Exercise is, without a doubt, one of the best things you can do for your overall health and sense of wellbeing.
That being said, your fitness journey will require different and varying approaches depending on your age. Let’s take a closer look.
Today youth obesity is an epidemic across much of the world, with a 20 year Kings College study released in 2015 showing that by the age of 15, one-third of the UK’s youth will have become obese.
Good exercise habits are a large part of the solution to that.
A 2009 review of previous research found that children and adolescents could increase their strength by a whopping 30-50% after just 8-12 weeks, doing resistance exercise at least twice per week. It also suggested that exercise which gets the heart racing is the best for overall health.
The same review put to bed fears that intense training is harmful to teens, instead finding that training injuries in adolescents tend to occur due to bad exercise technique- not teen vulnerability. As the science tells us, the adolescent brain is uniquely well adapted to learning new skills. This is the perfect time to start instilling good fitness habits to last a lifetime.
Teens new to the fitness world should dive into compound weight training, under the supervision of a qualified instructor, as well as dedicate a good amount of time to cardiovascular exercise like swimming, cycling and running.
Your twenties and early thirties are your physical “prime”– the point where you can push yourself the hardest, reap the greatest rewards, and recover with the least stress and difficulty. There’s a reason why the elite pro athletes in most sports will fall into this age range.
Early adulthood is also the time when most of us will have our first real encounters with the world of work and grown-up responsibilities, and it’s easy for good fitness habits to be put on the backburner when studying or beginning to build our careers.
Good fitness habits in early adulthood should include some form of resistance and cardiovascular training at least 2-3 times per week, at the highest intensity you can safely manage it. Training with poor form in your youth is likely to result in niggling joint pains or muscle imbalances further down the line.
Not only will it be easier to stay in shape later if you reach peak physical fitness in early adulthood, but you’ll help reduce stress and stay positive during this busy time, too. Data based on the 2008 Scottish Health Survey found that any form of physical exercise was “associated with a lower risk of psychological distress.”
Now, just because your twenties and early thirties were your prime doesn’t mean that the game’s over by the time you reach middle age. Not by a long shot.
One 2009 study comparing the effects of a weightlifting routine on two groups of men, aged 18 to 22 and 35 to 50, found no significant difference in the amount of strength and muscle gained by both groups. (In fact, the older group actually performed slightly better in this study, but the difference was too small to be statistically relevant).
That idea that as you age you’re bound to gain weight due to a slower metabolism? Well, that turns out to be a myth as well. Studies have shown that your metabolism slows by about one to three percent per decade, and that this difference is probably the result of muscle loss as people often become less physically active over time.
In middle age, you’ve got just as many opportunities to be fit as you did in your twenties. The catch? Studies have shown that as you age, your body is more susceptible to training-related injury, and that these injuries take longer to recover from.
For the weightlifters out there, this might mean training at 70% rather than 90% of your one rep max. For runners, it might mean training for more half marathons and fewer marathons. You should remember to focus on proper rest and exercise at all times.
Exercise is fantastic at any age and this, of course, includes later life. There are few better ways to ensure that you thrive in your golden years than following a good exercise routine.
A 2006 study from the University of Illinois has shown that aerobic exercise increases brain volume in aging adults, helping to protect against common neurodegenerative diseases and keeping you mentally sharp and alert.
And it’s not all in your head, either. Dozens of studies have demonstrated that resistance training dramatically increases bone density in the elderly, reducing the risk of fractures and conditions such as osteoporosis.
Of course, a different phase of life calls for a different training approach. Exercise routines designed for seniors should generally be low-impact, meaning that strolls through the countryside or sessions on an exercise bike are a better idea than jogging through town. When it comes to resistance training, it’s best to focus on using equipment such as stationary gym machines and resistance bands as opposed to heavy barbells.