As we age, loss of muscle tissue and bone mass is, unfortunately, inevitable but it doesn’t have to be drastic. By implementing a really good fitness program you can hold onto muscle and bone and help prevent conditions such as osteoporosis, sarcopenia and osteopenia.

Choosing a variety of exercise modalities can ensure not only that you don’t get bored, but also that you will benefit from the different health aspects that they provide. Varying the intensity is also a good idea – you don’t have to go at it hard every single time you exercise. Change it up a little – one day easy cycling for example, the next an intense lifting day. Making sure to add in regular stretching or a yoga class will also help prevent tightness developing in the muscles.

There are five main components to total fitness and incorporating exercises for each of these in your program will result in optimal health and the ability to train regularly with a lower risk of incurring injury:

  • Cardiovascular & Respiratory Endurance – the heart is the second most important organ (after the brain) and needs to be conditioned to achieve fitness success. The right cardio program can help you burn calories more efficiently while keeping you fit for increased activity.
  • Muscular Strength & Endurance– maintaining a strong body, and increasing lean muscle mass, are crucial elements to living a fit life. Resistance training is a key component to achieving this. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism, the lower your body fat percentage is, and the more you can do.
  • Flexibility – your body should be able to move efficiently. Overactive or underactive muscles can influence how you move, potentially leading to injuries. Maintaining proper posture and flexibility while you train is a very important part of your overall health.
  • Core – the core is made up of your abdominals, lower back, glutes and hips. Training your core will keep you strong from the inside out and create better movement patterns for the arms and legs.
  • Balance – Being able to control your body during movement without tipping or falling is essential in order to avoid injuries during training. As we age our balance can often become affected, causing accidental falls to become increasingly common. Incorporating balance training within your workouts enables your body to control unwanted movement, helping you to maintain this as you age and avoid falls and unwanted injuries throughout your life.

Consider Your Fitness Goals:

  • Create a balanced routine.
  • Start low and progress slowly.
  • Build activity into your daily routine.
  • Plan to include different activities.
  • Allow time for recovery.
  • Put it on paper.

If you are looking for something that will torch calories then look no further than HIIT – high intensity interval training. This type of exercise will really hit the spot! HIIT incorporates bouts of all-out exercises such as burpees, mountain climbers or squat jumps, interspersed with resistance training (which can include bodyweight, stability balls, free weights, resistance bands etc…) with only a short break between each interval to catch your breath. Whilst this might sound like something straight out of the military (and, indeed this is why they are often called “Bootcamps”), it can be scaled to your own ability and your fitness will increase very quickly. One of the added benefits of HIIT is that, due to the intense nature of the exercises, your session will be short. HIIT increases fitness in a much shorter timeframe than conventional cardio.

Where To Go?

Search around for what is available in your area; if you don’t drive then it needs to be within walking distance or a short bus ride. What time of day is best for you? Early morning or after work? Perhaps you need a crèche facility? Exercising outside is great for all sorts of reasons, not least the sunlight and fresh air, but there are times (freezing cold winter, for example) that this might not be practical so make sure to have alternative options prepared. If you have space at home then you might want to consider investing in some gym equipment – but remember, you may need to be even more motivated to stick to your sessions since procrastination may be much easier when you haven’t had to travel anywhere or pay an entry fee!

Having A Plan

This may sound obvious but so many people attend the gym without actually having the first idea about what they are trying to achieve, or how to go about progressing their sessions. Women are often afraid to lift anything heavier than a couple of kilos for fear that they will develop huge rippling biceps, and so they get stuck in a rut of doing a few strength exercises with very light weights and then spending most of the time on the stair-master, treadmill or stationary bike. This can lead to a great deal of frustration when they spend hours a week going to the gym, but not seeing any different results in the mirror. Having a proper program that will show you the correct exercises, using the right amount of weight and progressing your sessions is essential to achieving success. If you are unsure of how to do this then investing in a personal trainer can really pay dividends. Think about the time and money spent wasted in hours not achieving results as opposed to having someone who can help you reach your goals quickly and effectively in half the time! A personal trainer can also help you to modify any exercises where necessary, correct your technique and offer support and accountability to help keep you on track.

Another thing to consider is whether you are choosing an activity that requires some skill. If this is the case and you are inexperienced then it will be essential to get some personal training, or lessons to learn the correct technique. Strength training, for example, is a fantastic way to exercise, but if movements are performed incorrectly, or heavy weights are lifted with bad form then injury is almost certainly inevitable. The mirror is your friend – most clients that I train hate looking at themselves in the mirror when they first start their sessions because they are extremely self-conscious, but soon come to realise that this is an essential tool in making sure that they are performing an exercise correctly. Sometimes you may think you are doing it right, but your body is in a very different position than you actually think it is. I notice this a lot during my classes where there is no mirror and I have to correct positioning. Rounded backs are the most common problem and this is an area that you do not want to compromise when lifting weights. Paying for some coaching to ensure good form is far better than paying for chiropractic therapy after you have injured yourself.

Building A Workout

  • Warm up – making sure that you warm up your muscles before you start any kind of training will help ensure a lower injury risk during your session
  • Training – the focus of your workout – whether you employ traditional split body training, full body or are working on skills, this is the area that you should really plan so that you can see and follow your progression
  • Cooldown – stretching and cooling off the muscles after you have worked them hard is as important as warming them up beforehand. It also allows you some time to reflect on what you have just achieved during your session.

All of these elements of a workout are critical, and should not be overlooked. If you do not warm up properly you run the risk of injury. A warm up does not have to be complicated – you literally want to warm the body so that it is ready for more demanding work. This can just take 5 minutes, performing some joint mobility (circling the ankles, knees, hips), some light marching or jogging on the spot, circling the arms and rotating the wrists, some squats, lunges, side bends…a few jumping jacks etc to get the heart rate elevated. Classes should always provide some warm up before the main workout begins, and a cooldown afterwards. Your training will be the workout that you have chosen, whether you are doing strength training or cardio. Try to choose some warm up exercises that mimic parts of your training program so that your body is preparing for the same, only harder, variations. Make sure to cool down – this is where stretching plays an important role. It is better to stretch AFTER a workout rather than before as the muscles are already nice and warm and more pliable. Stretching before a workout can actually impair performance during training, and may create issues if you are trying to stretch muscles that are cold and not ready.

Taking the time to really think about what your weekly fitness program should include, and then working out exactly how you want to implement it before you jump in, can pay dividends in making sure that you choose the right activity to keep you motivated, inspired and, best of all, achieving the goals you have set for yourself.