According to The American College of Sports Medicine, adults between the ages of 18 and 65 should remain active by balancing moderate and vigorous aerobic activity with muscular strength and endurance workouts. In other words: physical activity should be a consistent, ongoing part of your routine, no matter if you're 25, 32, 46, or 65. However, your exercise routine and fitness priorities should adapt as you make more laps around the sun, and as your body and physical needs change.
Not only will staying active and adapting your physical activity improve mental health and physical health, but it will also cut down on your risk of developing life-threatening illnesses or having a fall that results in injury. As Dania Valdes, ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness specialist at Mindbody, explains, we should all actively be working to improve posture and flexibility. By doing so, we can develop and/or maintain good movement patterns and also avoid musculoskeletal injury.
"We all know that our bodies change as we get older. As we age, we may experience a decrease in flexibility, range of motion, muscular strength, muscle mass, and balance," Valdes explains. But by staying active, we work to keep ourselves as spirited and fit as possible (and exercise is essential for brain fitness and mood management, too.) Here, some top tips on how to adapt and develop a workout plan that's safe, healthy, and effective throughout your 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s.
How to Exercise in Your 30s
Add mobility work.
If you were active throughout your 20s, you might have scoffed at the idea of a 'rest day' or taking the time to stretch properly after a workout class. As you enter your 30s, however, you may start to notice more intense soreness and a longer recovery time post-workout. This is normal, but also a gentle nudge from your body to work on your mobility, says Katy Neville, the head of innovation, fitness, and talent for Onyx. Mobility work helps you increase flexibility, decrease soreness, and activate the proper muscles in your workouts, Neville says.
"In our 20s, we tend to go-go-go without a second thought on which muscles we're working," she says. "When age sets in, it becomes increasingly more important to work the right muscles out to balance the body."
One example is that we all have strength in our body's front side (aka our quads) due to walking forward, but a lot of people struggle with glute strength due to sitting. Neville says adding 10 minutes of mobility work pre-workout to activate your glutes will help you fire the correct muscles and balance out the front and back sides of the body. Great beginning mobility exercises include a walking lunge, heel raises, and neck circles.
Build in strength training.
According to Kathryn Kelly, award-winning fitness competitor and owner of Taste Buzz Food Tours, all people, women especially, naturally begin losing muscle mass in their 30s. To combat this decrease, we can add muscle-gaining, strength-training workouts instead of focusing solely on cardio. Kelly recommends targeting various body sections and alternating throughout the week. This might look like bicep curls and overhead presses for arm day, weighted leg raises and squats for leg day, and squat presses and weighted lateral lunges for a full-body workout. Kelly says that in addition to improving muscle definition and mass, strength-training also increases metabolism and improves mobility.
Start paying attention to your form.
When we reach the age of 30, we may start noticing our balance and endurance aren't as easy to maintain as they were a few years ago. Flexibility is one of those skills that you lose if you don't practice, and as you blow out more birthday candles, it may require more time and patience. That's why we will need to start paying much closer attention to details, such as form, to keep our body away from injuries, says Chris Grebe, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the area personal training manager at Blink Fitness. "It's important to start doubling down on flexibility as well as mobility in your 30s so that you can lay a foundation for the workout program shifts that will happen in the decades beyond," he explains. We can achieve this by implementing functional workouts such as bodyweight training or suspension training via TRX.
Keep up the cardio.
Women in their 30s are particularly prone to insulin resistance due to metabolic changes in adrenal and thyroid hormones, according to Mindy Pelz, DC, the founder of Family Life Wellness and the Reset Academy. To combat this, invest in a cardio routine you can follow and maintain. Whether it's road or mountain biking, indoor cycling classes, boot camps, or jogging, the goal is to keep your heart rate raised for a prolonged period. Pelz says cardio workouts should be incorporated four to five times per week for 30 to 60 minutes per session.
How to Exercise in Your 40s
Squeeze in 'idle' workouts.
For most people, their 40s are characterized by being extremely busy as we all try to juggle child care, work demands, caring for aging parents, and overall feeling pretty limited with our personal time. These years may be full of memories and progress, but they could also leave little time for a trip to the gym. That's why Kelly suggests doing all you can to incorporate "idle" workouts into your days, like taking the stairs instead of the escalator, or going for an hour-long walk during a lunch break. You could also park far away from the grocery store or even include your kids in an active game by having a "sprinting" contest in the backyard. The goal is to squeeze in as much activity as possible.
Make your warm-up dynamic.
Once we reach our 40s, our joint health, functionality, and cardiovascular conditioning begin to take a head seat at the table. At this stage, Grebe says we should seek to use our workout programs to enhance our activities of daily living. But many in their 40s start to shift to more of a sedentary lifestyle. "This can present challenges for our body, such as tight muscle groups that cause pain points on the body, limiting our movements," he explains.
That's why it's the ideal time to start putting more care into our warm-ups by making them dynamic with jumping jacks, squats, and inchworms. Grebe explains that taking the time to ensure our bodies are ready to push through physical endurance will reduce injury and perform better.
Mix in low-impact workouts.
Once women hit their 40s, Peltz says the brain and body undergo some dramatic shifts: As the ovaries shut down, progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone levels begin to decline. The adrenal glands are left to pick up the hormonal slack. "With adrenals carrying more of the workload, women in their 40s must be extra cautious about balancing stress-inducing workouts that were once well-tolerated in their 20s and 30s with more nurturing, lower impact exercise," she says.
Women in their 40s typically notice a dramatic decrease in muscle mass due to the rapidly declining production of testosterone and human growth hormones (HGH). To combat this, Pelz recommends alternating between one to three days of low-impact exercise like yoga, hiking, and walking with one to three days of strength and muscle-building exercises, like pilates, TRX, kettlebells, and weight lifting. "This balance will have a calming effect on the hormones—which are likely starting to go haywire—while at the same time supporting muscle tone and strength," she adds.
How to Exercise in Your 50s
Start nice and easy if you've been inactive.
Since bone mass and density diminish over time, this leaves our bodies more susceptible to potential injury. So if you haven't been staying active and want to start working out more regularly, Kelly says it's essential to start slow. For example, she recommends beginning with water aerobics and working your way up to hillwalking as your muscles start to strengthen. Women older than 50 may need more time to recover from injuries, so Kelly says to schedule a rest day or two in between exercises if needed.
Listen to your body.
Though, yes, our 50s are when we have our eye on retirement, and we're starting to enjoy a slower pace of life, that doesn't make exercise less important. Some may argue it becomes more critical if we want to chase our future grandchildren and cruise around the world. "We need to make sure our workout programs are molded around keeping the engines running smoothly in our body. Gauge how long it takes you to recover from a workout and use that to formulate a workout schedule that fits what your body is telling you," recommends Grebe.
He also suggests incorporating different workouts, such as swimming or yoga, rather than only super-intense cardio. "Functionality is key at this stage in life, and helping your body move efficiently in such ways as a squat or hinge will help keep back the hands of time," he says.
Neville reiterates that strength training is so important as we age because muscle mass helps the body burn more calories at rest than fat. Also post-menopausal women begin to lose muscle mass, so focusing on this early and consistently will maintain strength and health.
Though Neville says weights are preferred, resistance bands can be influential too. Try to always put a rest day between lifting to prevent injuries. "As you add strength to your routine, you should also maintain low-impact cardio," she continues. "Incorporating biking and walking will ensure you get the cardiovascular benefits that are needed to keep your heart healthy."
How to Exercise in Your 60s (and Beyond)
Don't discount baby steps.
Though you may have been a marathon runner in the past, it's important not to pressure yourself to go full-throttle in your 60s. After all, no one goes from a couch potato to an Olympic athlete overnight, says Kendall Nielson, the founder of SHiNE Dance Fitness. It all starts with making different decisions, like walking instead of driving short distances. Or standing instead of sitting while you chat on the phone. "Then, gradually add longer segments of cardio, strength training, and flexibility components to keep you on your toes," she adds.
The goal, simply, is to keep moving, no matter how many laps around the sun you make. "The more sedentary you are, the more your muscles, joints, and other body parts start to freeze up," explains Amelia Pavlik, a certified barre teacher and founder of FRESHJUICE + bubbly. "The reality is that as we age, we deal with more aches and pains, many of which become a part of daily life. Sitting and not moving will only make them worse." The moral of the story: Keep active, and don't guilt yourself if your workouts are simple—they're still working to keep you strong.
Make each session a full-body workout.
While people often think of breaking workouts up into "arm day" or "leg day" as the ideal way to build strength, it's actually only an approach that should be used for bodybuilding goals, says Lorna Kleidman, a personal trainer who specializes in fitness for women over the age of 50. Instead, those in their 60s should focus on having a more generalized approach to fitness. "A full-body session will boost your metabolism more than a split-day approach," she explains. "Think of including pressing, pulling, planks, rotation, squats, and split stance movements (like lunges) in each session."
Work toward symmetry.
As you add more candles to your birthday cake, you're bound to gain a few bumps, scratches, aches, and pains along the way. It's all part of a life fully lived, but it can sometimes make us stronger on one side versus another. However, we can work to remedy old injuries and imbalances with consistent fitness, says Ryan Kennedy, a NASM certified personal trainer and the fitness director of Fieldhouse at The Park. "Single limb exercises are a great option for the elderly population because it can help expose weaknesses from side to side," he explains. "Building strength and symmetry within the body is the best way to enhance core strength, balance, and proper movement."
If you're unsure of where to get started, don't hesitate to book an appointment with an expert. Kennedy recommends those who are 60+ find an experienced physical therapist who can work alongside a qualified trainer to help address specific issues and injuries, provide specialized moves, and safely target weaknesses and imbalances.