Keeping fit – no matter what your age – is important for your body and your mind. Experts recommend healthy adults get 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day – more if you’re trying to lose weight. You should be sure 150 minutes per week are aerobic – getting your heart and lungs working hard.

Exercise helps to control your weight, reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and metabolic problems, improve your mood and strengthen bones and muscles. All together, the benefits may prolong your life.

Aging, though, does bring specific challenges to physical fitness. Here’s how your exercising might change for you as the years go by:

 In your 20s:

Maybe you’re still in college, or you’ve just hit the job market. Life is busy. But this is no time to slack off. This is the time to build a firm foundation for a lifetime of fitness. Learn basics of nutrition so you can maintain your weight. Consider a multivitamin.

But most importantly … get moving – join a gym, take yoga or cardio classes, go hiking. Strength training two to three times per week, with alternating days of cardio, is recommended. While your body is young and resilient, you may feel invincible, making overtraining injuries more likely. So, don’t overdo the workouts.

An added bonus of regular exercise for women: breast cancer risk is reduced by 20 to 30 percent when you work out one to three hours each week, and by nearly 60 percent with four or more hours per week.

In your 30s:

Your exercise stamina is at its peak in your 30s, as is your bone density. Cross training is particularly useful during this decade - cardio and resistance training both benefit your body. You may start to lose some muscle mass. Weight lifting is essential in helping to build muscle mass and improve your bone density. It will also rev up your metabolism.

Your metabolism has already started to slow in your 30s. This is the time when you may start needing to work harder to keep the fat off. Circuit training can help you maintain a healthy weight. Add balance and flexibility routines, like yoga or dancing, to round out your workout. Aim for a variety of workouts and intensities for overall fitness.

Many women give birth in this decade, which can wreak havoc on your body in a number of ways. The stretching of your abdominal muscles can weaken your core.

Carrying the weigh of a pregnant belly can pull your center of gravity forward and cause low back pain. And the hormones of pregnancy cause ligaments to loosen, making clumsiness and injury more likely. And weight gain is common. Regular exercise can mitigate some of the effects, and can help you get back into shape quicker after the birth.

A bonus: women who exercise regularly during pregnancy tend to have easier labors and births.

Because the pelvic floor becomes weaker with childbirth, adding pelvic floor strengthening exercises, also called Kegels, to your regular workout routine is essential. A toned strong pelvic floor can reduce your risk of pelvic organ prolapse, urinary incontinence, and low back pain.

You can do kegels by imaginging that you are shutting off the flow of urine, or you can use a Kegel exercise device such as Intimate Rose Kegel Exercise System. Use of Kegel weights is more beneficial than Kegel exercise balls because they are better suited for a woman’s body. Kegels aren’t just for women in their 30’s though, they are suitable for women of all ages who are experiencing bladder issues, pelvic organ prolapse, or general weakness in the pelvic floor muscles.

Be sure you’re hydrating before, during and after workouts. Dehydration can cause premature skin aging and a slow metabolism.

In your 40s:

This is the time when you’re most going to need to fight belly fat. Hormonal changes in this decade – especially a drop in estrogen with perimenopause – can lead to changes in the fat distribution in your body.

Fat begins to deposit in your midsection and around internal organs, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The best way to fight this is to build or maintain lean muscle mass by continuing your strength training routine.

Experts recommend that you keep up with weight training three to four times per week, with cardio in between (taking at least one day off to rest). Focus on the quality of the exercises rather than the number of reps. Be sure you are stretching regularly to prevent injury, which unfortunately becomes more likely as you age and your muscle fibers become more sensitive to tears.

In your 50s:

Focus on your core to prevent your shoulders from hunching forward and your back from aching. Make good posture a priority. Recovery from exercise gets harder in this decade, and joint pain becomes more likely. Alter your routine – adding less jarring exercises and gentler movements. Pilates and yoga are great additions to your cardio and strength routines.

Integrate regular stretching into your day. Stretching can help boost circulation and prevent muscle and joint injury. Weight bearing exercises will help to continue keeping up your bone density. You may also consider a menopause supplement to decrease the irritating side effects of menopause such as hot-flashes, sweating, and fatigue.

In your 60s, 70s and beyond:

You’re never too old to benefit from a good physical fitness routine. You may not have the stamina you once had, but regular exercise will keep you able bodied and mentally sharp.

Preventing chronic disease becomes a priority later in life, as does preventing injuries from frailty. Keep in mind your tendons and ligaments aren’t as elastic as in the past. So, use caution not to overdo movements.

Weight training continues to help maintain bone density, and aerobic exercise keeps your heart healthy. Exercise routines that integrate balance and flexibility can lessen your risk of fall injuries. Women in their 60s and 70s are have a much higher risk of death after a hip fracture, but regular exercise can lessen this danger by building strong bones and muscles.

Collective exercise – whether a Zumba class, swim aerobics, or even a power walking group – has the benefit of helping you maintain social connections which can be difficult as you age. This will keep your mind healthy along with your body.

Exercise at this age doesn’t need to be done in a gym – chair exercises may be gentler on your body. While these may not seem to do much, they will keep your muscles moving. Maintaining strength and flexibility will help you to keep up independent living.

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By Dr. Amanda Olson, DPT, PRPC
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