When it comes to fitness, there is really no bad time to start. To put a spin on the familiar phrase: if the best time to get into weightlifting was 20 years ago, the second-best time is now. The science backs that up, as well, at least in the wide world of sports. As a fact sheet from the Australia-based ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research states, “athletes in sports requiring speed and power tend to peak by their mid-20s, those in endurance sports peak by their 40s, while those in tactical, low impact sports can still compete at elite level in their 50s.”

 

The report also noted that the average age of Olympic participants has increased by two years since 1992. That tracks with other professional sports in which elite athletes are staying at the top of their games for longer. Then there are cases like that of 92-year-old runner Mathea Allansmith, who just last year set the world record as the oldest woman to ever complete a marathon. Combined with advances in medicine and health science, these patterns point to a promising outlook for staying decently fit at any age — even for those without podiums, gold medals or trophies in their futures.

 

Whether one’s exercise of choice is a marathon or pickleball, yoga or CrossFit, swimming or walking the dogs, just about any movement is better than nothing. Even when it is time to hang up the running shoes and pick out the shuffleboard cues, it is worth the effort to get up and get active. Of course, aging comes with its own set of changes to the body, so some adjustments might have to be made as one enters and exits the various stages of life. Luckily, there are plenty of expert trainers ready to guide people through the decades, making for as many active years as possible.

 

20s

Young adulthood is a time of milestones and firsts, from wrapping up college and settling into a career to starting a family. In all of these things, a solid foundation is the key to success, and an exercise routine is no different. As Richard Webb, a trainer at Hot Springs’ Lake Hamilton Fitness & Athletics, pointed out, the knock-on effects of getting started on one’s fitness journey early cannot be overstated.

 

“We don’t think about heart health and blood pressure and things like that when we’re in our 20s because we can pretty much eat anything we want [and] do anything we want,” he said. “As you get older, it starts to catch up with you.”

Webb, right, here pictured with his wife, Kristi, said flexibility is important at any age.

While the specific breakdown depends on one’s goals, Webb recommended a mix of high-intensity cardio and weight-resistance training for young adults. He also emphasized the importance of flexibility, urging at least five to 10 minutes of mobility work every day. Unfortunately, this key aspect of long-term fitness is easy to neglect in one’s younger years — to the detriment of one’s 40-, 50- and 60-year-old self.

 

“I even train kids now, from 8-year-olds all the way up to high school, and even at that young of an age, they’re not flexible at all,” he said. “Most of the kids can’t even bend and touch their toes.”

 

It might be tempting to make a beeline for the weight rack as soon as one gets to the gym, but make no mistake: taking the time to stretch can be the difference between a PR (personal record) and the ER.

 

“You get to lifting and you’re not stretched out, then you tear a shoulder or blow out a knee or blow your back out,” Webb said. “A lot of injuries that come from weightlifting and that come in the gym come from poor form and lack of flexibility.”

 

For many people, the shift into full-blown adulthood should also come with a few diet changes. Dialing in on nutrition, Webb said, has both physical and mental benefits, and it goes hand in hand with the other aspects of fitness. Most important of all, though, is taking the first step.

 

“No matter where you go or what you do, do something,” he said. “If you wait for the right time, there’ll never be a right time. Just do it.”

 

30s

If all goes well, one’s 30s should mostly be about keeping up the good work. Still, there are a few things that will require a closer eye as during the transition from young adult to, well, adult.

 

“This is the first time you realize you are past your peak performance,” said Quen Spencer, a Little Rock-based trainer and founder of Tap In University. “You are still capable of performing at a high level, but consistency with nutrition, recovery and sleep are much more important than in your earlier ages.”

Trainer Quen Spencer, second from left, said sleep and recovery become even more important in one’s 30s.

Anyone who got away with avoiding flexibility and stretching in your 20s could find this is also the time those decisions might come back to haunt them. In one’s 30s, Spencer explained, there must be a conscious effort on proper warm-ups and cooldowns, as well as an emphasis on quality sleep.

 

“The 30s is actually the first time you realize the importance of recovery from exercise, staying up late and sleeping on the wrong pillow or mattress,” he said. “You also realize that if you get the slightest injury, it could linger much longer than it did earlier in life.”

Spencer said a few adjustments can make workouts more sustainable as one ages.

For those who have been consistently active up to this point, Spencer recommended a few routine tweaks to help slow down wear and tear on the knees, hips and feet as the years go on: a conservative training split with four days of rest between training the same muscle group or even opting for one or two high-intensity, high-impact workouts per week.

 

If exercisers have only recently decided to get serious about their routines, there is no need to panic. When starting from scratch at this age, however, it might be a good idea to find a personal trainer who can show newbies the ropes, establish one’s baselines and suggest activities best suited to one’s current level and goals.

 

It is also important to keep in mind that activity can come in many different forms. Even for those who are not following a particular program or hitting the gym regularly, staying involved in the hobbies that kept them moving in their 20s — and even throwing in a few new ones — can be extremely beneficial. Spencer recommended exercising or being active most days of the week, but he also pointed out that there is a difference between training for a healthy life and training for a sport. For most people, honing the basics will be enough to reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle while still avoiding any potentially problematic injuries.

 

40s

By this point, adults probably at least have an idea of what activities and movements keep them feeling their best. Unfortunately, they might also be dealing with a few more aches and pains than in years gone by. No matter what, those evergreen mobility and recovery components only get more important with time.

 

Additionally, if people were not lifting regularly before now, they might not necessarily be eyeing the squat rack as they enter their 40s. However, according to Stephanie Newcomb, owner of Unleashed Health + Fitness in Little Rock, it is worth one’s while to throw around a few weights every now and again.

Stephanie Newcomb, owner of Unleashed Health + Fitness in Little Rock advised women in their 40s to see a specialist about age-related hormone fluctuations.

“[Weight lifting] is important at all ages, but especially as we age and our bone density changes,” Newcomb said. “Lifting improves this 100 percent.”

 

One thing to add to the mix if it is not there already? Newcomb recommended creatine, an amino acid usually taken as a supplement in the form of powders or capsules. Be sure to check with a doctor before adding any new substance to a health routine, though, especially for those who have any conditions or medications that might interact with the supplement.

“Creatine is so beneficial not just for muscle performance, but also for brain function — which we need as we age.” Newcomb said.

 

The most common obstacle at this stage, she added, comes in the form of hormone changes, especially for women. Hormone fluctuations can undermine even the most carefully crafted workout routines, so she recommended seeing a hormone specialist to make sure one’s levels are where they should be.

 

There is also the issue of simply having the time to workout regularly, especially for people who might be juggling an advancing professional career with busy school schedules and extracurriculars for their children. Keep in mind that letting physical fitness fall by the wayside, however, will only hamper one’s ability to fully participate in other areas.

 

“We make time for the things we want in life, so prioritize working out like it’s an appointment that can’t be missed,” Newcomb said. “It’s an appointment with a longer, more fulfilled life. I always say it’s like brushing your teeth: you don’t have a choice. If you want to live a long, sustainable life, you’ve got to move your body.”

 

50s

Five decades in, even the most tried-and-true exercise regimens might require some alterations. Listening to one’s body at this point is paramount to avoiding injuries and staying healthy. The knocks and bruises picked up through the years start to add up, and recovery takes longer. To be sure, working out is about pushing oneself, but there is no shame in knowing one’s limits. Just take it from Kari Sterling, a longtime group fitness instructor at McClure Fitness in Benton.

 

“In the past, if I overworked a muscle group, it may be tired and sore for a couple of days, but in my 50s, it will cause that muscle group to be very tight and even painful. I have to be very aware of this,” she said. “When I’m taking a class that is very shoulder focused, I may have to change it to a bicep curl.”

Kari Sterling, instructor at McClure Fitness in Benton, leaned into strength training during her 50s.

In addition to making smart swaps, 50-somethings can also use less weight than they would normally opt for. If they are still feeling up to intense cardio sessions, Sterling added, go for it, but be sure not to put strength training on the back burner as a result.

 

“I am a little more focused on strength training as I have gotten older. When I’m 80, I won’t care if I can still do 20 burpees, but I want to be able to carry my groceries in from the car,” she said. “I have also noticed that I need more joint mobility through stretching.”

Sterling also explained that a recovery day does not have to be a “do nothing” day. In fact, she rarely has a rest day that does not involve at least a solid four-mile walk. She recommended activities such as walking and yoga as great options for non-gym days.

 

When it comes to getting started, Sterling again highlighted the values of strength training and walking, but she warned against doing too much too fast. Impatience at this age can do more harm than good.

 

“In my 50s, I have become more aware of my long-term health,” Sterling said. “I want to avoid injury and still be doing this when I’m 80, so I am more careful at how hard I push myself. Learn to live in the tension of being OK with what your body can do while wanting more from it.”

 

60s

As retirement crests into view, so too does a prime opportunity to shake up one’s fitness routine. Staying fit after leaving the workforce behind is essential since all the free time in the world will not mean much if one is not active enough to enjoy it.

 

At this age, explained Jean-Paul Francoeur, founder of Little Rock-based JP Fitness and Recovery, there is an even greater need to focus on building muscle mass and stability. Interestingly, the ability to jump can be a good indicator of your current level of fitness.

“If you think about all the things that happen that start that negative, downward spiral of health, it’s usually the first big fall. [The vertical jump] shows that you still have the ability to react to gravity quickly. When you slip and fall, the same kind of reflexes kick in to catch yourself, and if you have good muscle mass, you can usually react and catch yourself. If you can’t catch yourself, you have sufficient padding — muscle — to absorb the force when you land.”

 

The heightened risk of injury at this age means that with any planned exercise or activity, there is a need to weigh the benefits and risks. For example, Francoeur said, the kind of short, intense, full-body circuits popular in CrossFit come with plenty of positives, but they can be tough on joints in a way that might not be advisable in one’s 60s and beyond.

Jean-Paul Francoeur is the founder of JP Fitness and Recovery in Little Rock.

In addition to resistance training with free weights or machines, Francoeur recommended balance exercises that help strengthen the muscles at their end ranges. These end range activation, or ERA exercises, include movements such as wall sits, lateral raises and planks in which the aim is to hold positions for a minute or more.

 

If adults have not hired a trainer by the time they hit their 60s, splurging on a qualified professional might be worth the investment. That is especially true for those buckling down on fitness for the first time or coming back after time away. As Francoeur said, “It’s much easier to maintain something than it is to go get it back after you’ve lost it.”

 

“Not every single workout is going to be the perfect workout, but as long as you’re consistent about it, you’ll get this compounded interest in terms of fitness,” he said. “Just having that activity, just being physically active, really, even if they’re not fit yet, they’re still going to feel better mentally and emotionally.”

 

70s

The emphasis on balance only increases as one enters the 70s and beyond. In fact, a balance assessment is the first step Little Rock trainer Jay Lloyd of the Athletic Clubs takes with new clients.

 

“In my training, you want to work balance first, and you should work it two or three times a week for about 10 to 15 minutes,” he said. “Leg strength is really important. Something as simple as sitting to standing can be duplicated on the weight floor with a seated leg press.”

Little Rock trainer Jay Lloyd of the Athletic Clubs said he starts off new clients with a balance assessment.

What tends to be more unique to the 70s group is the additional burden of chronic diseases that need to be managed. From diabetes and cardiovascular disease to knee and hip replacements, it is important to take any health condition into consideration before stepping foot on the weight-room floor.

 

“I ask all my clients to fill out a health questionnaire, kind of like you would if you were seeing a physician for the first time,” Lloyd said. “Just as important as that is what are their goals? Some people want to lose weight, and some people want to run their first 5K, even in their later years.”

 

The personal trainer’s place in a senior’s constellation of health care providers can be extremely important, especially when recovering from a major operation such as a shoulder replacement. While a physical therapist will help patients work specific skill sets meant to rehabilitate the joint, a personal trainer can come in afterwards to augment and strengthen the muscles surrounding it, Lloyd said.

 

One of the benefits of staying active that becomes vital in the later years is the opportunity to stay engaged with the community. Many of Lloyd’s clients, for example, are perfectly capable of working out solo, but they enjoy having an accountability partner there to cheer them on.

 

“A lot of these people, they’re getting up there. They may have lost a spouse. They may have lost dear friends,” he said. “If you go to the gym enough, you make connections, and you can’t overemphasize the importance of those social connections that they make.”

 

Lloyd added that it is never too late to start pursuing fitness. In fact, one of the highlights of his time at the Athletic Clubs so far was a woman who started coming to the gym at 90 years old. Lloyd showed her around the machines, and the last time they chatted, she had just turned 91.

 

“She realizes the importance of having a plan each day on what to do,” he said. “It’s great. I can’t tell you how good that makes you feel.” 

 

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