Tips to stay fit and strong for people over 50
Welcome to Contact’s first edition in a series of exercise, health and wellbeing advice articles from UQ experts. In this edition, UQ Sport Personal Training Coordinator Mark McCutchan shares his strength and fitness advice for getting the most out of life over 50.
With so many different forms of exercise these days, it can be confusing to know what to do. Here at UQ Sport we offer a wide variety of activities to help everyone achieve their fitness goals.
Doing something is better than doing nothing, and our team can help maximise fitness benefits for the effort you are putting in.
Strength training is the best activity to maintain muscle strength and bone density, and is the number one activity I recommend to everyone.
Regular strength sessions of 45 minutes, two to three times a week, greatly reduce the rate of muscle loss. As we age our body starts to slow down. We can’t stop this, but we can drastically reduce the rate at which our muscles slow down. A periodised strength program is the best way to maintain as much muscle as possible.
When I refer to strength training, I'm not talking about lifting massive weights or performing Olympic lifts, but steady resistance exercises that challenge your muscles at your own level. When I prescribe a program, I always look at which movements are required in everyday life. These are the most important in order to be confident and strong, and allow people to continue to live their lives.
These exercises can be done with minimal equipment and, for most people, it is all about sequencing and consistency.
Strength training will also help with aches and pains, as many of these are the result of muscles not being strong enough. The stronger you are, the more you can move and the less you have to worry.
People lose strength and confidence in several key movements as they age:
- overhead lifting
- getting up from the floor.
These movements are the main reasons people no longer do the activities they once did. However, with a structured strength program, all these movements can improve.
Bone density is also an increasing concern, and our modern, ‘sitting’ lifestyles isn't doing us any favours. Resistance training, along with a healthy diet, have been shown to reduce loss of bone density. Again, we can’t stop loss of bone density as we age, but we can reduce the rate of this loss. Swimming and cycling are good for heart health, but do not have an impact on bone density – we need to do weighted exercises.
‘Cardio’, a dreaded word for many, is short for cardiovascular training. This type of training focuses on the body’s ability to absorb oxygen and transport it to the muscles that are working. It requires the heart and lungs to be working efficiently to provide good blood flow throughout the body.
Cardio has traditionally been known as extended-time running, cycling or walking, with few breaks. That is one way to improve function, but a more enjoyable method is called HIIT (high intensity interval training), which involves short bursts of activity followed by rest, then repeated. This way, you can get more from your workout in a shorter time.
Exercise is great for mental health. The increase in blood flow, release of endorphins from exertion, and the change of scenery are all reason to exercise regularly.
I know that exercise can be challenging, so I recommend exercising with a friend as this helps keep you accountable. If exercising by yourself doesn’t appeal, why not join a class?
Contact UQ Sport if you have any queries, or if you would like further advice.