The Definitive Guide to Adapt Your Fitness Routine for Every Phase of Life

When it comes to physical fitness, “aging gracefully” doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have the moves of a ballerina (or moves like Jagger) in your later years.

As we’re all aware, the body has increasing limitations the older it gets.

Still, the hurdles that come with exercising as you age don’t have to keep you from maintaining a healthy, satisfying workout routine.

If you’re facing age-related impediments to fitness, don’t throw in the (sweat) towel just yet!

Below, trainers offer their best tips on adjusting workouts for common issues that may arise later in life, from arthritis to osteoporosis to menopause.

Here’s how you can adapt for continued physical activity, no matter your age.

Why it’s important to stay active

The benefits of exercise aren’t just for the young. In fact, you may experience even more pronounced perks from staying active as an older adult.

ResearchTrusted Source suggests that exercise protects against numerous chronic conditions, many of which are more common in older people. These include:

cardiovascular disease

stroke

diabetes

some forms of cancer

Activities that focus on balance can reduce the risk of fallsTrusted Source, and weight-bearing exercise can strengthen bones, reducing the impact of osteoporosisTrusted Source.

Brain health also gets a boost from time spent at the gym.

According to a narrative review from 2020Trusted Source, higher levels of physical activity not only may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease but also could improve outcomes for people who already have a diagnosis of the condition.

Meanwhile, the emotional benefits of solo and group exercise are well documented.

Studies have found that staying active can reduce the risk of depressionTrusted Source in older people and that working out with othersTrusted Source can increase feelings of social connectedness and mutual support.

How fitness needs change as we age

The Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTrusted Source recommend that all adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, regardless of age.

As you get more birthdays under your belt, you may find that your focus shifts from body sculpting or high intensity cardio to lower-impact exercise that promotes overall well-being and disease prevention.

Many experts recommend incorporating a blend of exercises, including:

strength

endurance

balance

flexibility

However, if this seems daunting, just remember that any amount of exercise is better than none at all.

“Even if you only spend 15 to 30 minutes per day walking or lifting light weights, it beats sitting,” says certified personal trainer Jessica Jones of FitRated.

Modifications for age-related concerns

Got arthritis? Fatigue? Limited mobility? Here’s how to make the most of your workouts no matter what life throws at you.

Menopause

Going through “the change” can present some unique challenges to your exercise regimen.

During this phase of life, estrogen levels decline, leading to uncomfortable symptoms such as:

hot flashes

mood swings

vaginal dryness

weight gain

“The great news is that exercise in and of itself boosts estrogen levels,” says Jones.

Her go-to for minimizing menopause symptoms: a bit of heart-pumping cardio.

“Raising the heart rate with moderate cardio for just 30 minutes every day can make a significant improvement,” says Jones. “You can start off moderately with 10 to 15 minutes of brisk walking and work your way up to more intensive aerobic activity as your body adapts.”

For even better results, add strength training to the mix.

“Muscle burns three times the calories as fat, and maintaining a toned musculature goes a long way toward preventing slips, falls, and even osteoporosis,” Jones says.

She suggests starting with low weights and high repetitions and then progressing when you’re ready.

Hormonal fluctuations

Along with mood swings and weight gain, you may find that the hormone fluctuations of menopause have cranked up your internal thermostat. Decreases in lean muscle mass may be one reasonTrusted Source for this.

Feeling overly warm can make exercise extra uncomfortable.

If you’re working out at home, Jones recommends an easy fix: Simply adjust the temperature of the room.

While at the gym, keep a cool, wet towel within reach, and be sure to stay hydrated!

When a hot flash hits mid-workout, don’t feel you have to power through the heat.

You’re free to decrease the intensity of your activity to give yourself a breather, literally.

“Pause and do deep, diaphragmatic breathing for a couple of minutes,” she advises.

Don’t forget that the right clothing can make a difference too.

As attractive as your favorite yoga pants may be, you may prefer to wear lighter, looser clothing to prevent the vaginal dryness and discomfort that often accompany wearing tight-fitting clothes.

If switching your workout gear doesn’t do the trick, Jones suggests getting additional help.

“Talk to your doctor about the possibility of a low-dose vaginal estrogen treatment to reduce the chafing, soreness, and irritation often caused when combining vaginal dryness with workout pants,” she says.

Arthritis

No one feels like exercising when they’re in pain, but working out with arthritis isn’t necessarily a contradiction in terms.

“When it comes to exercising with osteoarthritis, it’s not as complicated as one might think,” says physical therapist and arthritis specialist Dr. Alyssa Kuhn. “The goal is to do what your joints are prepared for.”

So what does that mean, exactly?

“One rule of thumb is trying movements that don’t cause pain higher than about a 5 out of 10,” says Kuhn. “Many new movements may feel a little uncomfortable at first, but if that discomfort stays the same or even goes away, you’re likely in the clear!”

A bit of extra support from household objects can also ease you into exercising with arthritis.

Kuhn suggests squatting while hanging on to the kitchen sink or doing a small pushup with your hands on the counter.

Aquatic exercises may also offer a manageable, low impact workout option. They help to strengthen with the resistance of water without loading the joints.

Remember to pay attention to how your body responds to a new workout routine.

“Sometimes, although you don’t experience pain during the exercises, you may experience pain afterwards,” says Kuhn. “Swelling and joint pain are common symptoms of doing too much. If you experience this after a specific exercise routine, decrease the amount of repetitions next time.”

Osteoporosis

About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, a condition that causes lower bone density and increases the risk of fractures.

A diagnosis of osteoporosis may make you feel uncertain about what’s safe at the gym and what’s not.

You may have heard it before, but here it is again: For osteoporosis treatment, weight-bearing exercise is the name of the game.

“The research has shown over and over again that in order to build stronger bones, you have to put weight [on] them,” says Kuhn. “It’s also been shown that higher-impact exercise can actually rebuild bone strength, especially in the hips.”

Start small with simple body-weight-bearing exercises like:

modified pushups

squats

yoga

stair climbing

If you’re feeling uncertain about where to begin, consider working with a trainer or physical therapist who can advise you on safety and technique.

Increased fatigue

In a perfect world, we’d all feel more energized with every passing year. In reality, though, energy levels tend to decline as we age, sometimes sapping our motivation to stay active.

Even when you faithfully hit the gym, you may find yourself tiring more easily during workouts.

“With the aging process comes cellular changes that cause a loss in muscle mass that can lead to fatigue during workouts,” explains Jones.

Counterintuitive as it might seem, the best way to overcome fatigue is to continue to exercise. As you stick with strength and endurance activities, your energy levels will likely begin to improve.

Start gradually.

Aim to get at least 2 days per week of strength training using body weight, hand weights, kettlebells, or resistance bands.

Consider low impact bodyweight classes like yoga or tai chi to improve muscle mass and boost energy.

Stretch at the end of your workouts.

“Try short walks or swimming, going a little further each time,” says Jones.

And don’t forget to stretch.

“This improves range of motion and the efficiency of every movement you make during exercise,” she says.

Limited mobility

If an injury or chronic condition has left you with limited mobility, exercise might feel like a discouraging prospect.

Fortunately, a variety of tools can keep you persevering on the path to physical fitness.

“I recommend using support like a kitchen counter or a sturdy chair to get started,” says Kuhn. “You can add a pillow or a cushion to the chair to increase the height of it, or you can also use a bed or a higher surface when starting.”

Similarly, when practicing yoga, set yourself up for success with props like blocks or wedges that raise the “floor” to a higher level.

Still, you may benefit most from consulting a physical therapist or personal trainer. They can advise you on which modifications will work best for you.

Finally, check in on your self-talk.

Rather than focus on the things you can’t do, give yourself credit for overcoming obstacles and making your fitness a priority.

Safety precautions

If you have questions about whether it’s safe for you to take up a certain type of activity, don’t hesitate to ask a healthcare professional.

Once you’ve gotten the all-clear, stick to the following pointers for safety:

Make sure you know how to properly use gym equipment. Many gyms offer a weight room orientation so you can learn the ropes.

If you have hearing and/or vision issues, avoid working out in a busy gym environment without a companion.

Include a proper warmup and cooldown.

Drink plenty of water before, during, and after workouts.

When working out alone or outdoors, keep your cellphone handy in case of emergency.

Pro tips

Want to go the extra mile to make your workouts even more effective? Try these trainer tips:

  • Go for variety.
  • Don’t skip flexibility and balance exercises.
  • Keep a positive, can-do mindset.
  • Give it your best — but don’t overdo it.

“It’s so crucial to keep your body guessing and using different muscles,” says Kuhn. “Simply adding in sideways stepping and backwards walking are two ways you can easily add in variety!”

Remember to add stretching and balance too.

“Both of these components improve your ability to stay active without becoming injured,” Jones says.

On top of that, listen to your body.

“There’s a fine line between discomfort and pain, and your body will let you know the difference,” says Jones. “If you need to take a break or shift gears in intensity, do it.”

Stay open-minded about what you’re able to do. You may surprise yourself!

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