The work­outs that get the best re­sults

The over-40s are now the most ac­tive age group – but your work­out needs to change for max­i­mum ben­e­fit. By Anna Magee

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page -

Maybe it’s a col­lec­tive midlife cri­sis, a late re­al­i­sa­tion of our mor­tal­ity or an old-fash­ioned de­sire to lose the spare tyre. Maybe it’s be­cause of Brexit, be­cause ev­ery­thing else is. But one thing is cer­tain, the mid­dle-aged are get­ting fit.

Re­search from 4.5 mil­lion Strava users has found that the most ac­tive age group in the UK is the over-40s. Mean­while, Sport Eng­land says run­ning is up a stag­ger­ing 97 per cent in the over-55s, with cy­cling up 59 per cent, and Nuffield Health has found that peo­ple in their 60s make time for ex­er­cise more than any other age group. Mean­while, WGSN, a global trend fore­cast­ing agency, has dubbed the Age­less Ath­lete a trend to watch in 2019.

And it’s never too late to start. A flurry of stud­ies last year seemed to show that ex­er­cis­ing in mid­dle age – even if you’ve never been ac­tive be­fore – is the elixir of youth. One, pub­lished in the Euro­pean Heart Jour­nal, found that seden­tary, mid­dleaged peo­ple who took up aer­o­bic ex­er­cise for six months de­vel­oped longer telom­eres – the tiny caps on the end of cells that shorten as we get older. Sci­en­tists gen­er­ally re­fer to the length of peo­ple’s telom­eres as a sign of how quickly they are age­ing.

Like­wise, a study pub­lished in the jour­nal Cir­cu­la­tion found that mid­dle-aged peo­ple who be­gan a two-year pro­gramme of brisk walk­ing or jog­ging for 30 min­utes, four or five times a week, were able to re­verse age-re­lated stiff­en­ing of their ar­ter­ies. Far from giv­ing in to the sal­low pull of mid­dle-aged lim­i­ta­tion, many of us are the fittest we’ve ever been. Cindy Craw­ford and Drew Bar­ry­more have posted gym self­ies and yoga videos on In­sta­gram, while Dav­ina Mccall has reached new fit­ness heights – swim­ming the Chan­nel in her 40s and qual­i­fy­ing as a per­sonal trainer at 50.

I have tried to keep fit since my mid-20s. But it was al­ways with the same goal: to be thin. I did back-to­back aer­o­bics classes and ran five times a week in my 30s.

By the time I reached my 40s, my knees were ru­ined and I had Achilles ten­donitis. I was forced to slow down, so took up yoga and qual­i­fied as an in­struc­tor at 42. But while the poses calmed me down, they still didn’t give me the lean, toned body I wanted. So, in my mid-40s – and deep into a midlife cri­sis – I got my­self a per­sonal trainer. She got me to stop run­ning, start walk­ing ev­ery­where and do strength train­ing in our twice-weekly ses­sions to­gether.

After six months, I was lean and had dropped that last 5kg. But what kept me go­ing was how good I felt: I could walk up and down stairs with­out pain, and even run again, al­beit slowly, with zero an­kle or knee is­sues. I was prop­erly fit. Look­ing bet­ter in a bikini was just a bonus (hon­est).

So at 49, I de­cided that I would qual­ify as a per­sonal trainer. De­spite be­ing old enough to be the mother of all the other stu­dents on my course, I was also one of the fittest and strong­est.

The older we get, the more life forces us to face our own mor­tal­ity. Watch­ing my loved ones suc­cumb to can­cer, de­men­tia or im­mo­bil­ity – things ex­er­cise has been shown to help keep at bay – has fi­nally helped me to un­der­stand why ex­er­cis­ing when you get older is about so much more than be­ing thin.

Sure, I want to look nice in jeans. But you know what I want more? To be able to get out of a chair with­out that geri­atric “oof ”. Hell, I want to be able to stand up on long train jour­neys when I am 70, and not com­plain about it.

Do you want that, too? Here’s what I’ve learnt about sec­ondlife fit­ness…

Mus­cle wastes – so build it

Each decade after 30, your mus­cles de­cline by 3-8 per cent – a process known as sar­cope­nia. Mus­cle has a higher meta­bolic rate than fat, so the more mus­cle you have, the more calo­ries you burn dur­ing ex­er­cise and rest.

“Mus­cle re­quires more blood and oxy­gen to be sup­plied to it than fat, and that in­creases the en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture the body has to do to main­tain it,” ex­plains Prof John Brewer, head of sport and ex­er­cise sci­ence at St Mary’s Univer­sity, Twick­en­ham.

One study from the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Sports Medicine as­serts that mus­cle loss is the sin­gle great­est con­trib­u­tor to age-re­lated de­cline in me­tab­o­lism, and claims that by adding just 2-4lb of mus­cle to your body, you could burn 100 ex­tra calo­ries a day at rest (that’s 3,000 calo­ries in a month, enough to lose 1lb).

And it takes a sur­pris­ingly short time to build mus­cle. One study, from the Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health, fol­lowed 10,500 men aged over 40 for 12 years. It found that, of all the ac­tiv­i­ties they did, weight train­ing for 20 min­utes, three times a week, had the great­est ef­fect on prevent­ing agere­lated ab­dom­i­nal fat (in other words, mid­dle-aged spread). “Mus­cle builds up quickly, even from the first ses­sion, when you get sore. That mi­nor dam­age re­pairs it­self and you be­come stronger,” says Prof Brewer. “Within two weeks you should see ben­e­fits.”

Weight train­ing helps con­trol blood sugar

The soar­ing rate of type-2 di­a­betes in the UK sug­gests that we need to know this – not least, as it’s far more likely to de­velop in mid­dle age. Weight train­ing helps con­trol blood sugar lev­els in pa­tients with type-2 di­a­betes, and one anal­y­sis con­cluded that re­sis­tance train­ing should be rec­om­mended in the pre­ven­tion and man­age­ment of the con­di­tion. More­over, it might ac­tu­ally help age-re­lated bone loss, too. With age comes a de­crease in oe­stro­gen for women, a hor­mone

By adding just 2-4lb of mus­cle, you could burn off an ex­tra 100 calo­ries a day

that helps with cal­cium pro­duc­tion. Stud­ies from Glas­gow Cale­do­nian Univer­sity found that strength train­ing im­proved bone den­sity in the post-menopausal.

Know what works

But mid­dle-aged fit­ness is not cre­ated with weight train­ing alone. This is the decade to find out what works for you and do it: leav­ing fads to the young ’uns. That means un­der­stand­ing that fit­ness has three main pil­lars. First strength, achieved by re­sis­tance ex­er­cise – any­thing from your own body weight (say, a push-up) to free weights, such as dumb­bells or

re­sis­tance bands. Se­condly, we need flex­i­bil­ity, be­cause be­com­ing more flex­i­ble means our mus­cles can con­tract and ex­pand dur­ing every­day life, when sit­ting, stand­ing or reach­ing up to a shelf.

Thirdly, we need en­durance, which is achieved by do­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar ex­er­cise, such as brisk walk­ing, run­ning, cy­cling or swim­ming. The Strava re­search also found that the two things that worked for the over-40s were set­ting goals and train­ing with friends.

Ex­er­cise smart, not hard

We know that over­train­ing for sus­tained pe­ri­ods may lead to weak­ened bones, burnout and even ab­nor­mal heart rhythms. But it can also tax your im­mune sys­tem and hin­der fat loss. That’s thanks to cor­ti­sol, a hor­mone emit­ted by the adrenal glands in re­sponse to pro­longed men­tal or phys­i­cal stress.

Ex­er­cis­ing too hard has been shown to af­fect im­mu­nity be­cause of cor­ti­sol over­load, which has also been as­so­ci­ated with an in­creased risk of stor­ing fat around the mid­dle. Not to men­tion, you’ll prob­a­bly just get sore and give up.

LISS is the new HIIT

There was a point when ev­ery­one was talk­ing about high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing (HIIT) to burn fat. But HIIT – short bursts of ex­er­cise at high in­ten­sity – is tough on the body, so it needs to be built up to and – in my opin­ion – lim­ited to around once a week in mid­dle-age.

Low-in­ten­sity steady-state train­ing (LISS), on the other hand, done at 70 per cent of your max­i­mum heart rate, is ideal for burn­ing fat. Think of any­thing that leaves you quite puffed and not quite able to hold a con­ver­sa­tion – for ex­am­ple, brisk walk­ing, cy­cling, power walk­ing or danc­ing.

A few LISS ses­sions are es­sen­tial. Slowly be­gin to in­crease your pace or the length of time you do LISS train­ing for, be­cause your body be­comes more ef­fi­cient, the more you do. Or add some HITT train­ing into your rou­tine.

The ideal weekly line-up is three or four ses­sions of LISS that last 35 min­utes or more; re­sis­tance train­ing about two or three times a week, stretch­ing be­fore and after; and per­haps a yoga or Pi­lates ses­sion.

Smart stretch­ing

I used to won­der when I saw those peo­ple in the gym who would be swing­ing their legs back and forth, and side to side, or mak­ing fast cir­cles with their arms.

Now, I know they were do­ing dy­namic stretch­ing, which is the best type to do at the start of your work­out be­cause it helps re­lease syn­ovial fluid into your joints. This is the prime lu­bri­ca­tor of bones, mak­ing you more mo­bile and de­creas­ing in­jury risk. As we get older, the amount of syn­ovial fluid our bod­ies pro­duce de­clines – cue joint pain.

Do eight to 15 reps of four dy­namic stretches be­fore ex­er­cise, and fo­cus on the body parts you’ll be work­ing. For ex­am­ple, be­fore re­sis­tance train­ing, do 20 fast squats with your arms swing­ing down and up over­head. You can also try leg swings, arm ro­ta­tions and shoul­der shrugs.

After your work­out, do static stretches. That’s where the stretch is held for 10-15 sec­onds to re­lease the mus­cle. Stretch­ing af­ter­wards is es­sen­tial, be­cause your mus­cles con­tract dur­ing ex­er­cise and need to be stretched ad­e­quately in or­der to pre­vent sore­ness and in­jury. Again, fo­cus on the parts you worked most.

Anna Magee is ed­i­tor of Health­

As we get older, our bod­ies pro­duce less syn­ovial fluid – cue joint pain

Ac­tive age­ing: re­search from Strava has shown that the most ac­tive age group in the UK is the over-40s. Anna Magee, below, de­cided to qual­ify as a per­sonal trainer at the age of 49

Life cy­cle: re­search found that set­ting goals and train­ing with friends were two things that worked for the over-40s

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