Fifty may be the new 40, but convincing your abdominal muscles of that may take some work. Although it’s possible to flatten your abs after 50, you do lose muscle mass at the rate of about 3 percent to 8 percent each decade after the age of 30, and at a rate even faster than that once you're passed 60. With that comes an increasing tendency to accumulate fat, especially around the middle.
The good news is that muscle — at any age — does eventually respond to exercise. Additionally, the benefits of flattening the abdominal muscles for people who are 50-plus are far more than cosmetic. Building abdominal muscle and reducing fat around the middle also protects you from developing insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.
Teaching Old Abs New Tricks
“The exercises for flat abs are the same whether you’re 25 or 75,” says Los Angeles-based personal trainer David Knox, author of “Body School: A New Guide to Improved Movement in Daily Life.” Of course, you might have to work around some age-related limitations, such as limited flexibility and back or joint problems, but the fundamentals are still:
- Sit-ups for working the lower abdomen.
- Crunches for working the upper abdomen.
- Planks for a full core workout
- Scissors for the lower and mid-abdomen.
- Torso twists for stretching and flexibility.
Balance Is the Key
However, getting to focused on your abs to the exclusion of other muscle groups is a recipe for injury and pain, warns Knox. “If you’re over 50, get the rest of your body in shape or you’re going to you’re going to have a serious imbalance,” says Knox. “I see people who are iron solid in their core but soft as bread dough elsewhere.”
A balanced exercise program includes aerobic exercises in addition to strength training. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-level activity five days a week, or 20 minutes of high-intensity activity three days a week. High-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT, is an effective way to achieve fitness goals. It involves bursts of intensity activities followed by varying lengths of recovery intervals and can be adapted to all levels of fitness. Incorporating HIIT interval training into a general conditioning program enhances progress toward cardiorespiratory fitness, according to ACE. However, whatever your age, it's important to modify HIIT training to a safe and appropriate level of challenge for your conditioning.
Tips to Remember
Knox offers these tips for getting flat abs if you’re 50 or over:
- When it comes to rep speed, there's a long-standing debate about whether faster or slower is better. Knox believes abdominal definition is better achieved with fast repetitions.
- Reduce excess weight through diet as well as
exercise. If you’re carrying a spare tire, exercise alone won’t get you a flat
- Squeeze the belly when doing stretching exercises
or yoga poses such as plank.
- Be aware that yoga by itself won’t flatten your stomach
Take It Easy
If you’ve embarked on a fitness regimen when you were younger, keep in mind you’ll most likely have to settle for slower, more steady progress and “really focus on your form because you’ve got a higher risk of injury,” says Knox. “You’ve got to take into account your level of fitness before you begin.”
Knox preaches what he calls the “80 Percent Rule.” The best way to avoid injury and create a smooth trajectory of progress is to stay at 80 percent of whatever you think you can do. "People tend to overestimate their condition even when they think they're being conservative," Knox says. "So whatever your most careful estimate is of your ability, give it a 20 percent discount."
Don't Forget Diet
“Maybe I don’t have to say it, but I’ll say it anyway: you are what you eat!” says Knox. He takes a common sense approach to dieting. “Your machine runs on the fuel you put into it. Whole grains, fruits and real vegetables. Lean proteins from animal sources and vegetable proteins from soy, chickpeas and lentils. Use unsaturated oils when you cook. As for losing weight, there are a lot of diets out there but my prescription is eating right and burn more calories than you take in.”
When choosing a diet, it's important to choose a diet that is right for your personal preferences and lifestyles. However, there is a considerable body evidence that lowering carbohydrates does help reduce belly fat. That doesn't mean you have to on the Atkins Diet, either. A study published in the January 2015 Journal of Nutrition reported that a modest decrease in carbs was effective in reducing belly fat and lowering insulin resistance.
- David Knox: Body School: A New Guide to Improved Movement in Daily Life
- Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: Muscle Tissue and Aging
- American College of Sports Medicine: High-Intensity Interval Training
- Journal of Nutrition: A Lower-Carbohydrate, Higher-Fat Diet Reduces Abdominal and Intermuscular Fat and Increases Insulin Sensitivity in Adults at Risk of Type 2 Diabetes