Society says that as you age your training should be slow and easy. The opposite is true. Using age appropriate strength and power training to preserve and improve your ability to move and react quickly becomes more important with every birthday you have is essential fitness.
The reason is very simple and very serious: falls.
Falling down without the strength or power to protect yourself is very dangerous. Stronger bones and muscles can better hold together against impact. In other words, body parts are much less likely to break, and if they do break it is less severe with a faster and more complete recovery. The faster your body can react the more likely you are to get into a better position and minimize any damage due to the fall.
The CDC says that falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, cause 95% of hip fractures, and lead 3 million older Americans to the emergency room. The CDC also projects that 7 Americans will die from falls every hour by 2030.
Why does falling become more dangerous with time?
- Loss of bone density. Less density = easier to break.
- Loss of strength and muscle mass. Part of what strong muscles do is hold your joints together under impact, and allow you to break your fall without hitting your head.
- Changes in connective tissue. Tendons and ligaments adapt to lack of stress by becoming stiff and brittle, making them easier to tear.
- Loss of speed and power. Power decreases even faster than muscle mass and strength without use. Falls and slips are fast events, so retaining/improving your ability to move quickly is crucial with time.
- Balance can be seen as entry level power training because balance is about being able to quickly and appropriately shift your weight
Can these factors be reversed?
- Yes! All of the above can be improved at any age – even if you don’t begin training until you’re in your 80’s.
- The fountain of youth is called strength training and some appropriate power training. (Here’s how you can fit all of that and flexibility work into a 50-60min workout.)
What’s Age Appropriate Strength and Power Training?
Since safety is first, let’s talk about what is not age appropriate:
- It is not Crossfit… even if you’re 20, I still don’t think that is safe. There’s more on that here, here, and here.
- It’s also not doing plyometrics as “cardio.” Plyometrics are high impact jumping exercises used by high level athletes. Expert coaches limit these to roughly 50 ground contacts (how many times you land) per week. There is a trend in fitness where people do these exercises for 40+ consecutive minutes (1,000’s of ground contacts per class) which puts you at risk for stress fractures and tendon ruptures.
Come back next week for part 2 where we’ll break down the best starting places for you.