Exercise can’t erase the years, but it can certainly help ward off the effects of aging. In fact, being physically fit is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health.
“Fitness helps reduce the risk of chronic disease and lowers blood pressure and may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in some people,” says Scott Cheatham, PhD, DPT, professor of kinesiology at California State University. Dominguez Hills.
While fitness doesn’t change the number of candles on your birthday cake, it could make you look years younger. “If you’re in good shape, you can strive for the health of someone 10 to 15 years younger,” says Michele Olson, PhD, senior clinical professor of sports science at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL.
But what exactly does “adapt” mean? Turns out it’s a broad term with multiple meanings – and it doesn’t have to sound like an Olympian.
In general, “it means being able to have the muscle strength, endurance, power, joint mobility, and overall flexibility to perform physical tasks or activities without undue fatigue or extreme exertion,” Cheatham explains.
So how do you get there? And what benchmarks can you use to determine if you’re fit? The experts answer these questions below.
What it takes to be fit
It’s more doable than you think.
The latest US government physical activity guidelines for Americans explain it all.
“These guidelines provide a general exercise pattern for most individuals, and everyone should strive to meet or exceed their recommendations,” Cheatham says.
According to the guidelines, adults should do:
- At least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (such as brisk walking or raking your yard) or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (such as running or a vigorous fitness class) every week.
- Muscle-strengthening activities for all major muscle groups two or more days per week.
- Sit less and move more throughout the day.
It will reduce your risk of many health problems and put off what the years will do if you do nothing.
“With normal aging, your muscle mass and bone density decline, and if you don’t put a load on the heart and lungs beyond the activities of daily living, your cardiorespiratory fitness will suffer,” says Walt Thompson , PhD, former president of the American College of Sports Medicine.
You actually lose about 3% to 5% muscle per decade after you hit age 30, Cheatham says. Flexibility and mobility also decrease with age. And although you reach peak bone mass between the ages of 17 and 30, you begin to lose it rapidly after age 50.
That’s why being older doesn’t allow you to meet physical activity guidelines. In fact, the guidelines recommend that people 65 and older also do balance training.
Still, you might have medical conditions or physical limitations that prevent you from hitting those weekly exercise milestones, Cheatham says. If so, you should follow the recommendations in the guidelines to be as physically active as your abilities and conditions permit, and be aware that you may need to modify your activities as you age.
For example, running may have been your favorite activity in your twenties and thirties. But if you’re feeling more pain now that you’re older, you might want to switch to a lower-impact activity like brisk walking or cycling.
Plus, it’s wise to gradually add cardio, strength training, and balance activities if you’re not already doing them. If you have a medical condition that might affect what you can do, ask your doctor first. You don’t need a gym or fancy workout clothes. Just get moving and make it as fun as possible, so you stick with it.
Don’t Get Obsessed With Fitness Age Marks
Following official guidelines is one way to make sure you stay fit and even avoid the aches and pains that often come with everyday life, Olson says.
You can take fitness tests given by a qualified personal trainer. You can also find at-home options, such as the sit test, push-up test, sit test, and 1.5 mile run. There are articles online stating what the age related standards are for these exercises for both men and women. However, the standards compare how other men and women do these tasks – it’s not a standard you have to meet.
There’s also something called your fitness age, which is a marker of your cardiorespiratory fitness. Although Cheatham says it’s not necessarily a valid measure of your overall fitness level, this online fitness age self-test, which comes from the Norwegian University of Science and technologies, can be fun to take. It is simply a matter of answering a series of questions.
Yet all of these come with a caveat. “Don’t dwell on these so-called benchmarks, as they should be based on your individual physical needs, goals, and activities,” Cheatham says.
Ultimately, remember that any movement is better than no movement, and moving more should be your ultimate goal.
“You’re not going to decide one day to just be physically fit, especially because you still have all the reasons you’ve used in the past not to be active,” says Thompson. “Instead, think about the activities you enjoy doing and aspire to do them every day.”