The 5 Best Types of Exercise for Aging Muscles

No matter how healthy you are, it’s impossible to avoid some loss of muscle mass as you get older. The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to slow down the aging process. In some cases, you can even reverse the damage.

Variety is the best medicine

If you want to maintain muscle mass, your exercise routine needs variety. That means not only trying different types of exercise but also varying the intensity of your workouts. Lifting weights alone won’t get you very far. For the best results, combine strength training, like weightlifting, with aerobic exercise that gets your heart rate up. According to a recent study, aerobic exercise can improve your heart health by relaxing and strengthening muscles in the heart. It works best when you combine short, intense bursts of activity with frequent, equally short recovery periods. This is called High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short. HIIT boosts your metabolism, which means that you’ll get more out of your strength training. A 2017 study showed that older participants who practiced interval training were even able to reverse age-related damage to muscles. Compared to other participants doing other types of exercise, their improvement was also far more considerable. So what types of exercise for aging muscles should you be going for if you want to get the best results? We’ve rounded up some of the most effective options.

Best exercise for aging muscles

1) Cycle on a stationary bike

Riding a stationary bike is an ideal way to get an aerobic workout. The best thing about it is that it doesn’t put unnecessary strain on your joints, as running or even walking might. It’s also fun to cycle in the great outdoors, but when you cycle on a stationary bike, you can easily incorporate HIIT into your workout. Try and start with about 20 minutes a day. Begin cycling at a steady, relatively gentle pace for about a minute and a half to get your heart rate up. Then go as hard as you can for 30 seconds. Slow it down for another 90 seconds or so, then keep repeating the process until your 20 minutes are up.

2) Try Tai Chi, yoga or simple squatting

Body weight exercises like tai chi, yoga, or dancing combine light resistance training with a cardio-boosting workout. Many types of body weight exercise are easily accessible, no matter your age or fitness level. You usually don’t need any special equipment, so they’re often inexpensive, and they’re also a good choice if you need to work on your balance. Balance diminishes as we age, which is why older people have an increased risk of falls. Tai chi and yoga classes can be a fun way to meet new people and learn new skills as we get older. However, if you prefer an at-home routine, there are plenty of body weight exercises you can turn to. One of our favorites is squatting because you can hold onto a wall or rail if you need help with your stability. Increase the number of reps slowly as you go. You can even add weights if you want a more intense workout.

3) Work your core with pilates

If you do need to hold a rail to do those squats, then you could benefit from stability training. Pilates is an excellent form of exercise for those who wish to strengthen their back and core. It also helps to improve your posture and coordination. While other forms of exercise put more focus on your limbs, Pilates emphasizes your torso. Every part of your core gets a thorough workout, but overall Pilates is both low-impact and low-intensity. As we age, it’s important not to put too much focus on one muscle-group over another. Your arms may appear well-toned by bicep curls, but if your core is weak, then your overall strength will suffer.

4) Lift some weights, but keep it light

An obvious choice for improving muscle mass, weightlifting was bound to make it onto our list. The effectiveness of weightlifting depends significantly on your technique, especially as an older person. Simply lifting, the heaviest weights available isn’t the best approach. It’s better for aging bodies to do more reps with lighter weights. The reason for this is a loss of bone density as we age. Bone density can’t be recovered by gym time; it’s just something you have to work around. It’s important, therefore, not to put too much strain on your joints. Choose weights that are significantly lighter than the heaviest you can handle, then try to do as many reps as you can in 1 or 2 minutes.

5) Swim your way to stronger muscles

Swimming is one of the most effective forms of exercise for people of any age. It’s especially effective for those who have joint pain, which is most of us as we get older. Swimming is an easy way to combine HIIT with the natural resistance training that comes when you move through the water. Swim a length of the pool with as much energy as possible, then take it easy for 3 more lengths. For an even greater benefit, use a high-intensity stroke like front crawl, which works your upper body hard.

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For Best Results: Go slow, keep pushing and have fun!

The best exercise for aging muscles are those which challenge our bodies without pushing them too hard. Instead of exhausting yourself with high-intensity workouts, you’ll feel better and get stronger if you go at a moderate pace frequently. Keep the principles of HIIT in mind for every type of activity: repeatedly getting your heart rate up then slowing it down again is better for your overall health and endurance. Whichever exercise you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy. The more fun you’re having, the more you’ll keep at it, and the happier your body will be. We hope you enjoyed this article.

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  1. Howden, E , Sarma, S , Lawley, J , Opondo, M, et al. (2018). Reversing the Cardiac Effects of Sedentary Aging in Middle Age—A Randomized Controlled Trial. Circulation. 137 (15), p1549–1560.
  2. Robinson, M, Dasari, S, Konopka, A, Carter, E, Lanza, I. (2017). Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans. Cell Metablosim. 25 (3), p581-592.
  3. Rebelo-Marques A, De Sousa Lages A, Andrade R, et al. Aging Hallmarks: The Benefits of Physical Exercise. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2018;9:258. Published 2018 May 25. doi:10.3389/fendo.2018.00258
  4. Abou-Dest, A, Albinet, C, Boucard, G, Audiffren, M. (2012). Swimming as a Positive Moderator of Cognitive Aging: A Cross-Sectional Study with a Multitask Approach. Journal of Aging Research. 1 (1), p1-12.

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