week).
Can you over-do it with exercise as you get older? I would say in general no – but I have some specific cautions. Ageing does take its toll on our bodies. By age 60, in theory you will be losing about 1% a year of your heart and lung power, muscle strength and bone mass (women can lose nearer 6% a year of bone), and up to 4% of muscle power. Joints get stiffer, and as our nervous systems slow down we lose reaction speed, balance and agility, co-ordination skills and so on.
Depressed? Don’t be: by doing regular exercise you will have lessened or even reversed ALL of these age-related changes. Indeed, research has shown us that eighty-somethings can “rejuvenate” their bodies by 10 to 20 years when they do regular workouts! Latest scientific thinking also backs the view that while joints do degenerate with age, moderate activity or sport does NOT wear them out.
Now for my words of caution. You cannot stop your body becoming more vulnerable to injury or slowing down in certain ways. So play safe. In particular:
• do longer warm-ups (12 to 15 minutes) before any heavy training
• spend more time stretching after your warm-up and again at the end of the workout
• listen to your body and don’t ignore pain: discover the cause and rest the injured part thoroughly (older tissue takes longer to mend)
• Keep tabs on your underlying health, checking blood pressure, body mass, cholesterol and (in some cases) your bone density. Any of these could alert you to a silent health problem and the need to alter your workouts accordingly.
If you do have health conditions, diseases or disabilities you will probably have to follow extra cautions, particularly if you are taking medications.
As for looking forward to your seventies, let your body guide you! The veteran athlete Charlie Williams is an inspirational amateur sprinter; at age 73 he was running 100 metres in 13.6 seconds! The US male marathon record time at age 73 is 3hrs 13 min. If at 73 you’re still having fun keeping fit, why stop?