Growing up, the pastor at the church I attended had the catchphrase, “make the rest of your life the best of your life.”
Even at 8 years old, I had the acumen to realize it was a cheesy saying.
Even with it’s cheesiness, I still remember the phrase today.
When we were filming our recent Village Fitness Forever promo video, I found myself jokingly repeating the phrase “make the rest of your life the best of your life by coming to Village Fitness Forever.”
The more I think about it, this phrase is quite an accurate description for what a solid exercise program can do for folks over 55.
Many people work their entire lives comforted by the thought of a glorious retirements filled with traveling and all the things they were unable to do while they were working. But they slowly realize their aging bodies are unable to keep up with the desires of their heart.
In order to be able to do the things you want to do and live the best life possible for you, there are things you need to do.
With all the misinformation and chaos of the fitness world, it’s tough to know who to listen to.
I’m going to lay out a simple (but comprehensive) fitness plan for you. If you follow something even remotely like what I recommend, you’ll be better equipped to handle the rigors of an active retirement with the fittest of them.
A Simple Plan
Before you begin: As a doctor of physical therapy, I fully understand the ease with which people over 55 get injured. Therefore, it is imperative you find someone who knows what they heck they are doing to make sure you don’t get injured while trying to make the most of your golden years. Ok, on to the plan.
Two days per week of strength training with heavy (for you) weights
Strength training is not doing 50 reps on the chest press machine at Planet Fitness and barely breaking a sweat. Strength training is the use of weights (or machines) to challenge your body and create actual change to your muscles.
Let’s say we have a 55 year old who has been active most of her life. If she were to do 12 squats down to a chair and back up, it would be a breeze. No real change would happen to her muscles or her body. She would be much better off doing a 50 pound goblet squat.
Now let’s imaging an 85 year old who hasn’t been active in the last 6 months due to a total joint replacement surgery. The 12 squats down to the bench may be exactly what she needs to make strength changes and improve her ability to do the things she wants to do.
The benefits of lifting weights are numerous.
Increased lean muscle mass (or decreased rate of muscle loss)
Increased fat-burning post-workout
Increased fat-burning at rest
Increased bone mineral density
Improved posture and confidence
Now before I go on, I want to clarify something. People can get phenomenal results with nothing but their bodyweight for exercise. But, the plan i’m recommending is for getting optimal results.
The weight you use for resistance training needs to be sufficient to challenge your body in order to create the benefits listed above.
I recommend lifting 2 to 3 days per week.
Let’s talk about what moderate to heavy means. On most days you should be lifting a weight that is challenging for the number of reps you perform. You should usually have a few more perfect form reps in the tank when you finish a set. I say usually because there is a time for maxing out (every once in awhile) and a time for going really light (like when you’re sick).
This is where it’s important to have a coach. You need someone to not only push you to do a weight sufficient to create change in your body, but also to keep you safe and watch your form.
Also under the umbrella of strength training is power training. For most over the age of 55, doing box jumps or jump rope probably are not a great idea. However, you need your muscles to be able to respond at the drop of a hat.
Let’s say you’re coming down from the steps of your RV on an epic post-retirement trip across the US. The ground below the bottom step is just a bit lower than anticipated. You stumble forward and have to react quickly with your other leg to catch yourself.
This is where your ability to rapidly produce force comes into play. You need your quads and glute to fire up in an instant and support your whole body weight on one leg.
The inability to quickly produce force and poor balance are the two primary factors leading to falls.
To train for power, you need to practice rapidly moving your body. All you need to do is perform the normal strength training movements with lighter weight and extra speed.
Check out this lovely exercise: the squat jump. You would do 3 sets of 5 of these going as fast as possible on the upward part. You certainly don’t need to jump! But, the act of explosively moving your body is very important.
Two days per week of interval training
Interval training is simply alternating between periods of challenging work and easy work.
Not only will interval training help you rid excess body-fat and keep you lean, but it also improves your ability to recover quickly.
Interval training has many of the same benefits from a cardiovascular standpoint as does traditional, steady-state cardio, but takes a fraction of the time.
The stationary bike, rower, or elliptical are probably your best bet for intervals.
Start with a 5 minute warm-up. Then, work hard for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds of rest. Repeat this 5 to 10 times. Finish with 5 minutes of easy exercise and you’re done!
Here are a few other interval templates:
5 minute warm-up
1 minute high intensity rowing
2 minutes rest
Repeat 5 to 10 times.
5 minute warm-up
4 minutes high intensity
2 minutes rest
Repeat 5 to 10 times.
Tabata squats (AKA: the toughest 4-minutes ever)
20 seconds of squats at a challenging level for you
10 seconds of rest
Repeat 8 times
These are simply a few examples of ways to do interval training. There are an infinite number of options and combinations you can try. Do your interval workouts on the same days as your strength training to save time.
Walking and daily movement
It’s important to move daily. The people I see who are the most successful fitness-wise are those who have a habit a daily movement.
Find a walking buddy, grab your dog, or get an audiobook and go for a stroll every day. Then, once you’re back home, do 5 to 10 minutes of light stretching and exercises.
Stretch it out
Stretching is the least important out of strength training, cardiovascular training, and stretching.
Some may disagree with me here. But, most falls and the inability to do the things you want to do come from a lack of strength, not flexibility. And just about every preventable disease can be mitigated with cardiovascular training like the aforementioned intervals.
Nevertheless, I think stretching has a place. I would spend 5 to 10 minutes stretching at the end of my strength training workouts to promote recovery and improve flexibility.
How long will this take?
It depends. Outside of walking daily, plan to devote 2-3 hours per week to exercise. These hours would encompass your strength training, interval work, and stretching.
Two to three one-hour sessions per week will pay huge dividends for your health and ability to do the things you want to do in the long run.
Get In Community
Community is important at any age. But as we age, it becomes even more important.
If you have someone who is waiting for you to go work out, you’ll be much less likely to skip out on your sweat-sesh.
Work towards something
The most successful clients we work with over the age of 55 have a goal. They are going on a walking tour of Ireland and need to walk 10 miles per day, need to lose 15 pounds for their daughter’s wedding, or they are climbing the pyramids in Egypt and need strong legs.
Work towards something and you’ll be more motivated to make the daily push necessary for change.
If you have any questions, I love talking about fitness and helping people. Feel free to shoot me an email at Matt@VillageFitnessGlendora.com.
Here’s to making the rest of your life the best of your life,
Dr. Matt Klingler DPT, PT