The bad news is that cardiovascular, neurological, hormonal and musculoskeletal changes can make toning and exercising more challenging after age 55. The good news is that the fundamentals of toning and exercise do not change with age. In fact, the right approach to exercise can slow, halt or even reverse some of the negative impacts of age on the body systems.
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Cardiovascular function is often gauged by the maximum amount of oxygen that the body can consume while vigorously exercising. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, this declines by 5 to 15 percent per decade after age 25 to 30. The decline is due to the heart being incapable of beating as fast, combined with a reduced volume of blood being pumped through the heart with each beat. Still, older adults are as capable of building low to moderate intensity aerobic endurance as younger people. Activities, such as brisk walking, should form the foundation of a toning and exercising program. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends a total of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week.
With age, the number of cells in the brain and spinal cord tend to decline, as do the speed and efficiency at which the nerves communicate with each other. (reference 3)This causes slower reflexes, diminished coordination and strength. Part of an effective strategy to prevent this decline is to get regular aerobic exercise. This promotes maintenance of a healthy blood flow to the brain. Adding exercises that incorporate elements of balance and coordination can also help to keep reflexes sharp.
For men over 55, levels of testosterone tend to decrease. A loss of muscle mass and strength can result. Weight training can not only preserve muscle strength and size, it can stimulate increased testosterone production according to the text "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning." Authors Thomas Baechle and Roger Earle recommend a high volume of heavy lifts to boost testosterone production.
Due to menopausal changes in estrogen levels, women over 55 are at greater risk for osteoporosis. Proper exercise strategies can help women maintain, or even increase, bone density. A review in the January, 2003 "British Medical Journal" concluded that activities like running and weight lifting can build bone density. Lower impact activities like swimming do not help strengthen bones.
One of the biggest reasons for not exercising after 55 is that is doesn't always feel good. Joints may be achy with arthritis. Muscles are stiff and less responsive. Contrary to the notion that exercise causes wear and tear arthritis, evidence suggests that exercise can delay the onset, and even alleviate the symptoms of arthritis. (reference 6)Because muscle weakness may contribute to the development of arthritis, keeping the supportive muscles strong is important. For someone just starting an exercise program, water exercises may be more comfortable at first. Transitioning to land-based exercises like Pilates may further develop strength and joint stability.