When it comes to exercise for aging, avoiding injury, moving without pain and recovering properly are the priorities. To stay strong and pain-free, avoid these five common workout mistakes that may hinder healthy aging.
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1. Progressing Too Quickly
From running to weight-lifting, doing too much too quickly is a recipe for injury, according to Janet Hamilton, CSCS, registered clinical exercise physiologist and owner of Running Strong in Atlanta.
Each year after the age of 40, most Americans lose about 1 percent of their bone mass from too little physical activity, improper nutrition and general age-related changes, according to Harvard Health Publishing. And as you age and your bones grow more sensitive, your risk of fractures and breaks goes up.
Progressing from a daily two-mile run to five miles each day in just a week makes you more prone to overuse injury, according to the Mayo Clinic. These fractures or sprains happen when you push yourself too hard without giving your body the time it needs to adapt.
Anyone is susceptible to overuse injury, but your risk increases with age, given the decrease in bone density. That's why you want to advance your workout routine gradually.
When you progress your workouts, pay close attention to any muscle soreness and your level of fatigue afterward. Don't ramp things up when you're feeling sore or depleted, Hamilton says.
Hamilton recommends runners up their mileage by no more than 10 percent each week. For strength training, only increase weight when you can comfortably complete your entire set with good form.
"It’s important to listen to your body on this and you may not be as strong as your neighbor," Hamilton says. "Work from where you are [and gradually] progress to where you want to be. If you have soreness or fatigue after a progression, either step back slightly or at least hold at that level for a bit until you’ve conquered it."
2. Forgetting to Warm Up and Cool Down
Devoting three to five minutes to your warm-up and cooldown routines before and after each workout is more important than you might think.
Warming up before a workout increases your muscles' oxygen and temperature, boosting their flexibility, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). And training with warm, flexible muscles reduces injury risk, Hamilton says.
Also, rather than spiking your heart rate immediately, your warm-up routine raises it gradually, putting less stress on the muscle, per the AHA. The same is true for your cooldown but in reverse — you're bringing your heart rate back down to resting levels.
While you exercise, your body sends blood to your working muscles. But when you stop exercising abruptly, blood can gather in your arms and legs, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Instead, when you go through a cooldown, your heart rate gradually lowers and your body has enough time to send blood back to your brain and heart, which is crucial for these organs to keep functioning properly.
Plus, when you stretch consistently, you increase your muscles' range of motion, helping you stay pain-free in the long run, per the ACE. After your workout, your muscles are warm and flexible, making it the perfect time to stretch.
Deliberately devote the first and last five to 10 minutes of any workout to a lower intensity warm-up or cooldown, Hamilton says.
Before your workout, run through a few dynamic exercises (ones with movement), like marching in place, arm circles and inchworms. When you're short on time after you're done training, all you need is a few minutes to cool down your body. Focus on static stretches (ones you hold in place) for the muscles you just worked.
3. Hitting Cardio Too Often or Too Intensely
Although there's no one best or worst exercise for aging, you don't want to overdo cardio, according to Hamilton. This is especially true where high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is concerned. While HIIT is a time-efficient training style, too many sessions a week is more harmful than helpful.
Your body's metabolism takes the nutrients from the food you eat and converts them into fuel — also known as adenosine triphosphate or ATP — for your muscles, according to the ACE. Your body uses a lot of ATP to perform the demanding exercises in a HIIT workout, depleting your reserves.
When you give your body enough time to recover, it can re-fuel properly and repair any muscle damage. But when you launch into back-to-back high-intensity workouts, your body doesn't have enough time to recover, leaving your metabolism stressed and muscles more prone to injury.
Many of the exercises involved in HIIT training, like burpees or jump squats, are also high-impact, meaning they put a lot of load on the joints. Over time, this can cause wear and tear to your cartilage, which your body cannot repair, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Reserve high-intensity workouts for once or twice a week to steer clear of injury, recommends the ACE. Instead, use HIIT as a supplement to your weekly training routine. And on during your other cardio days, stick with lower-impact exercises like swimming, walking or biking.
4. Skipping Strength Training
After the age of 30, people lose between three and five percent of their body's muscle mass per decade, according to Harvard Health Publishing. This is a normal part of aging also known as sarcopenia. However, decreased muscle mass also increases your risk of falls and injuries.
Strength training is one of the best workouts for older adults, as it can help you preserve and build as much strength as possible, Hamilton says. It can protect your bones and joints as you age, lowering your risk of injury.
Your metabolism also begins to slow as you get older. But a consistent strength-training routine can keep your metabolism strong, she says. Increasing or maintaining your muscle mass helps your body burn calories more efficiently.
Strength train at least two days a week, hitting all your major muscle groups, including your core chest, back, arms, shoulders and legs, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Compound exercises, like deadlifts or chest presses are a great option, as they work multiple muscle groups at once.
For those who haven't strength trained before, walking into the gym with an exercise plan or hiring a personal trainer can help you get started safely.
5. Neglecting Mobility Training
Mobility refers to the range of motion you can move your joints through comfortably, according to the ACE. When you do mobility exercises regularly, you can continue to move with ease. But if you neglect this part of your workout routine, some problems may come up, according to Dean Somerset, CSCS, a certified exercise physiologist based in Canada.
Without regular mobility training, your range of motion shrinks, making it harder to do exercises like squats or shoulder presses with good form. And when you don't do an exercise properly, your risk of injury increases.
"It takes very little work to maintain joint ranges of motion, but a lot of work to regain it once it's been lost," he says. "This can come down to doing daily homework to just move the main joints of your hips, shoulders and spine through easy ranges to more dedicated training sessions where you focus on improving range of motion in specific joints and movements."
Including mobility drills in your warm-up routine is the easiest way to ensure you're devoting some time this training method, Somerset says. Or, devote one 15-minute workout a week to just mobility training.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Strength Training Builds More Than Muscles"
- Mayo Clinic: "Overuse Injury: How to Prevent Training Injury"
- AHA: "Warm Up, Cool Down"
- ACE: "Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Skip Your Cool-down After Exercise"
- ACE: "6 Types of Metabolic Damage Caused by High-intensity Workouts"
- Cleveland Clinic: "The Best Exercises To Keep Your Joints Healthy"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Preserve Your Muscle Mass"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Truth About Metabolism"