Dodgy back, grumbling shoulder and two creaky knees? You best settle down into middle age and rest up… Age is no friend of yours right?
The common train of thought is that as our bodies start to get a bit decrepit, we should slow down on the exercise with maybe a walk with the dog, an amble around the golf course or some gentle aqua aerobics on a Monday. As we get older, we get weaker and that’s just the way it is … WRONG!
I have been reading Play On: How to Get Better with Age by Jeff Bercovici, who is trying to turn conventional thoughts on getting older and weaker, then older and weaker until we die on its head. He argues, we can not only extend our lives by occasionally punishing our bodies but extend our “peak years” of fitness into the autumn and winter of existence. Function is what id important here, not the lifespan.
The latest regime that has gained favour is high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in which bursts of intense activity – such as sprinting and cycling – are interspersed with periods of lower-intensity exercise. You know you are at high intensity when muscles burn and you get out of breath. In other words, it hurts. And top veteran sports people like Roger Federer and Serena Williams are a testament to the successful nature of these workouts.
“Ageing science supports that we should do high intensity every week, getting your heart rate up to at least 80% of its maximum,” says Bercovici. “Even 10 or 20 minutes a week will produce results – that means getting up to the point where it feels unpleasant. It should be a feeling that you can’t keep this up much longer.
“High intensity activates different pathways in your body, with benefits at the cellular level. Together with gentler exercise, it improves overall fitness. The trick is getting the balance: say, 20% high to 80% low.”
Other factors are at play when we age including hormonal changes that mean we are more likely to store fat, changes in skeletal muscle mass and a slowing of the nervous system and reaction times due to ageing nerves not conducting message fast enough.
Here’s the good news: most of these major changes can be modified, delayed or even reversed through frequent and vigorous exercise. Bercovici says it won’t keep your hair dark or stop you needing glasses, but the most destructive symptoms of ageing – memory loss, muscle wasting, bone thinning, cardiovascular damage – just don’t happen to the same extent in people who work out often.
Want to know more about how you can work out harder and better? Chat to us about it anytime.