Stay fit in old age

26. June 2018

Exercise is the prerequisite for a healthy, harmonious life. Those who train their muscles at a young age and strengthen their bones through exercise will prevent many age-related ailments. 

Yet even though the performance capability of sporty seniors is amazing and above all, their hearts often work better than many younger ones, the individual ageing processes cannot be stopped. The quality of the tissue declines, the elastic fibres that confer flexibility diminish, joint mobility gets worse, and the body becomes somewhat stiffer. The musculoskeletal system becomes a limiting factor. 

Therefore, the following applies: the older you get, the more you should focus on health training to burn fat (endurance training at a low level of intensity), as well as muscle training and flexibility. All endurance sports such as cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, walking, or hiking and – if the joints allow it – moderate jogging are ideal. Participating in competitions is also allowed in old age and it is perfectly possible to do endurance sports if you don't overdo it. Events give many the extra motivational kick to exercise regularly in everyday life. Despite all the possibilities, as you get older, your sports activities need to be as versatile as possible. The most important factors:

  • Strength: Fit seniors often lack strength. Many tend to have strength in the areas that are trained during their sport, such as the legs of cyclists, for example. However, cycling doesn’t really train the back, torso, and neck muscles or the muscles in the upper limbs. Therefore, cyclists wanting to stay fit also need to do strength training for the back, torso, and upper limbs in addition to endurance training on the bike. In other types of sports, other parts of the body may well be taxed by the sport, but they are not really being trained much and therefore also need to be strengthened. 
  • Flexibility, balance, and coordination: All these factors decrease in old age if they are not practiced on a regular basis. Modern forms of fitness and group training classes such as yoga or Pilates are well suited to this, as are other gymnastics programs. Coordination exercises help to prevent falls and reduce the risk of injury. Although many older athletes don’t want to hear this: the older you get, the less you can train alone according to your mood and the more “accompanying” measures are needed to keep the body in good shape.
  • Recovery time: The recovery time changes with age. Your recovery is no longer nearly as fast as it used to be. Rest days and training breaks therefore need to be scheduled into your training plan and, most importantly, must be adhered to. It is recommended that seniors train in blocks of two or three. A block of three means: three days training, one day off. A block of two means: two days training, one day off. On one of the active days – ideally before the day off – your training can be somewhat more intensive or longer, but it is then imperative that you also observe the rest day.
  • Overdoing it: Endurance as a measure of fitness is amazing in many seniors, as the heart still works at full speed. This can lead to some wanting to know how to do it properly again at this stage of their lives. Marathon, Ironman, ultra runs – almost everything seems possible. Professionally successful people particularly try to transfer the competitive spirit they practice at work to the sport. But take note: while this is okay for training and a competition, it should be exercised with composure and fun and not be dominated by ambition. Chronic fatigue, a bad mood and insomnia can be signs that you have been overdoing it in sports.




Running training – but how?

The pioneers of the first running boom in the 1980s are gradually reaching retirement age. Many of them still love running. As a classic endurance sport, running training is extremely good for the cardiovascular system in any age group, but due to the strain on the joints, it needs to be adapted as you get older. Already after the age of 30, the legs need longer until they are resilient again after a strenuous training unit. The best way to accelerate your recovery is to incorporate more days off from running the older you get. The well-known American fitness coach, Jeff Galloway, recommends the following training/rest days: 

  • 36-45 years: no more than four running training units a week
  • 46-59 years: one running training unit every second day
  • 60-69 years: three running training units a week
  • 70-79 years: two running training units and a long walk
  • 80 years and older: a long run, a shorter run, and a long walk.

Senior runners who run with ambition should be aware that they can no longer do the same speed units as they did 10 or 20 years ago because fast training units considerably increase the risk of injury. Those wanting to give it their all now and again can do sprint runs as well as dosed amounts of speed variations. The following also applies: when running fast, don’t push yourself to the limit.

Many older runners also find it good to take several walking breaks along the running routes. This enables you to maintain a certain number of kilometres without your stamina suffering. And as a side effect: you have less annoying aches and pains to deal with. Other old hands swear by splitting up the daily workload into two to three units. This also works.