3 Fitness Activities We Need to Keep Doing (or Add to Our Routine) As We Age

Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Kimble Hartwell works out on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, June 2017. Hartwell, a veteran of 25 years, enjoys using the rowing machine and recumbent bike 3 days a week because it helps him live an active lifestyle. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Eric Johnson)

In general, most Americans start to decrease their physical activity as they get older, usually about 10% each decade after age 25. Over the next 2-3 decades, if this trend continues, serious health issues can start to occur, taking the form of metabolic syndrome, cardiorespiratory diseases and/or early warning markers of stroke, heart disease and diabetes.  

And yet, all these risks can be mitigated through the three key activities to longevity: cardiovascular training (activities such as walking, swimming, biking, etc.), strength training and balance training.  

According to a large-scale study by the American Medical Association, "participants who performed two to four times above the recommended amount of moderate physical activity had a 26% to 31% lower all-cause mortality risk and a 28% to 38% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality."

What You Need to Know About Strength and Balance

1. Balance Training

Take your balance seriously! As we age and spend more time in a seated position, balance will be the first to go, leaving you susceptible to falls and serious injury, even death. In a study called "Taking Balance Training for Older Adults One Step Further," researchers demonstrated that the need to create balancing programs each day is just as important as cardio activity and strength training.  

The reduction in the risk of falling is critical to avoiding injury and doing everything else you need to stay healthy as you age. For starters, a way to add balance exercises to your life is simply to stand on one leg when standing in line. As you advance, you can do some of the strength training exercises to include balance, such as doing biceps curls while standing on one leg.  

Walking is also an excellent method to include balance training in your day. As you can see, the three activities all work together to keep you healthy as you age.

2. Strength Training

Countless studies, such as this, "How Can Strength Training Build Healthier Bodies as We Age?" show that lifting weights and doing foundational movements must continue as we age. This does not mean you need to join a gym or compete in powerlifting competitions, but adding calisthenics, dumbbells, a weight vest, TRX suspension training and machine/free weights can all play a part in helping you maintain (and even build muscle) as you move into "retirement age" and beyond. People who do strength training live longer and are harder to break.

Here are some important movements to add to your day:

Sitting and standing are done multiple times a day and must remain something we continue to do. Adding squatting, lunging, walking stairs and other leg-strengthening movements, both with and without weight, will help you with leg muscle and bone strength, joint mobility and overall balance.

Hip Hinges  
Squats are great, but there are movements that require bending over at the waist to pick objects up off the floor and carry them to another place. For example, many injuries occur when golfers pick up a golf ball from the ground. Exercises, such as dumbbell Romanian deadlifts or non-weighted toe touches, are ideal for strengthening and flexibility of the hips, lower back and hamstrings.

Carrying Things 
Regularly using your grip, core and stability muscles is key to carrying objects from one place to the next. Daily carrying activities are essential to life, from taking the groceries from the car to the house, to towing yard waste from the backyard to the curb. You can add dumbbell "farmer's walks" around the home as if you were carrying luggage (without wheels) in the airport.

Upper-Body Pushing and Pulling  
Doing the classic pull-up and push-up as you age is an excellent goal, but the pulling and pushing occur in many more directions and planes of movement. For instance, pushing or pulling yourself off the ground by using your arms is a helpful activity to maintain or build upon each year. Pushing objects over your head or across the room are common activities to maintain chest, arm and shoulder strength and stability.  

Pulling objects closer to you is equally needed in life. Still, the most important aspect of maintaining your pull and push muscles is that arms are often your last line of defense from falling if you can grab onto something to stop the fall or get you upright again.

3. Cardio Training

Working the heart and lungs in a moderate intensity range by doing activities, such as walking or non-impact cardio machines, is ideal. If the impact of walking hurts the joints too much, you can opt for biking or elliptical trainers and still receive health benefits.  

Walking also helps with balance, so you must increase balance training if you cannot walk as much. In the study "Exercise Training as a Preventive Tool for Age-Related Disorders," people who engaged in regular aerobic exercise had lower rates of serious illness and death than those who did not.

Don't let inactivity make you age faster than you have to. The goal now is to get moving and keep moving for the rest of your life, thus adding life to your years -- as well as more years to your life.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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