5 Adaptations your exercise plan needs once you are over 50

As your body ages, exercise is essential to keep it functioning at its best for the whole of your life,  keeping you active into old age.  The problem is that as your body ages it becomes less able to handle rigorous exercise, more prone to injury and less able to recover.  The good news is that with a few modifications you can continue to exercise whatever your age.

Age is 'just a number' so it's difficult to be precise about when to start modifying your exercise programme to take account of the aging process.  Bear in mind that, for example, most people over the age of 40 will show some degeneration in the spine.  With a few key adaptations you can reduce the risk of injury and achieve an effective workout to keep you 'fit for life for all of your life'.

Longer warm up
Age related changes are seen in all tissues. The heart and cardiovascular system is no exception. The heart cannot pump as efficiently, the maximum heart rate is slower and it recovers more slowly.  Take account of this by warming up for longer, reducing the intensity of your exercise, monitoring your heart rate and allow a longer cooling down period.

Steps to avoid cramp
No one knows the details of what causes cramp, but we do know scenarios which will affect the likelihood of cramp.  Cramp has a variety of causes for all people including being new to exercise.  Older people have a reduced tolerance to muscle fatigue and associated blood acidity which leads to cramp.  More effort is needed to achieve movement due to the decrease in amount of muscle tissue.  This leads to an increase in levels of lactic acid which can cause cramp.  Compounding this effect is the fact that the body is less able to tolerate acidity as it get older.  Cramp is also linked to dehydration.  The body holds less water as it ages making cramp more likely.  Ensure you drink plenty of water.

More specific joint mobilisation
Age related changes show within the joints with less synovial fluid being released as well as the fluid becoming less effective in lubricating the joints.  Joint mobilisation can encourage the release of the synovial fluid and this is essential prior to exercise so the joints move more easily.

Focus on deeper breathing
While our lungs remain able to hold the same amount of air on each breath throughout our lives the amount of air that we breathe in and out on a regular breath cycle decreases.  This effects the level of oxygen in our blood and therefore our ability to exercise.  It's important to take deep breaths to increase the available oxygen which enters the lungs on each inhalation. Start off with a few deep inhalations and include them in your cool down too to speed up recovery.

Less extreme movement
Changes occur in the cartilage and connective tissues of all joints reducing the range of movement and causing stiffness, especially in the mornings.  As the cartilage thins between the intervertebral discs in the spine its shock absorbing ability is reduced.   This will have an effect if you take part in high impact exercise such as running. Less elasticity within connective tissue make movements such as sitting cross legged more difficult. Movements to avoid include: those which move any joint beyond normal range, those with extreme flexion (leaning forward) and extension (leaning back) and using poor posture particularly when carrying heavy weight.

Follow theses simple adaptations and you'll be fit for life for all of your life. I strongly advise a one to one session before joining a class and ensure that the class you join is taught by a suitably qualified instructor.
Qualifications to look for:
GP Referral for exercising with specific conditions
Adapting exercise for older adults
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