Sporty @ forty

What you should know when embarking on the road to fitness in your 40s

old man playing tennisAfter having set up life on an even keel, most people in their 40s turn their attention to getting their bodies back on track. They either take up a new sport or exercise regime, or pick up the threads of an old one. However, while their spirits are willing, their bones and tendons may not be.

After you cross 40, your body changes—your muscles lose some of their elasticity and your sense of balance and reflexes gets affected. As a result, fatigue sets in early and your reaction time increases, making you more prone to injuries.

"When you are young, your cells keep multiplying and you get less tired. Whereas, at an older age, your body takes longer to recuperate and rebound from muscle fatigue," says Mumbai-based trainer and fitness consultant Reema Sarin. That's why it's important for you to go about fitness after 40 in the right way.

Consult before you begin

Before taking up sport or any rigorous activity, consult your doctor. This is important because strenuous exercise can aggravate heart diseases, joint inflammation or respiratory diseases. Get a complete look-over done by your doctor. Inform her about your exercise plans and heed to her advice to avoid trouble later.

Mumbai-based practitioner, Sujatha Chari advises getting yourself checked for osteopenia [lower than normal bone mineral density] and early osteoarthritis, which sets in around this age. It is also important to keep your blood sugar and blood pressure in check.

Also discuss with your doctor the activities that you should avoid. For instance, cycling and stepping exercises may not be recommended for those with knee problems.

Start slow

"Overuse injuries are the most common and occur in the feet, ankles, shins, knees, hips or back. You should be careful not to do too much too soon. Build up the time, intensity and impact slowly and wear well-fitting footwear to avoid injuries," says Kelli Calabrese, American fitness, nutrition and lifestyle expert.

So start gradually and slowly step up momentum. For instance, if you plan to jog, first start by walking. And don't increase the pace more than ten percent at a time per week. Practice the swings and movements for games like badminton, tennis or golf before starting a round. Rushing things may give you a nagging injury.

Warm up

When at rest, our muscles are cold and stiff—more so, if they haven't seen any strenuous exercise for long. The first thing to do is warm them up—take a brisk walk or do some spot jogging.

Sarin advises a warm-up of at least 5 – 7 minutes, followed by a 5-minute low-impact cardio, wherein you do fast walking and other aerobic exercises. This helps the muscles lose their stiffness and gets them ready for more arduous work.

Stretch

It's mandatory to stretch at the end of your routine, when your muscles are supple and stretch easily. Stretching gives muscles time to relax and cool down sufficiently. Never stretch before a game, but always after.

Know your limits

A middle-aged person should remember that she is no more a spring chicken of 20. The passage of time has shown its effects and they must be respected. It is important to know your limits and adhere to them. Observe the impact a particular exercise has on your body. Proceed if only it is favourable; do not try to impress anyone including you.

If you feel that you have hurt yourself, stop immediately. Do not try to brave the injury. Distinguish between ordinary muscle soreness and a muscle injury; soreness reduces with time, an injury doesn't.

Swollen joints, persisting pain [more than a day or two], difficulty using a limb, or sharp shooting pain, are symptoms you shouldn't ignore. Refer to a doctor immediately. Rest the injured area and suspend activity till it has healed completely.

An ideal plan

According to Kelli Calabrese, American fitness, nutrition and lifestyle expert, your regime should include:

  • Cardiovascular conditioning—most days of the week for a minimum of 20 minutes – 60 minutes at moderate to vigorous intensities.
  • Strength training—3 days per week on alternating days challenging each major muscle group.
  • Stretching—daily. It is best performed at the end of a workout or after a hot shower. Hold each stretch for 10 – 30 seconds and repeat four times.

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