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I'm 40 now, but ever since 30 I've been concerned about being fit when I get to age 60-80. The thought of shuffling everywhere instead of dancing or being able to lift a box of books is terrifying.

I was in sedentary job, not exercising, and realised I wasn't going to get fit when I was 60; I'd have to get fit now, in order to stay fit as I age. I'm not sure what made me think of this, but is seems common sense.

I've managed to get into an exercise habit that just about moves me from the "not fit" to the "fit" category, but I'm hardly going to wow anyone with my fitness levels.

Are my concerns valid, and what types of exercise (at 40) will prepare me for an active lifestyle at 70?

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The same principles apply whether you're a 20 year-old, 40 year-old, or a 60 year-old. Exercise is always good. The only difference between the age groups is the amount of intensity you should allow yourself.

In general

I'm 40 now, but ever since 30 I've been concerned about being fit when I get to age 60-80. The thought of shuffling everywhere instead of dancing or being able to lift a box of books is terrifying.

Terrifying, and rightfully so. But you've obviously understood that you have some work to do in order to overcome this, and that's a pretty damn crucial first step.

I was in sedentary job, not exercising, and realised I wasn't going to get fit when I was 60; I'd have to get fit now, in order to stay fit as I age. I'm not sure what made me think of this, but is seems common sense.

It's good that you realize this intuitively. Getting fit becomes gradually more difficult with age. So does staying fit, but that difficulty curve isn't as steep. Maintaining is always easiler than developing. This goes for all phases of exercise.

I've managed to get into an exercise habit that just about moves me from the "not fit" to the "fit" category, but I'm hardly going to wow anyone with my fitness levels.

Doing something is always infinitely better than doing nothing.

On this site, I consistently try to make one tremendously important point; walking is exercise! There's so much to be said for an exercise where you're simply moving, but keeping your back straight, chin up, and your heartrate slightly elevated. If you're able to do this for even 15 minutes per day, you're well on your way.

I like to recommend 30 minutes, with the extended caveat that it shouldn't be a part of your work day. For instance, walking back and forth between office cubicles is NOT exercise. But taking a walk outside, in a variety of uphills, downhills and flats, is amazing for you. And it also help with other aspects of your fitness, for instance mentally, but allowing you to clear your mind, get some fresh air, and it can almost be meditative if you'd like it to.

Are my concerns valid, and what types of exercise (at 40) will prepare me for an active lifestyle at 70?

Absolutely valid. And I have another point that I always dish out to anyone and everyone; for the love of all that is good, go swimming! I cannot emphasize this enough, so let me just say it again, GO SWIMMING!

Swimming is this miracle of an exercise where you do this repetetive, aerobic movement (cardio), but with the added resistance of water (strength training). And on top of this, there are so many styles and ways of swimming that allow you to work your entire body.

I consider myself a fairly decent swimmer, and I'm still learning new strokes and styles, and each time I try a new one, my body reaps the rewards, because of what we call "progressive overloading" where your body develops new neural patterns to adapt to new challenges. Not to mention that you're burning fat, and building muscle at the same time.

Gym

Going to the gym is never a bad idea either. Talk to someone who works there, and they will gladly help you set up a workout program designed for general fitness.

Summary

In short, a combination of walking, swimming, and a couple days per week at the gym, is HUGE. And even if you decide to do only one of these, you'll be doing yourself big favors. And hey, if you do decide to just do one of these, I'd highly suggest you pick swimming.

  • well swimming a couple of days a week and going to the gym another two days seems pretty intense as a workout, at least for people who work! But for the rest I agree on that :) – Ant Nov 16 '15 at 20:44
  • Might be, but it's something to work towards. – Alec Nov 16 '15 at 21:33
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A few years ago, I completed a half marathon, and met a 70-year-old runner at the finish line. I offhandedly said, "I'd sure like to be running half marathons when I'm 70."

He looked me in the eye, serious as can be, and replied, "Well, then, don't stop running!" (with three jabs of his finger timed with each of the last three words).

His advice in a nutshell? Once you're in shape, don't quit. Stay committed.

Now that I'm in my 50s, I've been having a few tendon problems, so it's hard to say if I'll be putting any 13.1 stickers on my 2035 Buick. However, I will say this: stay active, and don't neglect stretching. (My daughter thinks I might have fewer tendon problems if I stretched more, and I don't stretch as often as my specialist recommends.)

As a footnote, Alec recommends walking and swimming; other lower-impact sports include cycling and skating.

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You are not going to be doing plyometrics when you're 70. And with the exception of muscle nuclei, most of the adaptations your body makes to exercise decline so fast that you will not really be far ahead if you exercise for 10 years and then quit.

The benefits of exercise that will last your entire life are

  • being prompted to learn about your body -- when you research deadlift form, you learn how to hip hinge with a neutral spine, and you'll always use that knowledge.
  • experience in dealing with injury -- when something hurts, you don't just stop using it, you research your form and perform corrective exercises.
  • experience -- it's easier to fall back into a habit than to start one. It's easier to believe you can run a mile if you remember running five before.
  • character -- exercising your discipline muscle makes you more likely to be the kind of person who is actively improving themselves at age 70 instead of sliding downhill, and the kind of person who eats a healthy diet.

So the specific kinds of exercises I recommend are about learnable skills rather than endurance. Weight lifting for movement patterns. Ice skating, trail hiking, or yoga for balance (very important for 70-year-olds, very tough to teach your body to use hip muscles when you've been relying on your ankles for years). Dance for coordination. Cross-training in general. You won't ever get huge or marathon-ready if you flit from skater squats to skiing to dumbbell rows, but you will find that every exercise program has something to teach you. You've got thirty years, there's time to spend three months on everything.

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Yes, but only to a degree. Chances are about 90-95% that you will not be lifting weights or running marathons when you are 80, sorry. Once you are pretty old like that you probably will be able to walk, swim, bike, golf and stretch for exercise; but not much more. You can also keep a healthy diet so that could benefit you, too. When you are 60-70 you could probably lift lighter weights and maybe run slower so that would be good for you; yes, be worried about fitness, until you pass age 70. Otherwise when you are past age 70 the ability to recover from an injury or even to climb up steps safely are both way more beneficial to you than the ability to bench press 225.

  • Actually, I believe those two I listed at the end are always more important than the ability to bench 225 – Rob Sterach Dec 5 '15 at 21:56
  • Yes, I was purely interested in being active when I'm old, instead of hobbling around unable to lift a heavy saucepan. – Magnus Smith Dec 7 '15 at 10:28
  • @Magnus Smith I am wondering if this is sarcasm; but as you age your body breaks down, it's part of life. Even though I appreciate you being concerned about this, 20-40 years is still a far way off, and weakness and joint problems probably should not be a major issue yet. – Rob Sterach Dec 8 '15 at 1:03
  • Not sarcasm! Yes it is a part of life that you get weaker, but there is a massive difference between a fit 70yr old and a 70yr old that has never been fit. And you can't start addressing the issue at 65... – Magnus Smith Dec 9 '15 at 9:03

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