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staying active while aging

Mindset and Aging: Staying Active and Positive as You Grow Older

While it’s okay to take a few more skip days and cheat days than you might have done when you were younger, don’t forget why staying active is so important.

Exercising is a young person’s game, right? After a certain age, your “beach body” starts to seem less important. As you get older, staying active doesn’t necessarily become “more important” but it starts to take on a different role in your overall wellness. By the way, we’re not just talking about “old people” here – biologically, you’re “over the hill” by as young as thirty.

Remember, staying active helps to maintain your physical and emotional health and that continues to be true as you age. So, maintaining a fitness mindset as you get older can help you get the most out of all that you still have ahead of you.

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Why You Should Care About How You Can Care

We’re going to get to tips on staying motivated for staying active when you’d rather do anything but. However, before we get into that, let’s take a moment to discuss a few of the major reasons why you should bother staying motivated in the first place.

Respiratory Health

For a young athlete, VO2 Max can be something to optimize because it helps your performance in the short game. For the aging athlete, VO2 Max can be something that might keep you up at night.

In case you forgot, VO2 Max is the amount of oxygen your body can get from a single breath. As you age, VO2 Max starts to gradually decline because of a number of factors including your lungs gradually losing elasticity. This means that, while you may or might not notice it getting harder to breathe, your body might be getting less oxygen from each of those breaths.

If you have been active all of your life, you don’t need to worry too much about this metric. A high VO2 Max in your mid twenties means that it takes a lot longer into old age for that decline to start being worrisome. If you are worried about your VO2 Max, you can’t really get lung health back – but you can compensate for that to some extent by optimizing your heart health.

Heart Health

Your lungs take in oxygen but your blood carries it where it needs to go, powered by your heart. The bad news is that your estimated maximum heart rate (220 – your_age) also decreases as you get older. The good news is that heart health is very receptive to exercise (unlike respiratory health). For your heart, staying active can be an act of defiance against the march of time.

Just staying active at all can be good for your heart, so start off thinking about your ability. If walking around the block or working in the garden is what you can do right now, that’s not nothing (according to the AHA). If you’re still a little more able than that, really targeting your heart in exercise means exercises that get you to around 50%-80% of your maximum heart rate.

If you’ve decided on staying active but aren’t worried about the details, just use that equation above to figure out what your max heart rate probably is and then shoot for half of that or above for a couple of minutes per day a couple of days each week. If you are interested in the details, it is possible to determine your exact maximum heart rate.

For young people, we have a recommendation on finding maximum heart rate that basically pushes your heart to its limit – which is safe for most young people. For those getting on in age, it’s probably best to talk to your doctor. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea anyway. They can help you target what you need to target and ease your mind about everything else.

Your heart isn’t acting alone in your body’s objective to pump blood, and increasing heart health isn’t the only thing that cardio exercises do for you. Your heart can do more good with less work if the vessels that blood moves through are kept clear. Staying Active is one way to keep those vessels clear.

Bone and Joint Health

Hopefully any ladies reading this know that bone health is a bigger concern for aging women than for aging men. However, that doesn’t mean that men are impervious to broken bones and joint health issues as they get older.

The battle for bone health has a lot to do with your diet – you’ve got to be getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D. However, just like eating protein isn’t enough to get muscles, eating dairy isn’t enough to beef up your bones. 

So which exercises are good for your bones? Actually, the same exercises that are good for your muscles – think weight lifting or resistance training. Your muscles are attached to your bones, so when your muscles are getting a workout, your bones are too. Just don’t put too much strain on those bones. Listen to your body and respect its limits.

Speaking of listening to your body, it can be hard to work out when your joints are hurting. But, the right activity can help those joints too. Think about activities that put movement before exertion, like yoga or even martial arts. Activities that involve movement but that provide resistance to your joints like biking or swimming can be a good idea too.

Mental and Emotional Health

It’s true for everyone that working out can help improve and balance emotional health. Staying active can even help combat anxiety and depression.

Working out can also help us get better sleep, which can be its own world of problems for older folks, and help to slow down the onset of dementia.

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How to Stay Motivated

Now that we have a better idea on why staying motivated to stay active is so important for aging populations, let’s look at some tools that you can use to stay on your game.

Take it Easy On Yourself – but Not Too Easy

It’s natural to lose interest in staying active as you get older – particularly since it doesn’t seem to have the rewards that it might have had when you were younger. As you age, your metabolism slows down and the balance of hormones starts to turn against you – that means that you tend to get tired more easily, gain weight more easily, and have a harder time building muscle.

While it’s okay to take a few more skip days and cheat days than you might have done when you were younger, don’t forget why staying active is so important. When you don’t feel like working out, try doing it anyway if only as a way to spite the clock. As Clint Eastwood said, “I get up every morning and go out. And I don’t let the old man in.”

Make it Social

Having a workout partner is a good idea for anyone at any age. Workout partners can help keep us accountable to a schedule, offer some friendly competition, and even help us to stay safe depending on the kinds of workouts that we do. As many older people may also find that they have fewer social interactions than they should, it can also help your emotional health.

Your workout partner could be someone who you’re already close to – maybe someone who has the same goals and concerns that you do. It could also be someone that you meet doing your favorite workout, someone from your gym, or a family member.

Rethink Rewards

The physical benefits of staying active as you age can be harder to see in the mirror. Fortunately, activities don’t have to just be workouts any more. 

If you have a hard time staying motivated on your fitness journey, consider a physically active craft or hobby that has a material pay-out. We’ve already mentioned gardening as a solid choice and it fits this category too: gardening helps you stay fit but it can also reward you with fresh vegetables or beautiful flowers.

Find Something for Every Season

Depending on where you live, some seasons may make some outdoor activities difficult. If there are only a handful of activities that you really enjoy, you might lose interest in staying active if seasonal changes make those activities impossible.

There’s a lot to be said for trying out new sports, including winter sports. However, a lot of popular sports have indoor variations so that you can keep up on them when it’s too cold to be outside. On the other hand, if you’re already a winter sports fan, there are variations on a lot of winter sports that can be done outdoors year-round.

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Staying Up and Staying Active

If you’ve been active from a young age, you shouldn’t have much to fear in old age. It’s natural to start winding down but if you let yourself go you might go faster than you expected. On the other hand, if you haven’t been active from a young age, it’s also natural to start thinking about your health as it becomes more of a thing that you need to consciously maintain.

Whether you’re working on staying active or find new ways to get more active, any start is a good start. Just be sure to talk to your doctor if you don’t know if an exercise is safe for you at your current fitness level and age.

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